I have been on the carnivore diet for over a year now and while the diet (or what we call the carnivorous way of eating) has become increasingly popular, thanks to the likes of Dr. Shawn Baker, Mikhaila Peterson and longtime carnivores such as Amber O’Hearn there isn’t much succinct information out there to help curious folks easily get started (at the time of article print, September 2018).
Before we get started, let me throw in some the legal disclaimers: While I am a nutritional therapy practitioner and provide nutritional support, I am not providing medical advice. Any information provided in regards to nutritional therapy should not be considered medical advice or treatment. While I do partner with physicians to provide holistic nutrition and lifestyle support, whenever you start a new diet, always consult your primary care physician and/or holistic team.
So here’s to paying it forward.
Part 1: What Exactly Is the Zero Carb Carnivore Way of Eating?
When I first started carnivore, I wasn’t sure how to begin. I knew that a low carb high fat, ketogenic (keto) diet had helped me tremendously with many physical and mental ailments but I was still struggling with cravings (diet soda!) and inflammation, to name a few. I heard a little about the meat only diet but what exactly is it?
How much do you eat?
What do you eat and when?
Do you follow the diet only while you heal and/or optimize health?
Does the diet only work as a lifestyle?
The zero carb carnivore or carnivore diet is often times thought of as the perfect elimination diet since most of us do not suffer any ailments from eating meat, especially beef. Some of us start carnivore because of weight stalls or other ailments that Keto or some other diet was not able to completely heal.
We start the diet by eating only what is part of the animal kingdom. Some carnivores simplify down to eating beef and water only.
As an elimination protocol, you can slowly reintroduce foods, one at a time. (How to reintroduce foods is discussed later.)
But over time, most people love the way they feel (including myself) and make it a lifestyle change. If you think about it, carnivores are willing to “give up” everything but meat.
It seems a little extreme but maybe it’s because we really do feel THAT much better.
Better enough to eat meat, every meal, all meals, all the time.
Carnivore may not be the best diet for everyone but anecdotally, I have felt my best on carnivore than a year on Keto and for 12 years as a vegetarian with fish (Pescatarian diet).
It really is a simple diet: eat meat and drink water.
Animal kingdom only. Eat to satiety.
Part 2: Let’s Be Clear on the Different Zero Carb Diets — Not All Are Carnivore
Strict zero carb carnivores do not believe the right two columns are considered carnivore. But for the sake of distinguishing zero carb carnivore for what it is, they are depicted as zero carb diet-alternative comparisons.
This topic was confusing when first starting carnivore. What can and can’t I eat? This topic screamed for a visual.
So simple, right?
In this discussion, we are focusing on Zero Carb Carnivore (left column).
Zero Carb Carnivore
The Zero Carb Carnivore way of eating has mostly zero carbohydrates. I say mostly, because eggs, dairy and some fish have trace carbs. Organ meats and shellfish contain carbs.
Carnivore Keto or Keto Carnivore
“Carnivore Keto” is almost zero carbs, because of counting carbs as net carbs and then the sum, equaling out to zero. Carbs — Fiber = Net Carbs.
Carnivore Keto or Keto Carnivore is a middle-ground hybrid diet of the Zero Carb Carnivore diet and the Keto diet. It allows for healthy non-animal oils and fats, like olive oil, coconut oil, MCT oil and avocado oil (as all are zero carbs). The diet also allows for fibrous veggies like spinach, kale and the highly-coveted, avocado (all have low to no net carbs). Unsweetened almond milk is sometimes used in baking and drinks.
There are other keto foods that some consume as this is really a hybrid diet. It really is a, to each their own version of a zero carb diet. Touché.
Zero Carb Keto
Zero Carb Keto is the Carnivore Keto Diet, with the addition of alternative sweeteners, such as stevia and erythritol. These sugar-free options show as zero carbohydrates on nutritional labels.
While they may not always affect glucose in the body, they do have an impact on insulin. Sweeteners are known to affect the flora in the gut biome. But that’s a discussion for another day.
To see how these sugar-free options affect you, I recommend checking glucose and ketone levels, as well as getting blood work done for fasting insulin.
We are not worried about glucose, in isolation, but how glucose can cause insulin resistance and the slew of metabolic and autoimmune issues that arise from insulin resistance. Some do fine with sugar-free alternatives but on my Keto stint, I replaced sweets with liters of diet sodas and fat bombs laced with erythritol. My cravings never went away. If you still have cravings, weeks into carnivore, I’d suspect sugar-free foods.
As soon as I cut diet soda and all sugar-free foods, my cravings were gone and my moods became very even.
I never physically crave sweets or carbs but when I am very stressed and sleep deprived, my mental cravings (food habits) come back. Food has always been my “drug” of choice. I have always used food as my way of coping and I am very mindful of this.
This is where integrating self-introspection and even therapy can be critical for true freedom. Self-awareness and knowing yourself is invaluable. No one will understand your triggers and what may set you off emotionally, then you.
I, personally, am continuously working to create non-food neural pathways to deal with stress and sleep deprivation.
Spending some quality time and figuring out your triggers and emotional hot spots can really support any dietary and lifestyle changes for the long run. Get to you know your self. You may come to really like what you find.
Be your best by prioritizing nutrient-dense foods first but stress and sleep management should come as a close second (among the many other lifestyle factors).
Part 3: The Carnivore Food Pyramid
If Carnivores are not following the USDA’s food pyramid for the Standard American Diet (SAD) food recommendations, then we need our own carnivore food pyramid.
Let’s get into some of the foods that are ideal on the carnivore diet.
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