I am an advocate for nutrient-density. Most of you know that meat is the most nutrient-dense, bio-available food. But as many more people adopt this way of eating, we’re seeing some issues arise. As a nutritionist that likes data, here’s some of my analysis.
The Nutrient Excess (Vitamin A and Copper)
I’ve had many clients take the hair tissue mineral test (HTMA) and their copper is in excess. Well, they are eating a lot of liver. And by a lot, I mean they’re eating only about one ounce daily. Vitamin A toxicity is a risk but it seems less prevalent of an issue than copper.
Not everyone gets copper toxicity from eating one ounce of liver daily. But if you also are exposed to copper piping (and drinking water from it), using a copper IUD, are an avid swimmer, or live in an area with soils with rich copper, one easy way to lessen the copper load is by limiting organ meats.
Quoting one of my clients-turned-HTMA-advocate, “One good way to check for copper toxicity is the Copper/Molybdenum ratio (Cu/Mo) found on the HTMA test. Molybdenum helps to metabolize copper so anything above 850 for Cu/Mo can signal copper toxicity. (This person in the example is at 2400).
Copper is an anti-fungal but when you are toxic with copper, it becomes bio-unavailable. The body cannot use it. So if you keep getting yeast or candida infections and no dietary or candida-protocols are resolving things, you may want to check your copper levels.” (Thanks, ZS)
Zinc and copper are antagonists (they work against each other and compete for binding sites) so I usually see one much higher than the other. But both can be high, as it is in this particular sample.
Most carnivores should have sufficient levels of zinc as zinc is rich in red meat, chicken, eggs, dairy and seafood. If you have low levels of zinc (gut issues are a sign of low zinc), you may not have enough stomach acid to break down your meats to utilize the zinc. Your stomach acid, hydrochloric acid, needs salt and zinc for the production of HCl, among other raw materials.
See the issue of eating meat-only and not healing the gut?
I kept seeing this trend of copper excess, over and over again in my practice.
A note, magnesium is often high too. Stop taking so many magnesium supplements. Start with sole water. I talk about this in detail here. Magnesium is critical but I think we may be overdoing it. This isn’t the case for everyone but it is for many.
If you notice in nutrition and wellness, there is always a new flavor of the month. One month it’s kale. Another month it’s quinoa and then celery. Maybe this month it’s mushrooms. In the carnivore community, it seems to be stearic acid (from suet).
Just eat the animal fat you enjoy.
So why was copper high for all these clients?
The one commonality was that every single one of these clients was taking either freeze-dried liver supplements, liver jerkies or eating fresh liver daily or several times a week.
If you don’t feel well on a carnivore diet, I recommend investigating vitamin A toxicity and copper toxicity. Consider the hair tissue mineral test to be certain with copper. Serum tests show levels of vitamin A but it’s not a representative picture of how much vitamin A is really in the body.
If you want to dig down the rabbit hole of vitamin A, you can look into the research of Grant Genereux.
Copper Toxicity Symptoms
- Abdominal cramping
- Black stools
- Brown ring-shaped markings in eyes (Kayser-Fleisher rings)
- General malaise
- Overly excited or overwhelmed
- Passing out
- Sudden changes in mood
- Trouble paying attention
- Unusually sad or depressed
- Vomiting (sometimes blood in vomit)
- Worsening anxiety or irritability
- Yellowing skin (jaundice)
Copper IUD toxicity is very real. One study showed that you can lose up to 50 percent more blood during your period when using a copper IUD, causing risks of anemia. Other studies showed excess copper in the blood. (Source, Source, Source)
The best way to stop copper toxicity is by supplementing zinc, vitamin B6 and reducing copper exposure. Always work with an experienced practitioner.
Vitamin A Toxicity Symptoms
Because vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, any excess gets stored in the body and becomes difficult to remove (unless you went on a low vitamin A diet, which is pretty difficult to do).
- Abdominal pain
- Autoimmune, skin conditions
- Blurry vision or vision changes
- Bone pain
- Cracked fingernails
- Dry, rough skin
- Hair loss
- Itchy, peeling skin
- Mouth ulcers
- Poor appetite
- Respiratory infection
- Sensitivity to sunlight
- Skin cracks at the corner of the mouth
- Yellowing skin (jaundice)
Unfortunately, too much of a good thing can be bad.
