Zero Carb

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What is a Zero Carb diet?

Traditionally, those who practice a Zero Carb diet consider almost anything from the animal kingdom to be fair game, as long as it does not contain a appreciable amount of carbohydrates. Many long time practitioners express a preference for beef because they find it to be the most satisfying of all the meats. But, Zero Carb-ers may also eat pork, bacon, sausage, lamb, poultry, fish, eggs, hard cheese. They eschew milk and yogurt because these dairy products contain significant quantities of carbohydrates. If the meat they are eating is too lean, they will add extra butter, ghee, tallow or lard. Some may also use coconut or olive oil, but these two oils come from plants and may be problematic for some people due to their salicylate content. Similarly, some Zero Carb-ers use herbs and spices to season their meat, but if you do this you need to be observant of your body’s response and make sure they don’t cause you to be abnormally hungry. Because spices are derived from plants, they too contain salicylates and can have a negative affect on some people. See my page Salicylates for more information on this.

The term “Zero Carb” is a bit of a misnomer because there is a small amount of carbohydrate in the form of glycogen in some animal foods such as egg yolks and liver. Cream also has about 1 gram of carbohydrate per ounce and can be problematic for individuals who are very sensitive to carbohydrates. A more accurate way to describe this way of eating would  be to call it a “Zero Plant Foods” diet. That is a bit cumbersome, however, so “Zero Carb” remains the dominant descriptive terminology. I am not sure who first use the appellation, but it may well have been Owsley Stanley, also known as The Bear. Mr. Stanley ate a Zero Carb diet for over half a century and is, perhaps, the most well-know of the Zero Carb-ers. He ate a diet free of all plant foods from 1958 (age 23) until his untimely death in a car accident in 2011 (age 76).

For those wishing to follow a Zero Carb diet, Mr. Stanley offered these tried and true Words of Wisdom:

  • Eat only from the animal kingdom.
  • Eat nothing from the plant kingdom.
  • Do not eat milk and yogurt.
  • Cook beef rare to preserve nutrients.
  • Eat plenty of animal fat.
  • Eat the fattiest parts first.
  • Organ meats are not necessary.
  • Supplements are not necessary.
  • Do not eat vegetable oils.
  • Do not eat salt or salted butter.
  • Spices are okay for flavoring.
  • Drink plenty of plain water.
  • Eat as often as you are hungry.
  • Do not worry about calories.

This is how Mr. Stanley ate for more than 5 decades. It is hard to argue with his degree of experience and success spanning so many years. Clearly, he did not seem to suffer from a lack of plant foods in his diet. For read more of Mr. Stanley’s thoughts, see The Bear’s Writings which have been extracted from comments he made on a now defunct low carbohydrate forum back in 2006. He is quite a character and – while I do not agree with everything he says – his ideas are certainly worth exploring if you have chosen the Zero Carb way of life.

Some long term Zero Carb-ers have found that dairy products do not agree with them, especially cheese and cream. Either it reduces their feeling of well-being, or it causes them to gain or retain excess body fat. Therefore, these folks choose to eat only meat, or meat and eggs. Butter is rarely a problem, but – for the small minority who do react negatively to it – ghee (which has had the milk solids removed) can usually be used instead if desired. Likewise, some people following the Zero Carb diet follow Mr. Stanley’s recommendation to abstain from salt, while other use it liberally. The best advice is probably to experiment both ways and see which feels best to you. Please read my page on Salt for a more thorough discussion of this subject.

Another question often asked by those new to Zero Carb ask is whether or not coffee and artificially-sweetened or flavored drinks are acceptable. The zero Carb veterans take a very firm stand against non-caloric sweeteners of any kind, natural (Stevia) or artificial (Sucralose, etc), because they keep the desire for sweet things alive. According to Dana – an 8-year Zero Carb veteran – they are the number one reason that people get derailed from Zero Carb.

Dr. H.L. Newbold, an early proponent of an All-Meat diet, writes, “No patient attempting to lose weight should be given any source of sweets…over-weight patients need to forget about the taste of sweetness. Unless they do, they are setting themselves up for a lifetime of torture and probably ultimate failure in maintaining a normal body weight. If you avoid sweets altogether for a long enough time, you forget about them.”

