Are ‘vegetarians’ or ‘carnivores’ healthier?

“Animal protein was inversely associated with all-cause and cardiovascular mortality in older adults.”
~Tomas Merono et al, Animal protein intake is inversely associated with mortality in older adults: the InCHIANTI study

“Partial replacement of animal protein foods with plant protein foods led to marked decreases in the intake and status of vitamin B-12 and iodine.”
~Tiina Pellinen et al, Replacing dietary animal-source proteins with plant-source proteins changes dietary intake and status of vitamins and minerals in healthy adults: a 12-week randomized trial

Nutrition studies has been plagued with problems. Most of the research in the past was extremely low quality. Few other fields would allow such weak research to be published in peer-reviewed journals. Yet for generations, epidemiological (observational and correlational) studies were the norm for nutrition studies. This kind of research is fine for preliminary exploration in formulating new hypotheses to test, but it is entirely useless for proving or disproving any given hypothesis. Shockingly, almost all of medical advice and government recommendations on diet and nutrition are based on this superficial and misleading level of results.

The main problem is there has been little, if any, control of confounding factors. Also, the comparisons used were pathetically weak. It turns out that, in studies, almost any dietary protocol or change improves health compared to a standard American diet (SAD) or other varieties of standard industrialized diets based on processed foods of refined carbs (particularly wheat), added sugar (particularly high fructose corn syrup), omega-6 seed oils (inflammatory, oxidative, and mutagenic), food additives (from glutamate to propionate), and nutrient-deficient, chemical-drenched agricultural crops (glyphosate among the worst). Assuming the dog got decent food, even eating dog shit would be better for your health than SAD.

Stating that veganism or the Mediterranean diet is healthier than what most people eat (SAD: standard American diet) really tells us nothing at all. That is even more true when the healthy user effect is not controlled for, as typically is the case with most studies. When comparing people on these diets to typical meat eaters, the ‘carnivores’ also are eating tons of plant-based carbs, sugar, and seed oils with their meat (buns, french fries, pop, etc; and, for cooking and in sauces, seed oils; not to mention snacking all day on chips, crackers, cookies, and candy). The average meat-eater consumes far more non-animal foods than animal foods, and most processed junk food is made mostly or entirely with vegan ingredients. So why do the animal foods get all the blame? And why does saturated fat get blamed when, starting back in the 1930s, seed oils replaced animal fats as the main source of fatty acids?

If scientists in this field were genuinely curious, intellectually humble, not ideologically blinded, and unbiased by big food and big farm funding, they would make honest and fair comparisons to a wide variety of optimally-designed diets. Nutritionists have known about low-carb, keto, and carnivore diets for about a century. The desire to research these diets, however, has been slim to none. The first ever study of the carnivore diet, including fully meat-based, is happening right now. To give some credit, research has slowly been improving. I came across a 2013 study that compared four diets: “vegetarian, carnivorous diet rich in fruits and vegetables, carnivorous diet less rich in meat, and carnivorous diet rich in meat” (Nathalie T. Burkert et al, Nutrition and Health – The Association between Eating Behavior and Various Health Parameters: A Matched Sample Study).

It’s still kind of amusing that the researchers called carnivorous a “diet rich in fruits and vegetables” and a “diet less rich in meat.” If people are mostly eating plant foods or otherwise not eating much meat, how exactly is that carnivorous in any meaningful and practical sense? Only one in four of the diets were carnivorous in the sense the average person would understand it, as a diet largely based on animal foods. Even then, it doesn’t include a carnivorous diet entirely based on animal foods. Those carnivores eating a “diet rich in meat” might still be eating plenty of processed junk food, their meat might still be cooked or slathered in harmful seed oils and come with a bun, and they might still be washing it down with sugary drinks. A McDonald’s Big Mac meal could be considered as part of a diet rich in meat, just because meat represents the greatest portion of weight and calories. Even if their diet was only 5-10% unhealthy plant foods, it could still be doing severe damage to their health. One can fit in a fairly large amount of carbs, seed oils, etc in a relatively small portion of the diet.

