If you would have told me that at some point in my life I would spend a month eating only meat and no plant products I wouldn’t have believed you. I’ve now done that.
What I ate / didn’t eat
Everyone comes at this differently; my interest was in the most nutrient-dense foods, ethically produced.
My version excluded almost all plant products, including nuts, all vegetables and fruit. I consumed some dairy and eggs. In terms of meat, I consumed fish and beef, some pork, and virtually no poultry.
My exception was coffee and the occasional distilled spirit, the latter which I didn’t consume very much of at all because of its effect on blood sugar.
Even though supplementation is controversial, I did consume a vitamin C supplement, with the exception of the periods when I was wearing a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), since vitamin C is known to artificially raise CGM readings. I also added bone broth.
Functionally, this wasn’t a big change from the well-formulated ketogenic diet I’ve been on. Essentially this was elimination of nuts and non-starchy vegetables and supplementation with meat.
The Book – The Carnivore Diet, by Sean Baker
Sean Baker, MD (@SBakerMD) and I are medical contemporaries – he’s “slightly” older than I am, but has been in the medical profession less time than me, because he’s lived 3-4 more lives than I have. While I went straight through college, medical school, and residency in relative comfort to him, he traveled the world and served our country. The book only gives a hint of what he saw and experienced in Afghanistan – he shared more on his YouTube channel. It’s important to bring this up because someone with this experience does not forsake medical dogma lightly. I don’t either, by the way. I have seen too many examples with my own eyes of the medical profession being wrong, leaving incredible devastation in its wake. To know something well is to know its limitations and the medical profession has limits on its abilities to be correct.
I happened to read the book before starting the month, and it didn’t teach me a whole lot that I didn’t already know, which is a compliment – it was thorough and complete.
Most “diet” books are 50% recipes, which to me is not a good use of bytes/paper, so I was pleased that this book is not like that. And really, what is there to cooking meat anyway…it was a pretty easy month from the food prep perspective.
On the spectrum of physicians engaged in nutritional science, he’s pragmatic versus technical, which makes the book a good introduction. The case studies in the book blew my mind.
This is not to say that the outcome for everyone will be the same; it is to say this approach is a variant of normal living (which means it’s normal) and those who benefit from it should be respected.
Baker’s presentation in the book and in various media appearances is pretty relaxed and assured. He doesn’t tell people what to eat and he uses humor well to diffuse criticism and fear among those who don’t understand him.
It’s a vibrant contrast to his detractors, who profess to respecting all life, but don’t respect his.
I know first hand that innovation can be a very lonely place, until the world decides that your ideas are not blasphemous, so I respect Baker’s composure and steady focus on data over dogma.
Health Status / How I felt
I don’t have food intolerances (that I know of), so my purpose was to understand the diet and also see if it contributed to athletic performance. I was able to do what I wanted to without any limitations. There was probably an improvement in appetite management beyond what I’ve achieved with a well-formulated ketogenic diet. This can be an issue for people raised on an ultra-processed food Standard American Diet (SAD), which unfortunately is still the majority of Americans today.
I happened to have labs drawn prior to starting the month, and they confirm I am in the 12% of Americans in metabolic health. Additionally, I’ll admit here for the first time that my coronary artery calcium (CAC) score is zero (0) 🙂 . CAC is unlikely to progress in a person without diabetes and who does not smoke, as shown in the latest MESA paper (I’ll be posting on that soon), so there’s no need to recheck this study.
I posted my continuous blood glucose readings separately. They are quite boring, as they should be.
Social situations, harder on the one hand, easier on the other
Everyone knows I’m 3-5 years ahead of my time (I’m from the future), so I am surrounded by a supportive community of people who listen for understanding, not agreement. So for me, people were supportive and asked good questions about what I was doing – isn’t that what life and learning is all about?
The hard part is the lack of options in social settings, compared to a ketogenic diet. The easy part is the lack of hunger in these settings, making it easy to skip processed food altogether.
The awesome part is the opportunity to educate that one size does not fit all.
Other issues, saturated fat intake
As has been discussed here and in multiple systematic reviews, there’s no evidence that saturated fat contributes to cardiovascular disease or all cause mortality. There is evidence that saturated fat as a replacement for refined carbohydrates is health-protective.
It’s worth noting that the overwhelming majority of saturated fat in the American diet does not come from meat. These are the sources:
And yet, our Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating fat-free dairy and industrial vegetable oils as the solution to this problem. Let that sink in for a moment (or 42 years)….
Finally, every food has every type of fat. Beef has more unsaturated than saturated fat. Olive oil, gram for gram, has more saturated fat than beef does.
Other issues, the environment
Climate change is a threat to human and planetary health. Metabolic disease is a threat to human and planetary health. Both statements are true.
I’ve looked at quite a few analyses and I agree that a meat-heavy diet results in more carbon emissions than one that’s meat free. I’ve calculated that at about 1.2 metric tons of additional carbon per year.
I have also calculated that not owning a car, and not having diabetes reduces carbon emissions for me by about 2.5, and 1.99 metric tons per year each. And the 1.99 is for medications only.
This is my 2019 carbon footprint calculation. I’ve done 2020 and will be posting it soon.
As you can tell, the fact that I don’t own a car and don’t have diabetes or metabolic syndrome trumps any increase in carbon from meat. All of us need to make strategic choices, and mine are to eat nutrient dense foods that prevent me from using more health care, or making more trips to get health care.
Everyone’s mileage may vary, it’s important to look at all carbon impacts, otherwise we’re not being intellectually honest.
Finally, I purchased carbon offsets for my total carbon footprint via the United Nations carbon offset program. These are direct investments in fossil fuel abatement projects in the developing world, verified and validated. If we believe our carbon footprints are excessive (they are, across the board, in the developed world), let’s focus on making real change.
Why do this?
Here, I’d like to add that I’ll always be concerned with our medical profession’s treatment of people who are different than the norms they expect. It is still acceptable to discriminate against people who are LGBTQ and even more so against people who are obese. I will never be comfortable with the idea that physicians treat the people they serve in this way. Ever.
I will probably continue to exist in a place with unlimited curiosity as a counterbalance to the lack of curiosity among physician colleagues, in a science-based realist-optimist way, of course.
In the meantime, if someone says they’ve reversed their diabetes, resolved auto-immune issues, are able to fully participate in life, with outstanding metabolic health markers and a relationship with a trusted health professional (or rigorous scientific knowledge), I’m going to believe them. Actually, I’m going to celebrate them.
In my family medicine residency I was taught, “You can learn something from every patient.” I can, I have, and this has proven to be 100 percent correct.
Disclaimers / Disclosures
See this page. Short version, I have none. Conflict free is the way to be.
Reminder, also on my disclaimers page, that the above (or anything on this blog) does not constitute medical advice. It’s very important for anyone making a dietary change to consult with a trusted health professional first, because changes in things like medication requirements can be significant.
Additionally, I am not an advocate or activist for any specific dietary pattern for individuals. One size does not fit all.