I’ve recently had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Paul Saladino on the AdapNation Podcast. This mammoth show released on 14th May 2019 – check it out!
In this discussion, and through my own journey of the science, anthropological evidence, evolutionary literature and personal experience, it’s clear to me we are on the verge of a Paradigm Shifting moment.
A moment that will go against everything we’ve understood about health and nutrition in modern times. A moment that will be resisted so strongly, because it challenges the very ideas of what we’ve been conditioned to believe is optimal nutrition.
What is the Paradigm Shattering Concept?
#1 – If you’re eating Plant-Based foods for Health…STOP!
#2 – If you’re avoiding Meat for for health reasons… STOP!
#3 – Everything we need to thrive and flourish as an individual is gifted to us through a Nose-To-Tail Carnivore diet.
⏱ Remaining Reading time: 10mins
You'll read arguments to support the above bold statements, evolutionary context, what is a Carnivore Diet and how to use it, guidance on a more flexible Meat-Dominant Diet, as well as a wealth of useful references.
What?!? Not possible!
Optimal health and wellness can be achieved with a diet consisting ONLY on animal-based products?! Apparently so, and to be fair, the arguments stack up when you see and hear them objectively.
How can this be?!
I’m sure you have what seem to be reasonable and widely supported objections or questions. Such as:
- We need lots of FIBRE in our diet for digestive health and a healthy microbiome
- We’ve been told that we need 5-7 PORTIONS of fruits and vegetables a day to get our need of vitamins and minerals met. #eatyourveggies
- Red meat has been associated with CANCER
- It’s UNSUSTAINABLE on our planets resources or economically to move to a meat-dominant diet globally
- FAT MAKES US FAT, and increases cholesterol and heart disease
- TOO MUCH PROTEIN will destroy your kidneys and and cause health issues
- We need plant-foods high in ANTIOXIDANT properties to create a hormetic effect and clear our free radicals
- Modern ANIMAL FARMING IS UNHEALTHY due to feedstock, antibiotics, selective breeding, poor animal wellbeing and hormones
Well, the scientific intervention and human studies that support the ideas are questionable at best, and non-existent for the most part.
Dr Paul Saladino, Dr Shawn Baker and a growing community of functional medicine practitioners, doctors, scientific researchers, nutritional change-agents and everyday folk trying the Carnivore diet as debunking many of these myths with compelling arguments.
You should also check out Dr. Paul Saladino’s and Dr. Shawn Baker’s Instagram and Youtube feeds, as they continue to pour cold water on the anti-meat argument with science, research, community anecdote and evolutionary evidence.
How is Eating Meat & Avoiding Plants Healthy?
Again, the upcoming 2-part 2h podcast with Dr Saladino will spell it out, but at the highest level, here’s what you need to know.
#1 – When eating a nose-to-tail Carnivore diet, you are getting all of the nutrients the body needs to thrive, in the most bioavailable format
When we eat animals, we are inheriting the nutrition we need in the exact ratios, format and chemical structure for us to efficiently assimilate and put to use. When eating this way, there is minimal conversion. What our body needs to function is delivered in the exact form that our bodies use.
#2 – Plant-based foods do not offer any unique human benefit, above and beyond that which we can get from animal-based foods
When it comes to micronutrients – minerals and vitamins, support of our immune system to manage oxidative stress, support or digestive system to function healthy, or to increase the alpha diversity of our microbiome… plant-based foods do not offer any benefit beyond plant-based foods. #paradigmshattering
#3 – Plant-based foods overall have a net-negative effect on human health
What does this mean? It means that whilst we receive vitamins, minerals and polyphenolic / pro-oxidative compounds that create an anti-oxidative response via Hormesis from plant—based foods, there is collateral damage that comes along with these benefits.
Plants have no locomotive defence from predators. Whilst plants can and do have a symbiotic relationship with some animals, for the most part they have evolved and thrived through chemical warfare. Plants have built up defences through pesticides, toxins and anti-nutrients that deter and demotivate animals from eating them. From irritation, nausea, illness, paralysis or even death – Plants have defences to prevent them being wiped out by hungry and greedy predators.
But Apes & Cows are Herbivores – what’s the problem?
As Homo Sapiens, we diverged from our primate lineage some six million years ago. 200,000 years ago, Homo sapiens evolved. At some point in our evolutionary history, the Homo genus moved from the tree tops to the land. In doing so, so much changed.