I’m reminded of research that defines a “low-carb diet” as any carb intake that is 40% or below, but other studies show that 40% is the absolute highest point of carb intake for most hunter-gatherers (discussed here with links to references). As high and low are relative concepts in defining carb intake, what is considered a meat-rich diet would be relative as well. I doubt these studied carnivorous “diets rich in meat” are including as high amount of animal foods as found in the diets of Inuit, Masai, early Americans, and Paleolithic humans. So what is actually being compared and tested? It’s not clear. This was further confounded in how vegans, vegetarians, and pescetarians (fish-eaters) were combined into a single group mislabeled as ‘vegetarian’, considering that vegetarians and pescetarians technically could eat a diet primarily animal-based if they so chose (dairy, eggs, and/or fish) and I know plenty of vegetarians who eat more cheese than they do fruits and vegetables. Nonetheless, at least these researchers were making a better comparison than most studies. They did try to control for other confounders such as pairing each person on a plant-based diet with “a subject of the same sex, age, and SES [socioeconomic status]” from each of the other three diets.

What were the results? Vegetarians, compared to the most meat-based of the diets, had worse outcomes for numerous health conditions: asthma, allergies, diabetes, cataracts, tinnitus, cardiac infarction, bronchitis, sacrospinal complaints, osteoporosis, gastric or intestinal ulcer, cancer, migraine, mental illness (anxiety disorder or depression), and “other chronic conditions.” There were only a few health conditions where the plant-based dieters fared better. For example, the so-called ‘vegetarians’ had lower rates of hypertension compared to carnivores rich in meat and less rich in meat, although higher rates than those carnivores rich in fruits and vegetables (i.e., more typical omnivores).

This is interesting evidence about the diets, though. If the carnivorous diets were low enough in starchy and sugary plant foods and low enough in dairy, they would be ketogenic which in studies is known to lower blood pressure and so would show a lesser rate of hypertension. This indicates that none of these diets are low-carb, much less very low-carb (ketogenic). The plant-based dieters in this study also had lower rates of stroke and arthritis, these being other health benefits seen on a ketogenic diet, and so this further demonstrates that this study wasn’t comparing high-carb vs low-carb as one might expect from how the diets were described in the paper. That is to say the researchers didn’t include a category for a ketogenic carnivore diet or even a ketogenic omnivore diet, much less a ketogenic ‘vegetarian’ diet as a control. Keep in mind that keto-carnivore is one of the most common forms of those intentionally following a carnivore diet. And keep in mind that plant-based keto is probably more popular right now than keto-carnivore. So, the point is that these unexpected results are examples of the complications with confounding factors.

The only other result that showed an advantage to the ‘vegetarians’ was less urinary incontinence, which simply means they didn’t have to pee as often. I haven’t a clue what that might mean. If we were talking about low-carb and keto, I’d suspect that the increased urination for the ‘carnivorous’ diets was related to decreased water retention (i.e., bloating) and hence the water loss that happens as metabolism shifts toward fat-burning. But since we are confident that such a diet wasn’t included in the study, these results remain anomalous. Of all the things that meat gets blamed for, I’ve never heard of anyone suggesting that it causes most people to urinate incessantly. That is odd. Anyway, it’s not exactly a life-threatening condition, even if it were caused by carnivory. It might have something to do with higher-fat combined with higher-carb, in the way that this combination also contributes to obesity, whereas high-fat/low-carb and low-fat/high-carb does not predispose one to fat gain. The ‘vegetarianism’ in this study was being conflated with a low-fat diet, but all of the four categories apparently were varying degrees of higher carb.

The basic conclusion is that ‘vegetarians’, including vegans and pescetarians, have on average poorer health across the board, with a few possible exceptions. In particular, they suffer more from chronic diseases and report higher impairment from health disorders. Also, not only these ‘vegetarians’ but also meat-eaters who ate a largely plant-based diet (“rich in fruits and vegetables”) consult doctors more often, even as ‘vegetarians’ are inconsistent about preventative healthcare such as check-ups and vaccinations. Furthermore, “subjects with a lower animal fat intake demonstrate worse health care practices,” whatever that exactly means. Generally, ‘vegetarians’ “have a lower quality of life.”

