Do You Need Supplements on a Carnivore Diet?

Polyphenols! Antioxidants! Vita-mints!

(As usual, nothing in this blog post is to be taken as professional medical advice or instruction. Even the parts where I call your doctor an idiot should not prevent you from consulting your doctor about any changes you make to your diet or exercise. I’m a hillbilly mommy blogger. Take me just as seriously as that warrants, and we’ll get along just fine.)

I am often asked what kind of supplements I have to take because meat is basically the only thing I eat. The first time I was asked this, I was kind of surprised. I never really thought about it because it seems obvious: I’m made of meat, therefore meat should have everything in it that I need to eat. Of course, this is a silly gut feeling and not a deeply researched conclusion. So I have done a little research over the last year or so, just to be sure I’m not missing out on something that only broccoli can give.

While my instincts led me to the correct place, the reasoning I laid on top of the intuition to explain it wasn’t very good, was it? You could just as easily think that because the animals I eat are also made of meat, and they eat plants, then I should eat plants, too. But many of the animals I eat turn out to be not very much like me, having things like crops and extra stomachs to add umph to their digestive workings. As it turns out, those animals are doing a great deal with their digestive systems that I can’t. I then eat them, so that I can get the nutrients from plants in a form that I can use.

As one guy whose name I can’t recall said “My eyes are in the front of my head, and I only have one stomach.” My stomach acid is that of a predator, not a ruminant animal. I don’t have the enlarged cecum of an herbivore that would allow me to digest large amounts of fiber like a gorilla does. I am clearly designed to hunt and eat meat. Since going carnivore, I can tell you on a personal level that my results bear out my gut instinct, however silly it may have seemed to begin with. I’ve never been so consistently healthy and happy in my life.

But what about those vitamins, huh? Especially Vitamin C, which is apparently the only thing standing between me and certain death. Everybody swears by mega-dosing with C, including some very smart people, but I’ve concluded that nobody actually needs to do this, provided they’re willing to make the changes necessary to keep their bodies healthy without supplementation. Even if you’re trying to avoid getting a cold or think it will help with cancer, I don’t see a lot of value in just shoveling in more supplements to cover for a detrimental diet.

There are couple of little secrets the food nannies haven’t let us in on for some reason. Among the best-kept is that there is C in fresh meat. Yes, there is. So there’s that, but the other secret is even more interesting. You see, vitamin C and insulin compete for the same receptors in your cells. When you’re chronically consuming carbohydrates, and thus chronically raising your insulin, your cells are less able to use whatever vitamin C you consume, making higher and higher doses necessary to get any of the needful nutrient into your tissues. As you become more hyperinsulinemic, you become more vitamin C deficient.

Some people do need a vitamin C supplement. Those people are not carnivores. All the stories about limes saving sailors from scurvy have very little to do with the limes, and much more to do with their insanely deficient diet. They ate dried meats, beer, and refined carbohydrates all day long. Of course they got scurvy.

Instead of spending extra money and time to take more and more of something that you’re actually getting plenty of, if you’d only stop wasting it, why not just lower the carbohydrate load to a point where your glucose, and thus your insulin, no longer impede your body’s use of it? You could even lower your carbs to zero for maximum effect.

Besides C, though, there’s a plethora of vitamins and minerals that we’re told we need to worry about. People who want you to assume that meat is bad for you conveniently leave out the fact that meats have every single nutrient you need in them. Do you know which people need a whole lot of supplements to survive? Vegans and vegetarians. There are a number of nutrients that you simply can’t get from plants. B12, DHA, iron, Vitamins D, A, and K, and many minerals like selenium are missing in a vegan diet, and remain inadequate in a less strict vegetarian diet with eggs. Even those plants that are touted as having a lot of nutrients often have them in the wrong form for humans to absorb and use. Some plant foods block the absorption of vital nutrients, as black beans are known to do for zinc. Plants are not your friend if you’re trying to get vitamins and minerals to stay healthy. I know this is hard to hear. I used to like black beans, too, especially with tortillas and salsa.

What about all the other super-food things? Don’t I need the polyphenols in chocolate or the antioxidants in blueberries to keep me from getting cancer or something? The simple answer for me is no. You should do your own research, of course, but I have read a lot of the literature on these things. Go ahead and eat those superfoods if you think they’ll help you. I doubt there’s much harm in many of them in the amounts you’ll be consuming them–the low-sugar foods like berries, anyway. But there is, as far as I can tell, no advantage in consuming these things, provided you get a totally unbalanced diet of meat, meat, and more meat.

