It may seem a little pointless to wonder whether you should be having fish in your carnivore diet. If it’s an animal product, it fits the specifications for the apex cuisine. But there are a few asterisks to be made, especially if you wish to go through the pain of making your foray as optimal as possible.
So let’s go through the qualifiers, one at a time.
Is Fish The Same As Meat?
Despite what some pescetarians may believe, fish is very much a form of meat, just like chicken, just like beef. Mind you, many other of these fringe vegetarians are comfortable eating fish for ethical reasons rather than semantics, since fish have a smaller carbon footprint, can be obtained without relying on factory farming, and don’t appear to experience as much pain as their terrestrial counterparts.
But regardless of their reasons for stretching the rules, this box gets checked off.
Is Fish Ancestral?
There is some evidence to suggest that our paleolithic ancestors ate their fair share of fish, even through inland Europe towards the end of the paleolithic. But we do have to question whether it was a key component of the diet of hunter-gatherers that also had access to insane numbers of megaherbivores.
The simple fact is, in the land of cavemen that were bent on survival rather than building aqueducts and starting race wars, caloric return was king. The equation would have been simple. The greater the caloric yield for the investment of effort and time, the better. Nothing came close to the megafauna.
They were everywhere, and accounted for the vast chunk of the biomass of terrestrial creatures. Elephants in pre-colonial Africa, for instance, had a biomass equivalent to all the other herbivores combined.
They were easy to track, given that they were dropping giant turds eight times a day that gave away their time and location.
They were simple enough to kill, without the use of sophisticated tools such as a bow and arrow, given that they could be chased into deep snow, mud, or a pit, and then killed off.
The megafauna had fat reserves as high as 50% of body weight, which when coupled with that they weighed in the matter of tons, meant that their energetic yield was uncontestable.
The maximum amount of protein we can digest is between 35 and 50%, meaning 50-65% of our daily calories has to come from fats or carbs. So we couldn’t get by on rabbits, and we would have struggled even with medium-sized mammals like deer.
In comparison to the prospect of taking down a wooly mammoth and securing the caloric jackpot to keep you and your tribe going for months, fishing was simply not as attractive an option. The fact that evidence of fishing increased in the closing stages of the paleolithic, alongside the rapid extinction of the megafauna, suggests that it took the mantle of Plan B.
Is Fish Necessary For A Complete Carnivore Diet?
The biggest reason why fish is labeled essential for a complete diet by many, is Omega 3, the critical fatty acid that played a defining role in the evolution of the human brain. Besides the structural benefits, it also plays spoiler to the inflammatory effects of Omega 6. The modern Omega 3:6 ratio is wildly inflated to our ancestral version, going from around 1:1 to 20:1.
The amount of Omega 3 you can get from beef pales in comparison to oily fish like mackerel and salmon.
1kg of grass-fed beef gets you 35mg of EPA and 3mg of DHA, the two bioavailable types of Omega 3.
100g of salmon gets you 1g of each.
Clearly it’s a better choice to get your Omega 3 up, but it does have to be said that the most effective way to improve that Omega 3:6 ratio is to simply cut down on nuts, seeds, seed oils, and potentially non-ruminants that are fed a diet of grain.
Rather than getting the 1 up, bring that 20 down.
While I don’t think having oily fish is explicitly essential for the carnivore diet due to the massive decrease in Omega 6, it’s worth playing it safe since you wouldn’t need spectacular portions to get your Omega 3 intake up by a healthy margin.
What I would caution against, is getting there by ingesting fish oil supplements. These products are likely going to be oxidised on arrival, which opens you up to smoke that’s not much different to seed oils.
The safe bet would be to stick to getting Omega 3 from fish rather than fish oil, and potentially being wary of canned versions due to their high histamine content, which can provoke allergy-like reactions.
Does Fish Have All The Essential Nutrients?
There’s no reason you can’t get by on fish alone, provided you focus on oily fish, use fish roe to bump the fat up, and add in a few portions of shellfish for zinc.
There are no outstanding deficiencies from only eating fish. But I wouldn’t reach as far as to call it optimal, since it is still relatively low in fat, especially saturated fat, and can be quite challenging to meet the hallowed 1:1 fat to protein ratio.
And while fish can be nutrient dense, it’s not quite beef levels of dense.
Can Fish Be Inflammatory?
The big downside of eating copious amounts of fish, is the toxic heavy metals you inevitably take in alongside them. Mercury and cadmium are prime culprits, and can lead to all manners of unwanted symptoms like headaches, memory loss, depression, and fatigue.
There’s always the option of going for farmed fish instead of wild-caught, as they will have lower levels of heavy metals. But the tradeoff is that the farmed varieties are still higher in arsenic, and contain PCBs, carcinogenic industrial chemicals that are now banned, but are still pervasive in the water supply.
So the biggest fish with fish is less about nutrition, and more about the fact that they are swimming in a toxic medium. If you do decide to get a large part of your dietary intake from fish, it makes sense to source products that have been filtered of PCBs and heavy metals.
Generally, in the case of heavy metals, the lower the fish is in the food chain, the lower the amount. Anchovies and sardines are thereby great options, especially if the canned versions don’t give you histamine issues.
One study did look at the levels of heavy metals and PCBs in fish, in relation to Omega 3 content, and found that anchovy, herrings, mackerel and wild salmon offered the most bang for buck.
Recommended Dosage For A Complete Carnivore Diet
Regardless of the potential issues with heavy metals and PCBs, fatty fish can bring plenty to the table to compliment the rest of your carnivore diet. Being in a completely different environment to terrestrial creatures, they have a different range of nutrients, with greater amounts of manganese, iodine, copper, and selenium.
Then there’s the obvious matter of Omega 3, which gets a healthy bump just by including a few portions of fish during the week.
100-200 grams a week will be more than enough, and there’s little wrong with going higher if you take your pick from low toxicity fish like anchovies.
Which incidentally, are also a great way to get your salt in.
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