These are interesting results since the researchers were controlling for such things as wealth and poverty, and so it wasn’t an issue of access to healthcare or the quality of one’s environment or level of education. The weakness is that no data was gathered on macronutrient ratios of the subjects’ diets, and no testing was done on micronutrient content in the food and potential deficiencies in the individuals. Based on these results, no conclusions can be made about causal direction and mechanisms, but it does agree with some other research that finds similar results, including with other health conditions such as vegans and vegetarians having greater infertility. Any single one of these results, especially something like infertility, points toward serious health concerns involving deeper systemic disease and disorder within the body.

But what really stands out is the high rate of mental illness among ‘vegetarians’ (about 10%), twice as high as the average meat-eater (about 5%) which is to say the average Westerner, and that is with the background of the Western world having experienced a drastic rise in mental illness over the past couple of centuries. And the only mental illnesses considered in this study were depression and anxiety. The percentage would be so much higher if including all other psychiatric conditions and neurocognitive disorders (personality disorders, psychosis, psychopathy, Alzheimer’s, ADHD, autism, learning disabilities, etc). Think about that, the large number of people on a plant-based diet who are struggling on the most basic level of functioning, something I personally understand from decades of chronic depression on the SAD diet. Would you willingly choose to go on a diet that guaranteed a high probability of causing mental health struggles and suffering, neurocognitive issues and decline?

To put this study in context, listen to what Dr. Paul Saladino, trained in psychiatry and internal medicine, has to say in the following video. Jump to around the 19 minute mark where he goes into the nutritional angle of a carnivore diet. And by carnivore he is talking about fully carnivore and so, if dairy is restricted as he does in his own eating, it would also mean ketogenic as well. A keto-carnivore diet has never been studied. Hopefully, that will change soon. Until then, we have brilliant minds like that of Dr. Saladino to dig into the best evidence that is presently available.

Here are a couple of articles that come from the BBC. As a mainstream news source, this demonstrates how this knowledge is finally getting acknowledged in conventional healthcare and public debate. That is heartening.

[Text below is from linked articles.]

Why vegan junk food may be even worse for your health
by William Clark, BBC

There’s also the concern that the health risks associated with these kinds of nutrient deficiencies might not show up immediately. It could take years to associate foggy thoughts and tiredness with low B12 levels, infertility with low iron, and osteoporosis brought on by calcium deficiency does not show up until late 40s and 50s in most people, says Rossi.

“People will think about their health now and not their future health,” she says.

How a vegan diet could affect your intelligence
by Zaria Gorvett, BBC

In fact, there are several important brain nutrients that simply do not exist in plants or fungi. Creatine, carnosine, taurine, EPA and DHA omega-3 (the third kind can be found in plants), haem iron and vitamins B12 and D3 generally only occur naturally in foods derived from animal products, though they can be synthesised in the lab or extracted from non-animal sources such as algae, bacteria or lichen, and added to supplements.

Others are found in vegan foods, but only in meagre amounts; to get the minimum amount of vitamin B6 required each day (1.3 mg) from one of the richest plant sources, potatoes, you’d have to eat about five cups’ worth (equivalent to roughly 750g or 1.6lb). Delicious, but not particularly practical. […]

There are small amounts of choline in lots of vegan staples, but among the richest sources are eggs, beef and seafood. In fact, even with a normal diet, 90% of Americans don’t consume enough. According to unpublished research by Wallace, vegetarians have the lowest intakes of any demographic. “They have extremely low levels of choline, to the point where it might be concerning,” he says.

For vegans, the picture is likely to be bleaker still, since people who eat eggs tend to have almost double the choline levels of those who don’t. And though the US authorities have set suggested intakes, they might be way off.

Meat and mental health: a systematic review of meat abstention and depression, anxiety, and related phenomena
by Urska Dobersek et al

Conclusion: Studies examining the relation between the consumption or avoidance of meat and psychological health varied substantially in methodologic rigor, validity of interpretation, and confidence in results. The majority of studies, and especially the higher quality studies, showed that those who avoided meat consumption had significantly higher rates or risk of depression, anxiety, and/or self-harm behaviors. There was mixed evidence for temporal relations, but study designs and a lack of rigor precluded inferences of causal relations. Our study does not support meat avoidance as a strategy to benefit psychological health.