However, they tend to take a more lenient view of coffee because different people seem to react differently to it much like dairy. Many long term veterans started Zero Carb while continuing to drink coffee, but eventually decided to give it up. Charles Washington, the founder of Zeroing in on Health strongly recommends the Zero Carb newbies refrain from drinking coffee until they have a clear baseline. Please read my page Beverages which discusses this subject in more depth.

Dr. H. L. Newbold, author of The Type A/TypeB Weight Loss Diet (now out of print) was also a proponent of a Zero Carb diet – though he never called it that. It was his belief that some people’s genetic inheritance was less well equipped to metabolize the “newer foods” that came first with animal husbandry and then with the agricultural revolution. With few exceptions, he found that most of his patients felt best on beef, specifically dry-aged ribeye steaks. Incidentally, dry-aging produced fewer histamines than wet-aging and cryovacing, but he was not aware of this at the time. He just observed that both he and his patients felt better with dry-aged beef.

Dr. Newbold helped many people suffering from morbid obesity and eating disorders (especially binge eaters) recover their health and natural weight by recommending a diet of fatty, bone-in, ribeye steaks. He did allow his patients to eat 1/2 cup of vegetables per day if the could tolerate it, but it was not a mandatory part of his diet. He did prescribe basic nutritional supplements like vitamin C, B-complex, as well as calcium and magnesium. He was a pioneer and did not want to take the chance of his patients becoming deficient in some essential nutrient.

However, many of the folks I have met through the Facebook group Zeroing in on Health have told me that they do not taken supplements of any kind and have remained perfectly healthy. Some of these Zero Carb-er have been eating this way for 2, 5, 10, or 18 years. Not only have they not developed any deficiency diseases, but they have all experienced dramatic improvement in both their body composition and their overall general health. One person actually recovered from a very severe case of Lyme’s Disease by adopting this way of eating. While many Zero Carb-ers say they prefer beef, they do eat other meats, and the when they do eat beef they don’t all cook it rare. Interestingly, several of individuals have stated that they eat ground beef almost exclusively because it is inexpensive and it leaves them feel great. Kelly Williams Hogan is one such person. You can read more about her experiences on her blog My Zero Carb Life.

If you think you might be interested in trying a Zero Carb diet, the long term veterans I have come to know all recommend starting with a 30-day trial of just meat and water. This provides the clearest picture of what it feels like to eliminate all plant foods from your diet without the confounding variable of dairy products. For more information on how to do this, please read Amber Wilcox-O’Hearn’s blog post Eat meat. Not too little. Mostly fat. A minimum of four weeks is recommended because it can take this long for the body to switch from being a sugar burner to being a fat burner, i.e. enter a state of nutritional ketosis or become keto-adapted. This process is explained in Jimmy Moore‘s book Keto Clarity and in Dr. Stephen Phinney and Jeff Volek’s book The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living. None of these authors are Zero Carb proponents or practitioners, but the science they explain regarding a ketogenic diet is still highly relevant.

136 thoughts on “Zero Carb

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      • No I’m the article he references no salt. I’m was just curious if he was referring to all salts. With heavy resistance training sodium is important in recovey.

        Also I was wondering what fats were used for cooking…

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        • The long term ZCers that I know do not use any salt. ZC is low in potassium and too much salt can upset the balance. You can probably use some salt without too much concern, especially if you are physically active. However, depending on how much meat you are eating, if you do use salt, you may want to consider adding some extra potassium as well. If the meat you are eating is fatty, no extra fat is needed for cooking. But if you are going to use fat, lard or tallow are the most stable fats at high heat.

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  6. What about natural medicines? I want to be on this diet and recently I overcome illness with help of garlic. Its eating garlic when ill is ok?
    Maybe you know better ways for illness? Because I want to depend less on medicines and more on my body itself. I want to add that I even stopped using soap and shampoo almost year ago (of course I use soap to clean hands) cause I want to be healthy as possible.

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  7. Guys I need help. I’ve been eating an all meat diet with a few eggs for condiments for about a week now and I’m having 24/7 diarrhea. I’m also taking about 800 mg’s of magnessium glycinate a day so could that be the reason? Should I take less?

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    • Just so you know, this is a blog, not a group. Please join us in the Facebook group Principia Carnivora where you can ask your questions and get more responses. But yes, magnesium at high doses causes diarrhea. I suggest you do a 30-90 day trial of just beef (preferably steak) and water.

