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Meat: The Ultimate Superfood

Why is meat such a staple across cultures? Because human life demands it, and it’s one of our most primitive needs. Eating meat is as vital to our survival as breathing. If we don’t provide our bodies with a regular supply, then our bodies begin to cannibalize our tissues to make up for the deficit. That’s when the slow reabsorption of body tissues begins, and we start to see issues like sarcopenia, which is the loss of muscle mass. We lose bone mass, which is about 40 percent protein. Our production of vital hormones, neurotransmitters, and basic cell functions start to fail. Eventually, our very existence becomes one of daily pain, weakness, and despair.
People who’ve adopted all-meat diets often report feeling two or three decades younger. Their chronic pains go away, their desire for life returns, and their diseases resolve or remit. For some people, the changes have been downright miraculous. People who have given up on life and suffer chronic depression have seen profound reversals in their mental states. For the first time in memory, they find that they’re happy and looking forward to life. Let’s talk about why these changes may happen.
Meat offers a tremendous amount of nutrition, even though it’s vilified for having cholesterol and saturated fat (which are vital components of the human body). As I like to remind people, meat is made of basically the same stuff that we are made of. If you want to build a car and you have access to a pile of car parts or a pile of computers, from which one would you draw your supplies? I can take all the nutrients from a rib-eye steak, which is made up of a bunch of animal cells, and then turn them into whatever my body needs.
Yes, we have a limited capacity to turn material from plants into what we need, but the process is much less efficient than drawing nutrients from meat, and it comes with some drawbacks. Meat is rich in several unique compounds found exclusively, or almost exclusively, in animal-based foods. These compounds include carnitine, carnosine, creatine, taurine, retinol, and vitamins B12, D3, and K2. These compounds offer some tremendous benefits.

Carnosine
Carnosine’s antiglycating properties can help mitigate the development of things like Alzheimer’s disease, atherosclerosis, and renal disease. Muscle levels of carnosine are significantly higher in people who eat meat compared to the levels in their vegetarian counterparts. By some accounts, carnosine may be one of the most potent antiaging molecules known.

Carnitine
Like carnosine, carnitine is found almost exclusively in animal products, especially red meat. Carnitine has several potentially beneficial effects in preventing and improving diseases. It has been shown to help with anemia, particularly for anemia associated with kidney dysfunction. It appears to improve the body’s use of glucose, and it may reduce the effects of diabetic peripheral neuropathy. In heart attack patients, carnitine has been used to prevent ischemia in cardiac muscle, and it’s even been shown to assist with resolving male infertility via an improvement in sperm quality.

Creatine
Creatine (a supplement athletes commonly use and one of the few that’s been found to be beneficial after being rigorously tested), is another product found only in meat. Meat eaters register higher levels of creatine, and when vegetarians supplement creatine, they experience improved cognitive function. It’s also interesting to note that patients with Alzheimer’s disease have lower levels of creatine. Heart failure patients who receive creatine have shown improved overall performance, and type 2 diabetics who supplement with creatine have improved glycemic control, particularly when they also exercise.

Taurine
Taurine is found in high levels in both meat and fish but is woefully absent from a plant-based diet. As you might expect, taurine levels are significantly lower among herbivorous humans. In animal studies, taurine has been shown to reduce anxiety. Perhaps that is one reason so many folks on a carnivore diet report a sense of calmness and a resolution of anxiety. Taurine is similar to carnosine and has been shown to inhibit glycation. It’s also a powerful antioxidant. Some evidence suggests that taurine contributes to preventing the development of diabetic renal disease.

Zinc
Although zinc is not exclusive to animal products, it’s found in much greater quantity and is more highly bioavailable in meat, and numerous plants containing phytates interfere with zinc’s absorption. Accordingly, zinc levels are fairly low in vegan and vegetarian dieters. Zinc deficiency has been associated with poor learning capacity, apathy, and behavioral problems in children. In adult males, low levels of zinc are associated with erectile dysfunction and decreased sperm counts. Zinc also is essential in the formation of insulin and appears to have a protective effect in preventing coronary artery disease and cardiomyopathy.

Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is found exclusively in animal products, and experts advise people who abstain from meat to supplement it. One of the more common causes of deficiency is gastrointestinal malabsorption. Up to 62 percent of pregnant vegan women were noted to be deficient in B12, and up to 86 percent of vegan children and 90 percent of vegan elderly were B12-deficient. A deficit of vitamin B12 has been associated with several neurological diseases, including dementia; it’s also related to depression.

Heme Iron
Heme iron is another mineral found in abundance in red meat but absent from nonmeat sources. Unsurprisingly, a 2015 study of vegetarian women saw a 100 percent rate of some degree of iron deficiency anemia, which was more than double the rate of deficiency in their omnivorous counterparts. Certain plants, like leafy greens, soybeans, and lentils, contain non-heme iron, but those plants also can contain compounds like phytates and oxalates that limit iron absorption. Deficiency of iron has been shown to result in impairments in cognition and mental health status and a sense of general fatigue.
On average, people who include meat in their diets generally have better vitamin and mineral status than those who do not, and the vast majority of nutritional deficiency problems are in parts of the world where access to meat is scarce. In impoverished locations where meat is abundant, it’s not common to see nutritional deficiencies, whereas in poorer areas where people rely on a plant-based diet, residents frequently suffer from stunted growth and have numerous nutritional deficiency syndromes. Meat is indeed, a superfood!

Excerpted from The Carnivore Diet, By Dr. Shawn Baker.
Learn more HERE

Getting Hung Up on Health Markers

Often when people follow some form of a low-carb diet, they focus on monitoring certain things through blood testing to get some insight into the effects of diet. Blood testing provides some data and often can help to troubleshoot problematic health issues. Before I get into some of the common observations that I’ve made about carnivore dieters, let me put some things into perspective.

When you have your blood drawn, its contents are representative of what is being transported via your blood during that exact moment in time. Many, if not most, of the things that can be measured in the blood can change on a weekly, daily, hourly, and even momentary basis. For instance, blood cholesterol can change dramatically over a few days, hormones can change by the hour, and liver enzymes or inflammatory markers can go up or down based on recent activity or exercise levels. Lab values can be significantly affected by many things, including stress, sleep, illness, activity, exercise, weather, temperature, time of day, and time of year. So, trying to attribute any one particular laboratory reading exclusively to diet can be problematic.

Just as the nutrition science–based food recommended daily allowances were based on a population that was arguably sick from eating a high-carbohydrate, grain-based diet, many of the common laboratory reference ranges were based on that same population. We truly do not have a good set of reference ranges for the populations who follow the low-carbohydrate and carnivore diets. With this in mind, I want to share some of the areas where labs for carnivore dieters can diverge from the general population.

Blood Lipids

Blood lipids probably cause the most concern for both patients and their physicians. First of all, blood lipid levels are dynamic; they can vary fairly significantly over a matter of even a few days. Your total cholesterol on Wednesday may be remarkably different the following Tuesday. Let’s assume that the numbers you get represent a daily average. (However, this assumption is likely false.) When we look at the lipid number for a carnivore dieter, we often see elevated total and LDL cholesterol; this is not always the case, and often LDL/total cholesterol will be largely unchanged or even lower.

Another common finding among carnivore dieters is a general trend toward elevated HDL, the so-called good cholesterol, and generally lower triglycerides. In general, higher HDL and lower triglycerides are thought to represent an improvement in cardiovascular risk, but this is not absolute, particularly regarding the HDL. As I’ve already mentioned, it’s important that you realize that large energy shifts and weight loss can be responsible for unexpected numbers, such as higher than expected triglycerides, particularly at the beginning of a transition to the carnivore diet. I often suggest that people wait six months or more before getting routine labs after starting the diet, unless there’s a compelling reason to do it earlier, such as to address an illness.

Glucose

Glucose control is important, and generally speaking, a carnivore diet tends to lead to very well-controlled glucose numbers. If you’re going to talk about glucose, then you definitely need to be aware of your insulin status. When you look at a blood glucose reading in isolation, you leave out a major part of the story of blood sugar control, potential diabetes, and other chronic disease risks. If you’re going to worry about heart disease, insulin sensitivity is one of the most important modifiable risk factors you can be concerned with. It’s right up there with smoking, and it’s far more important than relative cholesterol levels. You can use a fasting insulin level with a fasting glucose level to calculate something called a HOMA-IR score, which is one of several reasonable measures of insulin sensitivity.