13 thoughts on “Are ‘vegetarians’ or ‘carnivores’ healthier?

  1. Type of diet is important, but more importantly is timing and quality of food ingested. Meat industries are so bad right now that millions of pounds of meat has been recalled this year alone in the United States due to rubber gloves, nails, woodchips, metal shavings, etc being found in meat and reported by consumers who find these “foreign bodies” in their foods, chipping teeth and getting sick on cases of actually ingesting a piece of metal. Factories are overworking their equipment in order to meet high demands of cheap processed meats. Thinking that most meat goes through X-ray scans and metal detecting is more than disconcerting, knowing that the average american dinner has been exposed to radiation and grown from animals knee deep in their own waste is rather disgusting.
    Still meat is an important part of the diet and with plant-based foods equally as processed and robbed of natural and ethical growing conditions is causing poor health across the board.

    Timing is essential in diets as well. If you are an athlete or performing hard physical labor foods high in protein are essential but so are the animo acids to break and use those protiens. Amino Acids are rare in the SAD as most come from fats and raw vegetables and when is the last time people ate either of those. Nutrional education is ambysmal at best with so many contribuitng factors it’s dizzying to keep up with.

    In sicknesses vitamin C is one of the most important nutrients your immune system needs to fight off disease, but if the body is busy digesting sugars and meats and even things like brocoli and corn(which are hard to digest) then your body focuses on sending those foods through the digestive tract because the food will rot inside your body making things worse.

    The common person (speaking for North Americans at least) should have access to a diverse enough range of foods that for any occasion they can optimize their diet based on their body’s needs. Unfortunately no education system really teaches how to be healthy, the food pyramid practically being the extent of nutional education in grade school. There are projections that 3/4ths of americans will be obese by 2030. A lot of this is caused by the exploitation of poorer communities by selling the only food they can afford as being the most unhealthy (fast food) coupled with bad education and even worse healthcare (which exploits further)

    It’s another example of corporate captialism creating demands so it can profit, cash crops, meat farming, Coca-Cola.

    Those are my thoughts after reading this article anyway, which was as always a good and educational post.

    • If I wanted to be nitpicky, I could debate various points, but honestly I’m not in a disagreeable mood. I’m just ready for bed. I’m too tired and I’m too amused at the moment for some odd reason. Sometimes life amuses me. Reading your comment, I couldn’t help but think about the sorry state of nutrition studies, stuck as it is in a replication crisis.

      As I said in this post, we can’t conclude anything based on this study. All we can say is, that’s interesting. And that makes me smile in thinking of the pointlessness of so much debate. I threw in the talk with Saladino in the end because he is highly informed, smart, interesting, curious, and intellectually humble. He admits what he doesn’t know and acknowledges he could be wrong. I like his easygoing personality.

      As for my own take on things, all I can say is what works for me. I feel best on animal-based keto diet, but I keep experimenting. Some plant foods seem to be fine and others maybe not so much. I’m also uncertain about dairy. As one of my many experiments, I’m thinking of trying the carnivore diet for a period again and this time do it strictly. I want to use it as an elimination diet and so get a baseline experience of how I feel.

    • Out of curiosity, what kinds of diets have you tried in your lifetime? I’ve never done vegan, but I was vegetarian for about a year. I’ve eaten a lot of vegetarian food in general because my brothers and their families are vegetarian (of fake meats, my favorite is Quorn made out of fungus and is grown in fermentation; way better than tofurkey). I used to try to include lots of plant foods, even as a meat-eating omnivore. I’d cook up greens and onions, have large salads, and eat fruit almost every day. Paleo diet, Wahls protocol, ketotarian, etc — all of these recommend lots of plant foods, although they limit or eliminate certain kinds of plant foods such as grains, legumes, root vegetables.