Our brains exploded in size – over tripling in volume. This made way for the Cognitive Revolution some 70,000 years ago, where we became a conscious, self-aware, community-focussed and supremely intellectual species. Our shoulders adapted to kill an animal through the act of throwing objects. Our digestive tract changed from low PH, short small intestine and huge large intestine to basically the polar opposite. Our jaw structures changed.
All of these adaptations were the result of the introduction of animal fat and protein in our diet. The fat fuelled the development of our brain, which is mostly comprised of fat. We developed attributes to both hunt and efficiently consume flesh. As such, we were more like wolves or lions in terms of their lifestyles, than we were like apes or cows.
People postulate that Homo Sapiens are naturally Facultative Carnivores. Primarily Carnivores, where we would prioritise the majority of our efforts to hunting down large animals, and it’s animal-based nutrition to fuel our success cognitively and socially. But in times of animal scarcity, we adapted to consuming some plants, merely as survival foods. To offer some calories and nutrition in times of desperation, albeit with downside of plant-toxins.
Sounds a bit Alarmist! People all over the World eat Fruit and Veg
I hear ya. Moreover, we have the blue zones – places around the world that report the highest population of centenarians. And what about the nutritional guidance we’ve offered through the last 70-100 years regarding lots of veg, fruit and grains? Oh, and how about the fact we’ve been farming plants and feeding the worlds population for millennia on domesticated plants such as wheat, soy, corn and rice?
You would be right to bring up these arguments, and on face value they seriously question the value of a meat-only diet.
Here’s the thing. Everyone is free to run their lives the best way they see fit. We need not all worry about the desire to live a long disease-free life.
Moreover, the argument about plant-based foods biologically incompatible with homo sapiens – that plants have a ‘PC’ operating system and come with ‘viruses’ (anti-nutrients and toxins) and Humans run on a ‘Mac’ operating system, has not prevented life as we know it. People can and do live long healthy lives with the inclusion of plant-foods, especially if combined with a healthy lifestyle, good weather, strong community spirit, exercise and low life-stress levels.
…what enables mass-scale feeding and the eradication of famine should not be automatically assumed to be optimally healthy for the individual…
Surely We’ve Evolved to Thrive on Plants over 12,000 years?
A counter argument would suggest that over the last 12,000 years as the Agricultural Evolution took hold in human civilisation, we shifted from a hunter lifestyle to a farming lifestyle, and as such have adapted to thrive off of wheat and other mass-farmed vegetation.
But here’s the question. If we are thriving on a diet dominated by plant derived foods, how are we continuing to get sicker and sicker, with alarming rates of chronic illnesses, auto immune conditions and obesity?
side note: The majority of the world is on a plant-dominant diet – not just vegetarians and vegans. The majority of developed and developing countries calories come from wheat, corn, soy, sugar, potatoes, rice, cocoa, fruit an veg. Moreover, socioeconomically, plant-based calories proportions are higher in lower income demographics.
Anthropologists and Carnivore proponents would say to not confuse Youth with Health.
From an evolutionary perspective, our primary goal is to reach sexual maturity, have offspring and in doing so pass on our genes. We reach sexual maturity in our late teens and most reproduction happens in our late teens, twenties and occasionally into our early thirties. As such, nature has made our youth incredibly resistant from a health perspective.
It’s only in our thirties that we really begin to see the extent and consequences of our lifestyle and nutrition play out. People all over the world would agree it’s in their 30’s and 40’s where all their health issues come to the fore. By which stage, a high percentage of people have already reproduced. What happens thereafter, is irrelevant to evolution and the need to pass on our genes.
So, as the hypothesis goes, we’ve largely removed nature’s self selection and survival-of-the-fitness pressures of evolution, as irrespective of our lifestyle, a large majority of people today can reach the age of sexual maturity and reproduce.
The collateral damage that is building up through eating foods and conducting a lifestyle that has a net-negative effect on our health is largely unseen in our early years, as nature prioritises reaching sexual maturity and reproduction. We pass on our genes. We proliferate. But as our reproductive prime years our behind us, that is when the collateral damage starts to show itself through a variety of chronic and autoimmune issues.