In general, a carnivore diet tends to lead to improved insulin sensitivity over the long term. Glucose tends to remain stable for people on the carnivore diet because the glucose the body is using is not being ingested; it’s being produced mostly from protein, a small amount of fat, and a few other sources, such as lactate, via a process generally described as gluconeogenesis. Gluconeogenesis is probably the most precise way to control glucose regulation, and in the long term, it leads to well-controlled and stable blood glucose numbers. People with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes also note that in the long term they tend to see excellent blood glucose control, although it may take a few months for the level to normalize.

Liver Function

Liver function studies tend to be normal for people on the carnivore diet, and the assumption that increased protein is damaging to the liver is based upon a fallacy. NAFLD (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease) is an increasingly common diagnosis. Fortunately, we know from observations of carnivore populations and by extrapolating data from low-carbohydrate studies that a carnivore diet tends to improve this problem. Liver function tests can be slightly elevated for several reasons, and if you’re having them evaluated, you should be aware of benign reasons for their elevation. One of the more common reasons is recent intense exercise, which can result in slight elevations of these enzymes for up to a week.

Inflammation

In a similar vein, markers of inflammation, such as C-reactive protein, can show a transient elevation after exercise or other acute stresses on the body. This marker and other inflammation labs can be used as risk factors for predicting cardiovascular or other disease potentials. Once again, it appears that a carnivore diet tends to lead to low levels of inflammatory markers.

Kidney Function

Kidney function is often a concern with higher protein diets, but the concern stems from data from animal studies that haven’t been replicated with humans. In general, the consensus is that high-protein diets do not damage kidneys. Some people still are concerned that an already damaged kidney will fail more quickly in the presence of higher levels of protein, but that data is tenuous at best. We have some reports of improved renal function in people who’ve followed a carnivore diet. If you have compromised renal function and are concerned that consuming too much protein while on a carnivore diet might be problematic, it’s worth your effort to track the function over time.

Hormone Levels

Thyroid function is generally improved on a carnivore diet, and we have observed improvements in autoimmune-related issues such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. One interesting thing to note is that thyroid hormone, particularly T3 levels, may seem to be low, but the clinical function is noted to be good. This likely represents a decreased requirement for circulation of the hormone or an increase in receptor sensitivity. Therefore, you should not need a supplement in the absence of a clinical need.

Similarly, when people follow a carnivore diet, reproductive hormones tend to normalize and function optimally. It becomes very important to consider clinical function as we assess particular hormone levels. Both men and women note improvements in libido and clinical testosterone function when they follow a carnivore diet, particularly after they’ve moved beyond the adaptation phase.

Iron Levels

Iron deficiency is one of the most common deficiency problems in the world, and a carnivore diet is undoubtedly the most efficacious way to prevent that problem because it’s tremendously high in bioavailable heme iron. On the other hand, too much iron, particularly when stored in excess quantities in the tissue, has been associated with some health problems, such as diabetes, cardiac disease, or liver disease.

Fortunately, excess iron levels don’t seem to occur to any significant degree on a carnivore diet. It’s likely that underlying metabolic disease and inflammatory states contribute to excess iron storage. In general, a carnivore diet tends to improve those conditions, and that may be the reason why high storage levels as assessed by serum ferritin don’t seem to be a problem, even though carnivore dieters have a relatively high iron intake.

Miscellaneous Health Markers

In general, you can expect both red and white blood cell counts to fall within the normal ranges. However, you may see slightly lower white blood cell counts, which may be associated with a generally lower inflammatory state. Levels of serum electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, and magnesium, tend to be normal. Our bodies do a pretty good job of maintaining these in fairly narrow physiologic ranges.

Some people express concern that a carnivore diet can lead to an acidic environment, but our blood pH is aggressively controlled and very tightly regulated. As long as we have functioning lungs and kidneys, we can keep our blood pH right where it needs to be regardless of dietary input.

The concerns about acids leaching minerals from our bones for buffering purposes are unfounded. Higher protein diets ultimately lead to better long-term bone health, especially because our bones are approximately 40 percent protein.