      I did fairly well on that kind of diet and saw immense improvements. There is nothing wrong with it and I definitely wouldn’t advise against it. Dr. Terry Wahls and Dr. Dale Bredesen showed in clinical studies that this kind of diet can reverse serious disorders, respectively multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s. It was the paleo documentary The Magic Pill that got me started on my present phase of experiments. But I found that, as I moved toward more strict keto, I felt even better and I was increasingly drawn to more animal foods, even though one could be in ketosis while eating entirely plant foods. Once I tried a brief carnivore experiment, I suddenly realized how hard some vegetables had been to digest, in contrast to beef in particular. I did bring some plant foods back into my diet. I entirely stopped eating those large salads that sit heavy on my gut — no more raw veggies for me. I’ve also continued to keep out the starchy and sugary plant foods, but that still leaves plenty else. Fruits are easy to digest and some fruits are low in sugar, such as olives and avocados. I’ve also been adding more fermented veggies.

      Still, I wonder. Dr. Paul Saladino, more than anyone else, has got me rethinking what healthy means. Much of what we take as true about diet and nutrition isn’t really based on any good scientific research. It’s simply beliefs and assumptions that have been repeated by so many people for so long that they’ve been taken as facts. Dr. Saladino makes a powerful case for a nose-to-tail carnivore diet as the most nutrient-dense and bioavailable. There is literally not a single essential macronutrient or micronutrient that isn’t found in animal foods, as long as one is eating from the entire animal in various forms: fat, muscle meat, organ meat, gristle/tendons, bone broth, bone meal, collagen, etc. For those who can handle it, dairy and eggs provide great nutrition as well. And if one is adventurous, there is the traditional cultured/rotten meats, what some call high meat. Scandinavians and Asians have a long history of eating cultured fish, sometimes mixed with veggies (e.g., kimchi). If you have the time, watch the above video or else some other talk by Dr. Saladino, as he has an impressive mind and his curiosity is infectious.

      Anyway, I totally agree with you about food quality. That is a point I’ve been making a lot lately. And it’s precisely why I’ve had grave misgivings about veganism. Based on my own sense of things, I don’t see how a sustainable and healthy vegan diet is possible, definitely not for most people and maybe not for anyone. Outside of a few small populations near the equator, a locavore and organic vegan diet is simply not an option. And even near the equator, I suspect there is a reason that no traditional culture has ever been vegan in the hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution and the millions of years of hominid evolution. Even traditional societies that have included vegetarianism going back millennia (e.g., India) did so with including eggs and dairy and also in making exceptions for other animal foods, including meat, in certain cases such as young couples seeking to increase their fertility in order to get pregnant. So, there hasn’t been a traditional society that was strictly vegetarian in entirely eliminating meat, much less vegan.

      That is because a mostly or entirely plant-based diet is extremely hard to do in a healthy way. The only way a vegetarian can remain healthy is by prioritizing dairy and eggs, especially from pasture-raised animals. But still, a vegetarian eating those foods will be missing out on key nutrients from other animal sources: carnitine, DHA, EPA, etc. This is why so many vegetarians and, surprisingly, vegans will include fish in their diet. Ideologically, there is an old bias from Galenic humoralism that was Christianized in the Middle Ages and modernized by the Seventh Day Adventists — it separates fish and meat, as having very different qualities. I find it amusing, though. My ‘vegan’ aunt eats fish. That is great for her health and that is why she eats the fish as her doctor told her to eat it for health reasons, but it doesn’t seem like actual veganism to my mind. The survey data shows that vegetarians and vegans admit to somewhat regularly cheating by eating fish and meat, and so maybe this cheating is the only reason most of these people can maintain their diets within some basic level of health. Even then, very few people who start a vegetarian or vegan diet remain on it for longer than a few months and fewer still last longer than a couple of years. These extreme plant-based diets are very hard to do and that is why they require such carefully formulated and extensive supplementation, but this leads to the problems of what some call ‘nutritionism’ which looks at nutrients in isolation rather than as part of whole foods that include diverse ratios of nutrients and co-factors.

      Have you seen some of my writings on carnivore diet and animal-based diets in general, including vegetarianism, in contrast to veganism? A central message I keep repeating is about food quality. We could feed the whole world, so I argue, with high quality animal foods from regenerative farming (there are no more cows today in North America than there were once buffalo), but we could never feed the whole world with high quality plant foods from regenerative farming. To my mind, that is the difference that makes the difference. Most Westerners live fairly far north. Here in North America, where is most of the population supposed to get large amounts of local, organic plant foods from fall to spring? The fact of the matter is they are not. Yet I can buy pasture-raised animal foods from local farmers year round, as could most Americans. It costs more to do so, but that is because through taxes and other means I’m paying for the externalized costs of the food system that other Americans are relying upon. All the costs of local, organic animal foods from regenerative farming, however, are entirely internalized to the local economy and the local ecosystem. So, I’m definitely for ending factory farming, but that will only happen when we return to regenerative farming and the only way that can happen is through an animal-based diet. That is my own tentative conclusion for the time being, although I’m always open to new information and insights.