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  9. Hi. Great site! I am new to the carnivore diet. Came to this from seeing a Shawn baker podcast and in a multi year situation of some health issues. Just a quick question. Most of my calories are going to come beef. Would really love to get opinions on eating 85-15 vs 75-25.

    I’m a 46 year old man, 5’10” 176 if that makes any difference.

    Thanks!

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    • Oops, i mis nderstood your question. 85/15 (65% fat/35% protein by calories) is too lean. 80/20 (70% fat/30% protein by calories) might be okay. 75/25 (77% fat/23% protein by calories) or even 70/30 (82% fat/18% protein by calories) might still be a better choice, but it’s difficult to find these days unless you ask a butcher to make it for you or you make it yourself. I personally feel better with more fat, so you may also.

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  12. Hey Esmee,
    I wasn’t sure where else to post this, but was wondering what your take on CBD oil was, would that be considered a no no on zero carb? It also contains hemp oil.
    Let me know 🙂

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  13. I tried a basic low-carb diet many years ago. It didn’t work for me at the time, but maybe that was simply because of a lack of knowledge at the time. I don’t remember the details of what I was doing. My lifestyle in general wasn’t healthy back then. I also tried vegetarianism around the same time and it also didn’t do much for me. That was back in the ’90s and it was harder to find good info, as is easily available now online.

    Last year, I started a paleo diet. I had been improving my diet over the years, such as including more traditional foods. Paleo was simply bumping this up to the next level. I did lose a lot of weight while improving my mood and increasing energy. That was no small achievement, as my health was worsening since nearing my 40s. The only problem is that my carb and sugar consumption kept creeping up. I have a lifelong food addiction and I’ve discovered its not something I can do in moderation. I allowed my diet to be looser over the holidays, but then for other reasons my carb levels were a little higher in the month following. I could feel my addiction returning and I hate that feeling, as it goes hand in hand with depression.

    I’d been curious about carnivore for a while. It intrigued me and the arguments for it seemed compelling. I figured there could be no better way of cutting out carbs and sugar. And if nothing else, it would be a great elimination and cleansing diet. I’m in the process of beginning this new diet. I’ve already eliminated most vegetables, although I was using up the last of my avocados last week and still have half a jar left of vegetable kimchi. I’ve also been using up my kefi. These foods should all be gone by this weekend. Then the full carnivore diet will begin. In preparation, I was looking to other people’s experience and advice. I was specifically wondering about such things as salt, spices, turmeric, nutritional yeast, apple cider vinegar, various supplements, etc.

    The main thing for me is experimentation. That has been my general attitude for my adult life. I’m willing to try almost anything. I figured I might as well try the most extreme form of a low-carb diet, since carbs more than anything else are what is problematic for me. I’ve only told a few people about it. I have two vegetarian brothers and I know at least one of them would be judgmental if he knew about it. It’s my dirty, shameful secret. If the diet works out and I stick with it, I suppose I’ll eventually tell everyone about it. After all, it would be hard to hide the fact that I’m only eating meat at family gatherings. Until then, it’s just an experiment.

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  14. Hope I chose the best thread to post this on.

    I was reading on Ambers website, http://www.empiri.ca/2014/01/recent-changes.html and at http://www.empiri.ca/2013/04/ where she talks about lard. She references
    https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/586?fg=&man=&lfacet=&format=&count=&max=25&offset=&sort=&qlookup=lard

    On that chart, can you guys please comment about the following two lines on that chart:
    Carbohydrate, by difference
    and
    Sugars, total

    Nutrient Unit Value per 100 g fl oz 30.4 g
    Carbohydrate, by difference g 6.09 1.85
    Sugars, total g 6.10 1.85

    It surprised me, but maybe I misunderstand? If lard is 100% fat, how can their be carbs?
    Is this saying lard has more carbs than heavy whipping cream (HWC)? The best HWC I can find states 0.00 carbs per tablespoon=15ml=0.5 fluid oz, which means 0.4g or less (if 0.5 or more they must round up to 1.0; if 0.4 or less they are allowed to round down to 0.00, let’s assume 0.4 since other brands often state 1.0g of carbs per tablespoon serving size of HWC)

    I wanted to share this chart too, which you can edit/ pare down to only show the fats considered in a ZC diet (lard, suet, butter, ghee). I can’t remember if it was a linked in one of Amber’s or Esmee’s threads or if I found it myself at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Template:Comparison_of_cooking_fats
    comments:
    Butter 81% fat, so 19 proteins & other such as water
    Ghee 99.5% fat yet possible prolines

    Nice to also see smoke points for those of us who fry & grill? My understanding (but please comment if you feel or know differently) is when the oil smokes you know that you have changed the oil molecules (& carb & protein molecules if the food contains that?) into something that is not good for you; smoke is not good for your lungs which is why you cough; cooks who spend a lot of time in front of fry pan get 4 times the amount of lung cancer as non-cooks because cooks do it for 8 hours per day. So the higher the smoke point, the less likely we are to “overheat the oil to where it smokes/becomes less healthy”, and the lower the smoke point the more care is needed to not reach it. Or are my comments about smoke points questionable or wrong?