Therefore, it is not the natural conclusion to say that we’ve adapted to thrive on a modern diet where the majority of our calories come from plant-based agriculture.
We’ve demonstrated a robust resilience to survive, even when we are knowingly abusing our bodies with the food and lifestyle choices in modern societies (e.g. junk food and lack of movement) . And as health at a macro level is best evaluated in your 30’s and 40’s (i.e. after your reproductive prime), it is absolutely clear that our health as a species is worsening.
Yet we proliferate. We can pass on weak genes. We can abuse our bodies and still reproduce for the most part. Is that a good thing?
Come on – We’re 8 Billion Strong! We’re Thriving! Right?
An interesting thought that is laid out in various books looking through human history and evolution, is that our success in numbers is due largely to the Agricultural Revolution. If it wasn’t for the transition from hunting and gathering to farming, we would not be almost eight billion strong today. Food has never been so readily available, nor so cheaply produced. But why has it been historically important to grow in numbers as we’ve done? Simply… power.
Nations, rulers, governments and empires have always been driven to expand their strength and capability as a nation. To do so, the focus has not been (and could not have been) on individual welfare and wellbeing.
The focus was on organisational strength. Increased army sizes, more literate people who can contribute to commerce and education, more people to strengthen the hand of the nation. More GDP. Simply more. Even our nationalised healthcare and educations systems have been built and run to not support the individual, but to support the large ever expanding nation where scale is power.
Therefore, we cannot assume what is good for the nation (or a company), is good for the individual. Typically through history, individual health and quality of life actually suffers in the pursuit for ever increasing political and organisational power. With that view on government subsidised food industry, government endorsed food guidelines and where we are today with nutrition, we need to ask:
“How much of what is in our food supply and food recommendations is there to serve me and my wellbeing, versus the needs of our nations?”
As the science and historical research is exposing, whilst we have done a great job of addressing famine, war-outbreaks, plagues and growing commerce and power to unprecedented heights, we’ve done very little in progressing the needs of the individual. Individual wellbeing, wellness and happiness.
What we have farmed and fed the masses with avoided famine and allowed for millions of mouths to be fed cheaply. But it would be wrong to conflate survival food and cheap calories with nutritional wellness. That’s the price we have paid – to grow at any cost means we needed to sacrifice optimal wellness and individual wellbeing in pursuit of more collective muscle power.
OK, So What is the Optimal Human Diet?
If optimal health is a key driver, then the hypothesis goes that a Strict Carnivore Diet is the way to go. Whilst we are Facultative Carnivores (i.e. we can tolerate plants as survival foods to avoid starvation), meat is no longer scarce or inaccessible, and therefore from an optimal health and performance perspective, there is no logical health argument to augment meat with plant-based food.
However, that does assume a diverse nose-to-tail Carnivore Diet, and not just meat (muscle meat). If it derives from an animal, it’s fair game.
Here’s what a Strict Carnivore Diet would look like:
- Muscle Meat – ruminant, pigs, chicken, fish, seafood
- Organs – livers, kidneys, heart etc, including minimally seasoned Pâté
- Other Tissues – Tendons, Ligaments, Bone Marrow, Fat and Skin
- Eggs – Fish eggs and Poultry eggs
- Butter and Tallow
- Minimal Dairy – sourced from non-factory or minimally processed organic sources
For many people, this sounds extreme and completely alien to them. Gross offal, tons of meat and the majority of your current diet wiped out.
And when faced with an extreme choice, we tend to ask ourselves… why? Is this really necessary? Do I have an issue? Whilst optimal, will I really notice the benefits enough to forgo so much of what I love and am used to?
These are all valid and normal questions. As such, I would say that in todays day and age, the above diet is suited for two specific cohorts of people:
COHORT #1 – Those who are chronically ill or have chronic symptoms–
i.e. they are aware of their health issues, and likely suffering from one or more autoimmune conditions. Issues may be physical, psychological, digestive, obesity and/or any other signs that health is taking a nosedive. But bear this in mind – collateral damage from poor diet and lifestyle can take decades to surface as symptoms. Or, you are simply numb or unaware that your are with symptoms right now – mistakenly the status quo as normal.
COHORT #2 – Those who prioritise optimal wellness and performance above all else –
These people can typically look stoic. Highly disciplined. Able to handle lots of sacrifice in the name of adding long term goodness. If playing to your fullest human potential is the game, there is a strong argument to try the Carnivore Diet.