      • I apologize for the very delayed response, especially since you took the time to add all the links. But to get into it I suppose my diet now is eat whatever I feel is best/available in the moment. Generally I try not to eat too much and limit meat intake when I can. For a couple years I stuck to a nuts and berries type of Paleo diet, mean included, which worked pretty decently for a while, during that time I ate fairly infrequently (although I’d never heard of the OMAD way of eating until reading your blog) but I suppose my eating habits fell in line with that somewhat. I was in good shape and never really lacked energy. I also noticed my tolerance to sugar and chocolates was really bad after I started, which is definitely a good thing. Growing up on fast food and cheap snacks has surely given me a cynical viewpoint on the matter, though in light of a lot of your blogs on nutrition and diet I am finding myself introspectively dissecting odd habits I used to have, and still do to some degree, namely starving myself or fasting for long periods of time for no other reason than I don’t like eating and food generally disgusts me, makes me sweat, gives stomach aches, lethargy, etc. I’m wondering now if, at least as a child, I would avoid meals as a more instinctual or biological response to the ill food set in front of me.

        I’m not convinced any diet is exactly “right” for humans, plant based diets of course tend to lack vital nutrients but meat based diets also lack things like Vitamin C and essential amino acids your body needs to break down the proteins. Even the most optimal mixed diets of all the food groups still seems incomplete or perhaps better said is that humans retain a certain odd diffinity towards food.

        I can’t really argue against any of your points as you lay out your arguments so well with more than enough evidence and sourced citations and I honestly don’t disagree with you much on this topic anyways. Your knowledge of the subject is far broader and deeper so I doubt I have much I can contribute.

        My only nuance and its probably more like a personal bias lacking the real substance of an actual argument but I’ve been entertaining the idea that food is wrong for humans, against our nature even. In the most extreme account, one that is probably rooted in folklore and mythology, is accounts of people who could survive and live far longer than our average life spans through diets consisting of nothing, save water and the energy of the sun. In ancient Qigong practices the main goal of an individual was to form a “golden child” or “elixir of life” by method of embyronic breathing. A meditation done throughout multiple lifetimes (reincarnation being an important factor as this could not be achieved in a single life) involving deep belly breathing and a cultivation of this elixir located in the belly along with a fair amount of cosmic circulation of energy as well as several other practices one is supposed to maintain.

        Eating therefore becomes an inconvenience that stalls the cultivation process. It’s kind of off topic and possibly a little on the extreme or whimsical side and I certainly don’t want to suggest that just because something was said or believed by someone in antiquity means that it is the unquestionable truth, I do believe in the concept of anything is possible and knowledge tends to be a fickle bastard at it’s best. I put off responding for a while as I wasn’t sure how to say something interesting without simply repeating and agreeing or arguing and debating for the sake of it. Water is the most essential thing we can place in our bodies so at the very least maybe our diets should be 70% water and 30% food, the numbers roughly coinciding with our biological makeup.

        • “I apologize for the very delayed response”

          It’s fine you took your time. I must admit I enjoy dialogue. It’s true that I can feel a bit disappointed when someone comments and never comes back. But I don’t take it personally. Anyways, I’m glad you did return with some further thoughts.

          “It’s kind of off topic and possibly a little on the extreme or whimsical side . . . I do believe in the concept of anything is possible and knowledge tends to be a fickle bastard at it’s best.”

          Your comment isn’t off-topic at all. ‘Crazy’ thoughts are allowed here, as I have a high tolerance for ‘woo’.

          “Growing up on fast food and cheap snacks has surely given me a cynical viewpoint on the matter.”