    I would like to ask on Amber’s website but cannot figure how to post in the Comments section without displaying my gmail address; so if you know that answer please share it.

    Thank you.

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    • The link to the USDA website is not working and when I search “Lard” in their database, I get nothing. What I do know is that lard is rendered pork fat and is indeed pure fat. It’s possible that Gary Taubes was referring to fresh pork fat and mistakenly called it lard, tgat a common error that many maje. Fresh fat from any animal will contain a small amount of carbs in the connective tissue, but whether or not you actually digest and absorb those carbs is not known to me (though I highly doubt it).

      The higher the smoke point, the more stable the fat, and the less it is damaged by heat.

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  15. Hi Esmee!
    thanks for the great infos on your website!
    I am really attracted to the ZC idea and considering trying.
    I come from 1+ year of keto/if (40kg down!) but right now I have symptoms I don’t like (facial pressure/tightening sensation and joints stiffness) and can’t really explain, so I’d like to see if that changes under CD.
    Two major points I need to clarify:
    I realized that in Italy where I live, grass-fed meat is scarcely available (and thus rather expensive). Of course that means that *any* meat-based diet would be less nutritious if you buy it at 99.9% stores (), but that said: do you think it would be unhealty (exp on the long run) to actually go carnivore on grain-fed meat (and thus eggs and dairy, eventually)? Knowing that, should compensating with supplements such as a good whole-food multi vit-min then be a necessity?
    Second point is about quantity: my daily protein requirement (based on latest keto calc for my case) would be around 100-130gr. I read some people eat a lot more meat (say 2-3lbs). Why would I want to up the qt so much? How can I judge how much is enough for me (not less/not more than I need)?

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    • Eating grassfed meat is not necessary to benefit from an all meat diet. Almost no one does, as its simply too expensive for the average person. And taking supplements is also unnecessary.

      Please read through the many interviews: https://zerocarbzen.com/Interviews/

      and join us in our Facebook group Principia Carnivora. Read the “Announcements” there where a lot of your questions will likely be answered.

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  16. I’ve been strict Zero-Carb for the past 6 weeks now and it’s done wonders for my body conposition/digestion/mental clarity etc…however, my libido and motivation seem to have completely disappeared…is this normal? Will it come back and if it does, how long does it take?

    Any help would be great as I’m currently on the brink of giving up

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      • I’m eating 80/20 ground beef/pork, salmon and pork belly and organ meats mainly…salting everything with himalayan pink salt and I’m drinking nothing but water and black coffee (no sweeteners)…no dairy at all

        I don’t seem to be manifesting other “low-testosterone” type symptoms (if anything, I’ve actually built some muscle, lost body fat and my moods are more stable)…I just feel no libido or motivation to do anything…

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        • In that case, I would say you are still adapting. If you are on Facebook, please join our group Principia Carnivora where you can speak with others doing this diet and ask questions like this and hear other members experience ls.

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    • Some people can experience a change in libido. My libido did change a little, but it is back to normal. There is another thing that some people notice, as did I. There can be a loss of a certain kind of hyper-sexual impulse. What some men have said is that they no longer have obsessive sexual thoughts, as they’re going about their day. They can see a woman’s bare leg without it automatically leading to sexually objectifying the woman.

      Many men deal with such neurocognitive obsessiveness (I can’t speak for women). And maybe at least some of it has to do with the generally obsessive mentality that seems common on high-carb diets. Shifting out of carb addiction has had a powerful impact on me, including making my depression go away. Addiction and obsessiveness seem to go hand in hand.

      So, what seems like a decrease of libido might simply be the body’s readjusting in finding a new balance.

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        • It was an observation I kept coming across from others. It’s only anecdotal. Or consider it to be “case studies”. I’d love to see it scientifically studied.