Is this an Intervention Diet, or a Permanent Diet?
Hopefully you can tell from the above arguments and the compelling dialog with Dr Paul Saladino and Dr Shawn Baker that a Carnivorous Diet is likely our evolutionary most well-matched diet to our physiology and biology. As such, if there were no other factors, it can be assumed that this is a forever lifestyle change. A permanent shift in diet.
But, in my opinion, this is an extreme stance. One which will have such narrow appeal for the masses, and in practical terms could be prohibitive for certain populations and socioeconomic groups.
Moreover, it clashes with modern life so violently, that socially it would be incredibly difficult to adhere to without a negative impact on people’s relationships, mood and contentment.
Therefore, I believe this is a sustainable diet for a fraction of our population who see amazing results and have the long-term resolve. For the rest of us, I see an alternative use case.
For the majority who are motivated to try the diet, I see it as an Intervention Diet as well as a diet that can positively transition people to a Meat-Dominant Diet.
Within a 6 Week Intervention Strict Carnivore Diet, the primary goal would be looking to see a noticeable reduction in symptoms and improvement in health status – both subjective and measurable measurements. The large community called Meat Heals and World Carnivore Tribe on facebook shows thousands upon thousands of incredible health turnarounds as a result of a Strict Carnivore Diet.
For an intervention diet that will help reduce chronic symptoms and illness, as well help identify inflammatory or trigger foods, it would be advisable to avoid foods that can trigger immune responses in compromised or sensitive individuals – i.e. foods that have a propensity to cause allergies when your immune system is compromised.
A Carnivore INTERVENTION Diet would simply be:
- Muscle meat – cow and chicken
- Tendons, Ligaments, fat, skin
- Bone Marrow
- Eggs – fish eggs. Poultry eggs Yolks only
- Butter and Tallow
Beyond the 6 weeks, or whatever period you or your practitioner sees fit, the question of long-term adherence and what next all need to be addressed. Especially if you are not coming from a materially ill/distressed place, there is a good chance that you can flex the diet without any noticeable downsides.
To that end, it is more likely that people will wish to adopt a Meat-Dominant Diet, where they see the growing benefits of meat being the large centrepiece of their diet, but flexibility would bring social, emotional and psychological benefits to the individual.
Transitioning to a Meat-Dominant Diet
Whether you are taking your current diet and looking to slowly move to towards a Meat-Dominant Diet, or you’ve come through the elimination approach with the Strict Carnivore Diet, here is some direction in which to explore what works best for you.
If you’re feeling in good health, good energy and without any notable health concerns or symptoms, consider these additions if you feel the need, and observe your response from a gut, digestive, symptom and energy perspective.
Plant-Based Additions (if needed):
- Cucumber without seeds and skin
- Carrots (ideally cooked)
- Mushrooms (thoroughly cooked)
- White Rice, Potatoes / Sweet Potatoes – controlled infrequent portions
- Minimal Berries as needed to satisfy sweet need
- Dark Chocolate – Minimal high quality 75%+ to satisfy emotional needs (cocoa is a seed)
- Minimal Coffee – Toxin-free, Mould-free and Pesticide-Free
- Leaf-based Herbs and Spices – avoiding seed-based spices
- Lemon – consider a Lemon + Salt Morning Kickstarter drink or Hot Lemon Drink
- Avocado & Olives – Generally speaking non-sweet fruits are the best choice
The goal here is to eat as little of the above is possible, to satisfy you needs for texture, variety, colour, starch and sweetness. If you don’t need them, don’t have them!
If there is an emotional need for more types of plant-based food after a period of trying the Carnivore diet, then it would make sense to really understand what’s going on for you. Is it satiation that is the issue? Is it the feeling of insufficient volume in your gut?
Is it the absence of crunchy texture? Is it a particular flavour that you can’t bare being without? Or, is it habit, addictions, and a pretty plate that is luring you into adding more?
Beyond this point, anything else you add is seen as a net-negative, unless you de-nature to the point where toxins are minimised (but not fully eliminated). However, at this point, they are simply fillers to your diet, with the potential to cause some collateral damage, digestion-related issues, and more waste (both in industry, your fridge and the toilet).