          That could describe me as well. But I’m not sure I’m cynical about it. With depression having abated with low-carb, I’m feeling less cynical now than I have been in a long time. I would say, though, that I’ve become increasingly skeptical, not quite the same as cynical.

          “I’m not convinced any diet is exactly “right” for humans, plant based diets of course tend to lack vital nutrients but meat based diets also lack things like Vitamin C and essential amino acids your body needs to break down the proteins.”

          For what is “right” for humans, we can only speak of broad evolutionary patterns as seen in archaeological evidence and in study of the body, along with observations of and data from surviving hunter-gatherers. Within those broad patterns, there is plenty of room for local and individual differences, as seen in the anthropological literature.

          But many commonalities are also seen, such as most diets prior to the modern era being low-carb. Even higher carb diets of hunter-gatherers are low-carb compared to the industrial Standard American Diet (SAD).

          “In the most extreme account, one that is probably rooted in folklore and mythology, is accounts of people who could survive and live far longer than our average life spans through diets consisting of nothing, save water and the energy of the sun.”

          Well, that would definitely be a low-carb diet. Some obese people, in seeking to lose weight and under medical supervision, have gone more than a year without eating at all and only drinking water. The human body stores not only energy as fat but also large amounts of nutrients, in some cases years worth of nutrients.

          “In ancient Qigong practices the main goal of an individual was to form a “golden child” or “elixir of life” by method of embyronic breathing.”

          I’ve read about such things. My New Agey upbringing, combined with living in a liberal college town, has brought me into contact with all kinds of ideas, beliefs, and practices. I also went to a Shiatsu massage school and so am somewhat familiar with Eastern medical theory and practice, not that my teachers taught me how to grow a “golden child”.

          “Eating therefore becomes an inconvenience that stalls the cultivation process.”

          That reminds me of one of my favorite quotes. It’s from Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha: “I can think. I can wait. I can fast.” That is actually one of the things I love about low-carb diets. I feel so contented and relaxed without cravings that I can go for days without eating and not give it much thought. Skipping meals or only doing one-meal-a-day is no problem at all.

          That is maybe why monks practiced such austerity. There are multiple ways to get into ketosis. Low-carb definitely achieves this end but so does caloric-restriction and fasting. Modern humans spend so much time obsessing over food, but in ketosis that obsessive mentality goes away for many people. It allows you to spend time and psychic energy to other purposes, be it meditation and qi gong practice or be it exercising, reading, and spending time with family… or anything else.

          • Ah, well I appreciate that.

            It is interesting, and definitely makes sense, how closely interwoven food and mental health are. Everything about our bodies is chemical reactions, every process, function and facet of every cell is part of that amalgamation of billions of parts doing a handful of tasks in relative efficiency. Food, our energy source to fuel this vessel, goes directly to all these parts so why wouldn’t diet affect our psychology? I guess the question really should be to what extent does it all reach?

            Food consumption rates do appear to be a unique human problem. Most other mammals eat when they actually need to, only storing excessive fat for winter hibernation which means they undergo ketosis, I’m not mistaken. Spiders can live for weeks without feeding as well as most insects. Some plants can survive months without rain.
            Stomach capacities and our long intestines are probably an evolutionary result of binge eating and emergency eating. Such as eating because there may not be another opportunity for a week or eating to not waste precious resources.

            Obesity, especially, therefore is a misuse of that survival skill of storing food in the form of fat. I read a statistic recently that projected half of America would be obese within ten years.

            It’s interesting that dogs and cats and any pet can be fed into being overweight. Its somewhat unsettling though how the most domesticated house pets have evolved over thousands of years due to human torment to cater to our psyche’s. Like how dog faces took on more human qualities so we wouldn’t hunt them as much. Or how cats mimic human infants to influence us.

          • This is why the keto diet isn’t like other diets. It’s really not about the diet itself but about the ketosis. There is no equivalent diet that is so targeted in that fashion. It stands alone.

            Sure, the keto diet is often used for weight-loss, as with many other diets, but even there it is among the most effective, both short term and long term. Most diets work for weight loss by eliminating highly processed foods (candy, chips, fast food, etc) and/or by counting calories (or Weight Watcher points), but they don’t fundamentally alter the way the body functions in the way does ketosis. A century ago, it was specifically formulated as a medical treatent for neurocognitive conditions, originally for epileptic seizures but expanding far beyond that since. Research has found it effective for reversing the symptoms or in some cases effectively curing mood disorders, autoimmune disorders, metabolic disorders, etc. See Terry Wahls’ research on multiple sclerosis and Dale Bredesen’s research on Alzheimer’s.

