As a forewarning, this article is going to make you a lot more suspicious of nutritional science. But there’s no harm in being a skeptic. It’s healthy, even if it can become exhausting.
On the face of it, carnivore can just look like keto with a few more restrictions set in place, just to make it stand out. And that’s a good part of why carnivore could potentially cause more weight loss, at least in the short term.
Just like keto can force the scale to budge by taking out entire food groups, a diet limited to animal products is going to cut calories down even further. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, because self-imposing too many restrictions tends to lead towards manic cravings.
So this isn’t what you want to think about when it comes to the pros and cons of carnivore. An optimal diet has to be able to offer something more than simply swiping food off the menu. In this case, there are two major positives when compared against a well-formulated keto diet.
Today we’re going to cover the first.
Plants As Foreign Invaders
- Leaky Gut
- Oxidative Damage
- Brain Fog
- Impaired Digestive Absorption
- Imbalanced Hormones
Anything that’s a seed is going to have compounds like oxalates and lectins that don’t play nice in human digestion. And a lot of vegetables can be slotted in here.
Grains are the seeds of grasses. Such as: wheat, corn, oats, and rice.
Beans are the seeds of legumes. Such as: peas, lentils, soybeans, and chickpeas.
Nuts are the seeds of trees. Including: walnuts, hazelnuts, and pecans.
Seeds are seeds. Including: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and sunflower seeds.
The general idea here is that most plants aren’t interested in getting eaten, and seeds in particular don’t need animals to get to their resting place.
Then there’s the fact that plants evolved separately to animals, and their biological structure isn’t so similar that they can be easily absorbed into ours. This is why the bioavailability, or absorption of plant proteins is so much worse than regular whey and meat products.
As a result, biting into these seeds can result in inflammation, pro-oxidants, leaky gut, as well as imbalance hormones and impaired nutrient absorption.
Phytic Acid – The Ultimate Anti Nutrient
A great example of a foreign invader is phytic acid, found in high levels in grains, nuts, and legumes. These bind to minerals such as iron in the body, preventing them from being absorbed, and potentially causing a net loss in micronutrients.
So whole-grain rice isn’t necessarily going to be better than white, because much of the phytic acid is contained in the outer shell.
Lectins – Are Wholegrains Healthier?
This is a protein that’s also commonly found in the outer shell of seeds. Lectins are sourced in high levels from grains, beans, nuts, seeds, tomatoes, and white potatoes. These proteins are the reason why you need to let kidney beans soak overnight before cooking. Skipping that important step leads to a painful evening mostly spent sitting on the loo.
Lectins, which include the infamous gluten, can also cause leaky gut, where the stomach lining is damaged. Which is a terrible scenario, because that bit of lining is exactly what is separating all incoming particles from the insides of your body.
Oxalates – Overstaying Their Welcome
These particles tend to crystallize in the body, and you can only get rid of so many oxalates per day. So with a high vegetable intake, leafy greens like spinach in particular, you end up stocking up on these oxalates. This can put you at risk of kidney stones, amongst other issues.
Oxalates are also anti-nutrients, producing similar results to phytic acid by binding to minerals and preventing the gut from absorbing them.
Are Berries And Broccoli Really Anti Oxidants?
Often people find symptoms and build their hypothesis from there, rather than looking for the cause of the problem. Foods like broccoli, with sulforaphane content, are held up as superfoods with antioxidative properties. The issue here is that sulforaphane does this by inflicting oxidative stress in the body.
The beneficial effect is actually a defense mechanism against a toxin. This raises a big question mark over foods that are touted to be anti-carcinogenic and instrumental in cellular defense.
Polyphenols – More Fake Anti Oxidants
This compound is found in a wide range of plants, and as a result the effects they produce are going to vary. But once again, the health claims are dubious. Curcumin is advertised as an anti-inflammatory, by inducing a defensive response from the human cells.Tannin can inhibit digestion. Salicylates, found in coconuts and almonds, can cause headaches.
Fiber – Not As Essential As You Might Think
Fiber is where many will fall back to when looking to show why plants need to dominate a healthy diet. And there are definitely some benefits to the intake of fiber. It can suppress appetite by providing filler and slowing down gastric emptying. It can act as a prebiotic that strengthens the populations of microbiota in the gut.
However, in the case of gut health, it’s very much an emerging and misunderstood science. You can’t simply pick and choose which of the many bacteria types get this population boost. If you’re starting off with an imbalance gut that’s obesogenic and inflammatory, that situation could just end up getting worse.
And while fiber does provide energy for the gut via the production of short-chain fatty acids, so does beta-hydroxybutyrate, a major fuel source in a ketogenic state. So it’s not an exclusive method by any means.
In the case of leaky gut, where the stomach lining is compromised, excess fiber can end up tearing the mucus layer and creating larger holes for foreign compounds to escape and cause immune reactions.
So there are benefits to taking in fiber, it just comes down to the question of whether they outweigh the cons. Fiber itself can be inflammatory and has been shown to impair nutrient absorption. Along with that fiber, you’re likely bringing in other plant compounds, such as lectins. Adding too much can end up sparking a whole range of problems, when all these different foreign compounds get mixed together in one angry concoction.
In Plant’s Defense – Maybe The Body Needs To Be Tested With Toxins
The whole issue of oxidants vs antioxidants is a little murky, because you can easily argue the case that plants spark a hormesis response that ends up with the body becoming a more resilient package. It’s not too different from the whole premise of lifting weights, where you repeated tear down the muscles in order to make them stronger. So perhaps it’s the dose that makes the poison, and low levels of vegetables won’t cause much harm.
That being said, everyone’s got a different bit of digestive kit, and it’s important to be able to step back and assess how plants are really affecting your mood and health. That’s where a solid argument can be made for carnivore as a short-term elimination diet.
Perhaps you haven’t really seen these effects for yourself when attacking a mountainous salad bowl, but that doesn’t get you off the hook. A high plant diet still isn’t necessarily optimal, and might need to be offset by more nutritious foods.
You may well be able to digest and get rid of these anti-nutrients without feeling the worse for it, but you should definitely consider the issue of impaired digestive absorption. Luckily there’s a separate category of foods that can more than make up for potential deficiencies.
You can guess where I’m going with this.
So what’s the second big upgrades in a carnivore diet? That’s been saved for Part Two…
Hey, I’m Sama, a natural bodybuilder who’s bought into the perks of keto and intermittent fasting. Why? When combined, the boosting effect on mental energy is unrivalled on any other diet. And the fat loss isn’t bad either.
I’ve got a ton of recipes, guides and insights covering both diets, and you check them all out on my blog.
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Carnivore Diet Coach And Personal Trainer