          I feel less obsessive in general, not just sexual thoughts but also depressive brooding and such. My thoughts are less likely to get stuck in a repeating tape loop. It’s easier for me to let things ago.

          Many low-carbers, especially on keto, have noted the loss of addiction and depression. That is extremely common. But the sexual angle has been a lot less explored. That might be because it is an uncomfortable topic for many.

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        • In case you’re interested, I’ve developed a theory about the historical increase of starches and sugar in terms of an increase of an addictive mentality. I speculate that it alters not only our way of thinking but our sense of identity and experience of the world around us.

          We become more trapped in our heads. And I see this as being behind the rise of the Enlightenment, as sugar and other stimulants allowed people to spend long periods thinking and reading, detached from concrete physical experience.

          It relates to mental health in general. Many have written about the relationship of low-carb, keto, and carnivore in its affect on neurocognition and psychiatric conditions. I see it as all related. My theory might be a bit too ‘philosophical’ for some people’s tastes, but I see it as having clear practical implications.

          https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2018/12/02/ketogenic-diet-and-neurocognitive-health/
          https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2019/01/30/the-agricultural-mind/
          https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2019/06/30/yes-tea-banished-the-fairies/
          https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2019/06/13/diets-and-systems/

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          • Definitely still adapting. Many claim not being fully adapted until about 6 months. I’m longer than 6 months & still struggling with cramps/adapting. As to being on the brink, the positives you’ve experienced seem to far outweigh your concerns, especially since we expect your negatives to abate, so think through that comment with your newfound clarity.
            Yes you are building a new body, and it is going to behave differently including, hormonally, how you think & emotionally feel etc .
            As Benjamin speculates: ” … addiction alters not only our way of thinking but our sense of identity and experience of the world around us.” Look at any person with a severe addiction vs. when that addiction has been conquered. You have reduced carb addiction to a large degree already and I suspect that it will only become more reduced as time passes and your old energy & libido will return or be better.

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  17. Wow! This is all great stuff and I greatly appreciate all of you for your knowledge and support

    This is just unlike anything I’ve ever experienced – I’m building noticable musculature, I’ve lost body fat, my stomach is flat and never bloated, my anxiety has calmed tremendously, my depression has alleviated to a large degree, my mood is so much more level, I’m enjoying things more and I’m even finding it easier to go to sleep at night and wake up in the morning!

    I just worry endlessly.about.my seemingly non-existent libido/interest in women and motivation to do anything – I’m totally on-board with what Benjamin was saying and find his theory fascinating and very plausible, and I have noticed that I’m not as obsessively/hyper-“sexualised” towards women, but it’d be great to actually.have a good, healthy, robust libido and feel motivated to smash goals and get stuff done…

    Also, it’s probably relevant to mention that I am on Venlafaxine and Pregabalin and have been consistently for the past 5 years now – do you think these are having a more pronounced dampening effect on my motivation and libido now that I’ve canned the carbs? Perhaps my old diet high-carb and caffeine diet counteracted this dampening effect and now obviously I’ve jacked them both in…any thoughts?

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    • Drugs are always a huge variable and it’s certainly possible that they are affecting you differently on this diet. I don’t know what they are prescribed for, but perhaps your dosage will need to be adjusted?

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      • The Venlafaxine is an antidepressant and the Pregabalin is an anti-epileptic that’s used to treat anxiety disorders…perhaps the side-effects are more pronounced now that I’m on ZC?

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        • Yes, I strongly suspect that. Those class of drugs are notorious for creating the symptoms you are reporting. It may be that you can gradually reduce your dossges and eventually eliminate them altogether. Just be extremely cautious and go slow if you and your doctor decide to try this. I know from helping others come off similar drugs that withdrawals can be really bad.

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          • Yep, I’ve tried going cold turkey from my meds a number of times and I can tell you now, with no exaggeration: “terrifying” isn’t the word…I’m currently in the process of weaning off my meds and I’m aiming to be med-free by the new year….have other ZCers successfully come off of psychiatric meds and overcome depression? Obviously I’m hoping that Jordan and Mikhaila Peterson aren’t the only ones

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          • Ok, I think I’ve got a lot of reading material to get stuck into…thank you so much Esmee for your website and for all your help and support – although I may only be in the early days of this WOE, I know from the benefits I’ve had already that I NEED this, so thank you so so much

            Take care x

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