            Ketosis is not to be underestimated, as it probably is the normal state of human functioning. Because of advances in agriculture and global trade, it’s only been in the past century or two carbohydrates such as sugar, wheat, corn and potatoes have become so widely available and cheap enough that anyone could afford them. Until the 1800s, few people could afford, in particular, sugar and wheat other than maybe as rare treats. Heck, even fresh fruit, beyond what grew locally in season, was a rare commodity in my parent’s childhood following WWII. Also, fruit has been cultivated to be so much more sugary than it was earlier in the century and even moreso than from centuries past. Have you compared wild fruit to cultivated fruit? The contrast of sweetness is stark.

            A high-carbohydrate diet elicits fat storage. That is why people traditionally ate a lot of root vegetables, squashes, etc in fall and early winter. They intentionally added on some extra body fat to survive the winter. But then that would have followed long periods of fasting and caloric restriction which put them into ketosis, i.e., fat-burning mode. Similar patterns feasting and fasting are even seen among hunter-gatherers near the equator. The tribal Piraha, for example, will sometimes choose to fast for no particular reason, despite being surrounded by an abundance of food.

            I’m not entirely certain about other species. There are probably many other mechanisms besides ketosis for surviving periods of low nutrient intake. Ketosis wouldn’t apply to plants, but I’m not sure about insects and spiders. Many other animals, though, can go into ketosis. But it seems to be a human talent that few animals share in being able to go into ketosis easily and while maintaining high levels of health. Most animals only go into ketosis when starving, which is why much of the rodent research can’t tell us much about humans. Rodents evolved to eat all the time, not feast and fast. Humans, on the other hand, after skipping a single meal or sleeping over night immediately start producing greater amounts of ketones.

            This has been a survival strategy for humans. It’s why we’re so adaptable and have been able to spread so far around the world. A human tribe could gorge on a woolly mammoth or a large kill of buffalo and then spend weeks traveling across a desert without food while maintaining energy and alertness. For humans, ketones act as a super-fuel for the brain. Very few animals are capable of that. Some other animals can go for long periods without food (e.g., a crocodile catching a current to travel across the ocean), but they do so by going into hibernation or near-hibernation. The difference is humans can do this while maintaining full activity, as long as they have fat reserves. Most animals don’t carry large fat reserves.

            As for cats and dogs, they do share one aspect of diet and metabolism. None of these species would normally eat a high-carb diet in the wild. Nor did any of these species, not humans either, eat many grains prior to agriculture. Wild grains are small, hard to harvest, and often moldy. It was an occasional food, at best. Cats, for example, will gnaw on some grass on occasion, but that is mostly as a digestive aid, not as a source of nutrients. It’s not merely that our pets get fat because we feed them all the time. More importantly, it’s what we feed them. Look at the ingredients of most pet food and you’ll see grains, corn, etc as the top or one of the top ingredients.

    • By the way, there is another brilliant expert, Ben Bikman, I enjoy listening to. He is an insulin researcher, but in the following video he also discusses glucagon which few people know about. Health has to do not only with insulin sensitivity or resistance for it also matters the relationship of and ratio between insulin to glucagon. Also, glucagon resistance can develop as well. These are two of the hormones key to metabolism, hunger signaling, etc.

      The endocrinological (study of hormonal system) perspective is so important. There was much endocrinological understanding in Europe earlier last century, but WWII scattered the research community and the research wasn’t translated into English when the US became the new center of nutrition studies. Gary Taubes talks about this some in his books. Anyway, check out the following video, if like me you find the science fascinating. Lot of the science is over my head, though.

      In this video, he also discusses the issues of protein restriction, mTOR, and autophagy. He explains why protein can have different affects, such as with glucose and insulin, depending on the functioning of the hormonal system. I’ve written a bit about this in some posts, but my knowledge is obviously superficial compared to Bikman.

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