I’ve concluded that those polyphenols are probably better termed “toxins”, as the power that they have seems to be in inducing a hormetic response, rather than providing something that you actually need in order to be healthy. They’re almost, to my thinking, a tiny dose of chemotherapy on a fork. That might be an ok thing to throw in there if you’re filling up on insulin-raising, immune-system destroying, cancer-feeding “foods” all day long, but I prefer to keep myself healthy by not doing things that require medicinal correctives to begin with. Your mileage may vary.

Hold on, though. I do think there is a place for supplementation! I take a couple of supplements at the moment. Depending on where you live and what diet you’ve been eating all your life, you might need some supplements, too, at least in the short term. I take the supplements I take, not because the carnivore diet is lacking, but because my environment is lacking. I simply can’t get enough sunshine or iodine where I live right now. Chances are you can’t, either. Meat helps, even with this, though, and I need far fewer supplements than I used to.

There are only two supplements I need right now: iodine and Vitamin D. Other people might need boosts of other nutrients, depending on their own location and physical needs.

I take Lugol’s 2% solution for iodine because the plants around here don’t have enough iodine in them for it to get into my meat. Everybody who lives inland and subsists mainly on meat from land animals should probably take an iodine supplement, regardless of diet. (Magnesium is also a good addition for some people for similar reasons. I don’t seem to need it, but Get Along Husband certainly does.) Most carnivores don’t even do this much, though, and they seem to be fine. With my thyroid history, I think it’s probably helpful, and I don’t see how it can hurt. The CW is that iodine is dangerous to the thyroid and we have to be very careful, but the CW is so ass-backward most of the time that I admit I just discount it out of hand now. And if that’s so, what’s with all the iodized salt in everything?

Vitamin D is just a good idea for everybody in the winter months. I use a brand that couples the D3 with K2, as D can wreak havoc with calcium absorption if there isn’t sufficient K. Some people trust that there’s enough K2 in their grass-fed meat and dairy, but I don’t feel too sure of that. The cows aren’t getting any more sun than I am right now, right? I take it once or twice a week in the winter months. This, however, is a far smaller dose than I needed back when I was consuming plants, because my diet contains more D than it used to, and I absorb all my nutrients to a far greater degree than I did when I had all that fiber clogging up the works. I used to struggle to keep my levels up, but now they stay right where they ought to without much effort at all. Just 5000-10000 IUs per week is sufficient now that I’m more replete. I suspect that I won’t need a supplement at all next winter, as long as I keep getting my sunshine, liver, and egg yolks all summer long. I get my D levels tested every fall to see what my needs will be going into the cold and flu season.

Rather than adding more and more “good” foods and supplements as medicine to offset the damage we’re causing to our bodies with harmful foods, the most effective way to be healthy is to keep from doing dietary harm in the first place. First, do no harm. Now, where have I heard that before?

Get your sunshine and eat your meat. It’s as simple as that.

(You’ll notice I’ve included no links. You have the same internet I have, so dig around and you’ll either find that I’m right or wrong. I’m a mommy blogger, but I’m not your mommy. I don’t have a lot of time to find links, but it’s a very searchable topic. Have fun finding out for yourself!)

 

Buying More Meat on a Budget

I’ve mentioned a couple of times that I eat a steak almost every day. That is absolutely an expensive way to go about eating a carnivore diet. I don’t deny it, and sometimes I feel like I’m being a little bit extravagant. At the moment, though, for reasons I won’t get into right now, it’s what I do. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped trying to save as much money as I can. I can eat a lot of meat and still get within shouting distance of a reasonable grocery budget. I would never want to see someone forgo the idea of a carnivore diet because of the cost. Here are some ways I keep things manageable:

Buy in bulk. If you’re buying the packages of one or two ribeyes from the grocery store, it is going to cost a ridiculous amount of money. I do buy my steaks that way when I have to, and resent the heck out of it. Thankfully, there are usually better ways to go about getting steaks. My primary source of beef comes from a local ranch that sells me a whole beef at a time. Our whole family can eat on that for about three months, so I get my steaks and roasts for quite a bit less than you might expect. When my freezer runs low, or I just want to stock up on ribeyes, a local grocery store frequently has either whole boneless rib roasts or boneless strips on sale for $4.99/lb. Those roasts carve up into 12-16 ribeyes or New York strips for around $55.