Excerpted from The Carnivore Diet, By Dr. Shawn Baker.
Learn more HERE

Digging Up the Real Data on Minerals

When officials at the USDA came up with the recommended daily allowances (RDA), they primarily studied populations and individuals who consumed high-carb, grain-based diets. In a 2007 Institute of Medicine review of the RDA, several speakers asserted that the Dietary Reference Indices should be based on a higher standard of evidence than what had been used to formulate the recommendations. Basically, the RDAs are more or less a guess, and they certainly weren’t formulated by evaluating people who were eating low-carb or (heaven forbid!) meat-only diets. Consequently, we have no real idea of what the optimal or even sufficient levels of vitamins and minerals are for various subsets of dieters. For now, the entire dietary profession uses this low-quality evidence for the basis of almost all the current recommendations.

We’ve seen evidence of other differences in requirements for some vitamins, minerals, and cofactors. A deficiency of thiamine, for example, leads to a condition called beriberi, which results in severe neurological and cardiac disease. Researchers have found that an animal’s requirements for thiamine vary based on that animal’s carbohydrate consumption. This result was observed as far back as the late 1800s when scientists noted that animals fed a low-carbohydrate diet didn’t develop disease in the presence of low thiamine levels, but animals fed a high-carbohydrate diet developed disease at the same low thiamine levels.

Magnesium is a mineral that’s crucial for many human physiologic functions. Recently magnesium deficiency has been implicated as a potential source of numerous disease states. Interestingly, magnesium is a cofactor that is crucially involved in carbohydrate metabolism, and there is some research showing a relationship between blood glucose and magnesium levels. Is it possible that many people are identified as having a magnesium deficiency because of increased demand via high rates of carbohydrate ingestion? It’s certainly an interesting question, and that relationship would account for the lack of any clinically relevant nutrient deficiencies in our observations of the modern-day carnivore-dieter population.

Unfortunately, it’s challenging to make assessments about vitamin or mineral deficiencies. We can look for overt clinical symptoms and more subtle subclinical things like poor energy, sleep, or mood. Aside from those symptoms, we’re often limited to studying the things we can measure most easily, which generally comes down to a blood test.

For all the billions of dollars we spend annually on blood tests, the sad fact is that many are poor predictors of chronic issues. Sure, sometimes we can get important information from a blood test, but to think that a blood serum vitamin C level can tell us something specific, such as the cellular concentration of the vitamin C level in our left tibia, is misguided. Perhaps at steady state, when no environmental or internal changes are occurring, a certain level can be expected to exist, but the truth is that trafficking of materials in the blood can vary wildly.

Does sleep, exercise, recent meals, temperature, time of year, injury, or illness (not to mention thousands of other things) affect those concentrations? Almost certainly, the answer is yes. Another solution for identifying problems is to biopsy the tissues, which gives a far better representation of one’s nutritional state. The problem is that biopsies often are fairly painful, they require far more risk, and they’re expensive. Thus, we continue to rely on unreliable guesswork to make many of our decisions about how to address health issues.

One of the recurring themes that I like to talk about is that, despite what many people like to proclaim, the science of nutrition is not settled. (Stating that science is settled would completely undermine the basic concept of science.) Take this theory, for example: Red meat causes diabetes. The evidence in support of this theory would be based on population survey data that shows that people who eat more red meat have higher rates of diabetes. There’s nothing wrong with that theory as long as the data continues to support that claim.

However, what if you have information to the contrary—such as numerous accounts of people who eat only red meat and notice that their diabetes resolves? At this point, you have to adjust your hypothesis and modify your theory. You could say that maybe it was some other factor common to those meat eaters with diabetes that caused the disease; in other words, maybe meat combined with something else is to blame.

Unfortunately, we live in a time when entire industries and careers are built upon a particular hypothesis, and even in the face of new or overwhelming evidence, some people are unwilling to revisit or revise their original assumptions. This is human nature and to be expected. The unfortunate part is that those assumptions can affect many lives around the world, and many billions of dollars are tied up in it.

Here’s a general question to ponder before we go on: Why is it that every wild animal that eats meat as part of its diet doesn’t suffer from the chronic diseases that modern humans do? How can a food source that is ubiquitous throughout the animal kingdom and has been clearly eaten by humans for millions of years now suddenly be toxic to only humans while every other animal is just fine?

Excerpted from The Carnivore Diet, By Dr. Shawn Baker.

Learn more HERE

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