Many advocates in the traditional diet and low carb space think that 7 to 16 ounces are safe to eat in a week, which is much more than the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) levels. Yes, the RDA levels aren’t always right but if you went by the daily value ranges, you should only eat about 3 ounces of beef liver a week to be in the safe ranges for copper levels. This would also make you safe with vitamin A.
Keep in mind that this is only considering beef liver’s vitamin A and copper nutrients in isolation.
Remember, excess copper can be found in copper water pipes, copper IUDs, and soils, but it’s also rich in other foods, like shellfish.
If you use a lot of anti-aging retinol creams, sunscreens, on birth control, or eat cod liver oil and bright orange plant-based foods (mangoes, carrots, sweet potato), you may want to watch your vitamin A load.
Note that Vitamin B12 is also high but excess vitamin B12 is usually excreted through urine. If you are eating a meat-based diet and taking B12 supplements (not counting methylated-Bs for MTHFR), have kidney issues or low stomach acid, you can look into B12 toxicity. It’s a possibility but not commonly an issue.
The Nutrient Deficiencies (Beef + Beef Liver)
As I was going down this copper toxicity rabbit hole, I started considering nutritional deficiencies in eating just beef (specifically because of vitamin B1). So I started digging.
I recommend a beef-only elimination diet when you are doing some healing, as outlined in Carnivore Cure’s elimination protocol. But it’s not ideal for the long term because many of the essential vitamins and minerals are unfortunately low—even if you eat 2 lbs (32 ounces) a day.
Now I only shared deficiencies that were less than 50 percent of the daily value recommendations. We don’t need to bet the farm on RDA and daily values. I talk about the poor RDA values for vitamin C in Carnivore Cure. So we don’t need to hit these marks every day—we certainly don’t with vitamin C—but reaching 50 percent of most essential daily values would be smart.
I was researching thiamin (vitamin B1) because of thiamin’s ability to breakdown carbohydrates (if your blood sugar levels are high on carnivore, try eating more pork), and how thiamin is critical to balance electrolytes (something that many carnivores struggle with).
24 ounces of ribeye and 2 ounces of liver daily only hits:
- Thiamin (Vitamin B1): 46% of daily values
- Magnesium: 42% of daily values
- Vitamin E: 11% of daily values
- Vitamin K: 11% of daily values
- Folate (Vitamin B9): 5% of daily values
- Calcium: 4% of daily values
- Vitamin C: < 1% (trace) of daily values
- Omega-3s: (71 mg) (3.5 ounces of salmon has 2,506 mg)
I’m a big fan of trusting your body and its innate wisdom so if you feel well and thriving eating just beef, then you can just heed this as a future cautionary warning.
If you are only eating beef and don’t feel well, you might be deficient in some nutrients.
Nutrition with Judy Recommendations:
Beef is and will always be my main source of meat. But let’s add variety to cover the rainbow of meats.
Here’s what I recommend to my clients:
- Eat salmon, sardines, oysters for vitamin C, vitamin E, magnesium, and omega 3s. For, every client that takes the heavy metal functional tests and hair tissue mineral tests, I have not seen mercury toxicity yet from fish. So for now, the good significantly outweighs the bad. (In Carnivore Cure, I talk about the main sources of mercury).
- Get natural sources of calcium from the animal foods richest in calcium. Note that the fish variety makes it to the top.
- Eat pork for thiamin (vitamin B1) and some vitamin C. Salmon has a measurable amount of thiamin but just 9 ounces of pork belly gives you 100% of your daily value. Again, thiamin (vitamin B1) is needed for mineral balancing, otherwise known as electrolytes.
- Butter can give you adequate amounts of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and manganese.
- Eat lots of egg yolks for folate. You can read my egg post here, as there are some carnivore-friendly recipes and details about everything to do with eggs.