Once you wrap your head around what is missing and why, then you can decide what else you wish to experiment with back into your diet. Again, we need to fight the conditioned thought that you need more fruit and vegetables to be healthy. Instead, see the addition of fruit and vegetables as small sacrifices to optimal wellness, and therefore work with the minimal dose to satisfy your emotional and social needs.
❌ More Plant-Based Food = Healthier
❌ Less Animal-Based = Healthier
✅ Pure Animal-Based = Optimal Wellness
✅ High Animal-Based + Bare Minimum Plant-Based = Optimal Wellness, Realistic & Contentment
Cooking Can De-Nature Plants
We’ve developed the learned skills to cook and ferment plants over the millennia in order to make them digestible. Without this, many vegetables would make us feel nauseous. In essence, we learned that cooking plants in part de-natured them, by calming down their biochemical defences. In thoroughly cooking, pressure cooking and fermenting plant-based foods, we are able to break down a decent proportion of the Lectins, Pesticides and other Plant Toxins.
However, in doing so, we are also braking down the purported benefits and nutrition behind why we’ve been encouraged to eat plant-based foods in the first place. We are after all, de-naturing them. And the more you cook veg, the more toxins you break down, as well as beneficial nutrients.
That said, it’s a viable argument and strategy behind how to safely include vegetables on to your plate. If of course, you know why you want/need them… because it’s not for beneficial nutritional value above and beyond a diverse carnivorous diet.
Take a NO SEED Approach
Seeds are the essence behind plant reproduction. It’s critical they protect their seeds at all costs, and will go to great lengths to prevent predators ingesting and/or successfully disgusting them. The seed of the plant is their most prized possession, and therefore will naturally have the greatest richness and potency of pesticides and toxins.
We see that across all plants. You will find dozens, in some cases hundreds, of natural pesticides in seeds. You will also find a hard exterior (husk) to prevent digestion. These molecules can have a devastating effect on animals and humans, if eaten raw and in volume. Hence the reason legumes and beans need significant processing prior to consumption.
So, as you consider what other plant-based foods you feel drawn to include into your meat-dominant diet, you’d greatly benefit your wellness to take a no seed approach. Or at very least, be very conscious about minimising your seed consumption to as low as you can.
When we say Seeds, this extends to any part of the plant that is considered the seed, even if we call it something else. Here’s the No-Go list from a seed perspective:
- All Seeds
- Seed-containing Veg – All Peppers, Tomatoes, Cucumber (seed removal and cooking can mitigate)
Is is Worth a try for You? To Thrive and Feel-Optimal?
In closing, if you’re struggling within chronic symptoms of compromised health and/or auto immune conditions, or you simply want to align your nutrition to that of your biological operating system, then giving the Carnivore Diet or Meat-Dominant Diet is a worthy intervention to play with.
To work with your evolutionary biology that made humans so powerful and capable (i.e. fuelled by animal-based nutrition), shifting to a meat-dominant diet seems to have a lot of merit. Aligning to our natural default of being Facultative Carnivores is perhaps the most productive thing you can do for your health, mental and physical wellness, and your ability to truly thrive.
With this idea that Plants have not evolved to support Human life, and that we as a species are by nature facultative carnivores – i.e. in times of famine and or starvation, we would subsist and survive on having plant matter – the extension of this idea is that most plants are net-negative to human health, and only by de-naturing them through cooking processes have we learnt to stomach these foods and in time increase our tolerance in the short term.
So, if you are compelled logically to eat plant-based foods for the fibre, polyphenols, antioxidant properties, water content of contained vitamins and minerals, it’s time to reframe.
This is a PARADIGM SHIFTING CONCEPT, that will likely build momentum in the coming years as more science and leaders push against the current healthy food dogma of modern times.
Further Reading & References:
- Sapiens: A brief History of Humankind – Yuval Noah Harari
Podcast with Dr. Paul Saladino – coming 14th May 2019
Podcast with Dr Shawn Baker – #66 Carnivore Diet: Broadening the Discussion
Dr Paul Saladino interviewed by Ben Greenfield – Includes extensive show notes and references
Follow this and other topic areas in our longer-form Articles series as they unfold, as well as the AdapNation Food Diary for healthy meal inspiration and AdapNation’s #HyperWorkouts for free training plans. Comment if you have questions or ideas.