A Better Liver Option
If you enjoy liver and organ meats, chicken liver is the way to go. Even if you fear Omega-6’s in chicken, the liver has minimal fat, as it’s mostly protein. You can get all the rich nutrient-dense benefits of beef liver from chicken without the added risk of copper or vitamin A toxicity.
There is still a high amount of vitamin A in chicken liver but it’s much less than beef liver. The copper levels in chicken liver are significantly less. So much less, that if you ate 7 ounces of chicken liver a week, you should be fine (3.5 ounces of chicken liver only gives 55% of your daily value of copper).
The RDA is not something that is set in stone, so if you feel good eating more than 7 ounces of chicken liver, just take note of this but carry on.
Fatty Acid Deficiency
Most people are omega-3 fatty acid deficient. You will not get enough without fish. Do your skin, brain, mood, inflammation and autoimmune a favor by consuming more fatty fish. Try to eat fatty fish, at least 3 times a week.
Fatty Fish Options (3 times a week):
- Rainbow trout
- Salmon roe (most fish roe is good)
- Wild salmon
Limit (because of mercury content):
- Chilean sea bass (I love this fish, too…)
- King mackerel
- Tuna (certain ones are higher in mercury)
If you really cannot consume fish 3 times a week, take a high-quality fish oil supplement. I talk about the differences in fish oil supplements in Carnivore Cure but always get the triglyceride-based versions.
I have my clients on these as most of them are very fatty acid-deficient and once they increase their fish consumption, they can lower their consumption of fish oil supplements. Food is always better than any high-quality supplement. But mega-dose until you get balanced.
Let’s Get Practical
I always find it perplexing that health and wellness advocates focus on one fear (like fish’s mercury toxicity, PCB pollutants, or risk of oxidized oils) but don’t acknowledge fears in foods they advocate for (beef liver’s very high levels of copper and vitamin A).
The fish toxicity fears can be true but I have yet to see people mercury-poisoned from fatty fish (tuna is not a fatty fish) and inflamed because of fish oil supplements. The fears are legitimate but are they merited to the levels that they exist? Do you know one person that has inflammation from fish oils or sick from PCB pollutants?
But copper toxicity and vitamin A are real. I do know people and I have many clients that are toxic from beef liver. Numbers don’t lie.
And frankly, if we were to eat like our ancestors, I’m not entirely sure how often they killed a steer (cow) for the community, but it couldn’t have been that often. Did all of our ancestors get to eat 1 to 4 ounces of liver daily? I highly doubt it. There is only one liver per steer, after all.
While you heal, an elimination diet of limited meats is very practical. I have many clients that would love to eat butter. Their immune system is not ready. Some of my clients want to eat canned sardines. Their histamines scream when they do. We need to honor the body and eat what it can.
But once you are healed, optimizing carnivore with a rainbow of carnivore meats is ideal. Yes, as a nutritionist I still believe in a rainbow on your plates—rich in animal colors of yellow, orange, brown, and red.
Beef liver is not the only superfood on a carnivore diet, and while it’s very rich in certain nutrients, it can be toxic if you eat too much. Unfortunately, beef and beef liver miss the mark with several essential nutrients, even if you eat 2-3 lbs (32-48 ounces) a day.
If you don’t feel well on carnivore, you may need to eat more of a variety. You can eat meat alone and thrive but I wouldn’t bet on the beef variety alone.
I’ve been making rounds on podcasts talking about how an ideal carnivore or meat-based diet is eating a variety of meats. And likely, you don’t even need to eat organs. You really shouldn’t eat liver if you are forcing it down as your body will be in a stressed-state and that is horrible for digestion.
But now you know why I advocate for personalized (and a variety) on carnivore and this is why I like data.
w️ith ♥ and hope for healing,
If you enjoyed this blog post, you may also enjoy these Nutrition with Judy blog posts:
- Vitamin A toxicity and Liver on a Meat-Based Diet
- Make Meat a Priority for You and Your Children
- What’s in Canola Oil
- Meat and Climate Change
DISCLAIMER: The content is for educational purposes only. While I am a nutritional therapy practitioner, I am not providing medical advice. Whenever you start a new diet or protocol, always first consult with your trusted practitioner.