Buy cheaper cuts. If you want beef steaks, they don’t have to be ribeyes. You can get sirloin or skirt steak and enjoy them just as much if you learn to prepare them properly. Just be aware that the cheaper cuts are typically the leaner cuts, and you’ll need to add fat accordingly. I make sure the butcher knows I want the fat trimmings from my cow. You can often buy suet or rendered fat from local farms or independent butchers, as well. Sometimes they’ll just give you the rib fat trimmings for free, because they’re just going to throw them out, anyway. We really do live in clown world.

It’s ok to get the 10 lb. chub of ground beef from Wal-mart. As important as it is to buy local, and to support a sustainable meat supply in that way, there is no getting around the need to live within your means. There’s very little evidence to support the idea that conventionally raised meat is less nutritious than the grass-finished, and you’ll get along just fine on the cheap stuff. Kelly Hogan, one of the most amusing and adorable carnivores in the online carnivore community, eats a whole lot of inexpensive hamburgers–even McDonald’s hamburgers. It really is good for you, so go ahead!

Eat all the meats, not just beef. You can eat an all-animal sourced diet without ever having a steak at all. A lot of carnivore/zero carb adherents are perfectly happy eating fish, chicken thighs, canned seafood and other meats, pork rinds, and even (gasp!) bologna. I stick to beef and eggs almost exclusively right now, but I’ll eat anything that ever moved if I’m hungry and it’s all I can find at the moment. Eat whatever meat you like. Chances are you can find something you can afford.

Eat the organs. I always get the organs and offal from the whole beef that I buy. Liver, heart, tongue, kidney–you name it, we’ve eaten it. (Except lung. I think I’ll ask for that this time, too.) Some people don’t like organ meat, and I don’t think they’re strictly necessary for everybody. But they are cheap, and, in my view, superfoods. You can have liver ground into your beef to both hide the taste and stretch your meat a little farther.

Do not fear the egg. Whether you buy them or raise your own chickens, nothing beats the nutritional punch of eggs. I know you’ve been told that they’re terrible for you, but…well, I’ll get into why they’re good for you some other time. Right now, just ask yourself: when’s the last time the “experts” told you the truth about anything? One brand of eggs I’ve bought says “Two a day are OK!” on the package. That’s stupid. Twenty a day are ok, if that’s how many you can eat. They are a perfect nose-to-tail diet, easy to cook, easy to digest, and cheap. I raise my own chickens and buy some eggs, too. Dirt-scratching, insect-eating, happy chickens give you better eggs, but you’ll do just fine on the cheap eggs, if you need to. Splurge a little on the free-range ones, if you can afford it. Or just get to building your chicken coop now. Spring is coming! I’ve got 20 more chicks coming in a couple of weeks!

It’s still going to cost more. Even with all these tips, I’m sorry to report that I have not seen any way to wrestle my grocery budget back down to the size it used to be. Meat really does just cost more, and my next post will explain why I think it’s well worth the investment. I hope that some of these tips make it seem less scary to eat a meat-heavy, or even meat-only diet. I’ve found this to be the most satisfying and healthful way to live, and want to see more people discover its benefits for themselves.

Is Carnivore an Extremely Restrictive Lifestyle?

Yes, I’d say it is. Look at all the things it has restricted from my life: 

In no particular order, here are the things that I don’t have going on at all anymore, as long as I stick to my current way of eating:

  • Hidradenitis suppurativa
  • Asthma
  • joint pain and swelling (never diagnosed, but probably arthritis)
  • brain fog
  • depression
  • trichotillomania (y’all, I have eyebrows.)
  • severe social anxiety
  • generalized anxiety
  • constipation
  • eczema
  • unexplained recurring skin lesions
  • compulsive cleaning (My house is less clean. This is a good thing. Trust me.)
  • mood swings
  • PMS (I do still suffer fools a little less gladly during that time.)
  • Heavy periods with several extra days of spotting afterwards
  • emotional eating/food cravings
  • overweight

A number of other things have greatly improved, and continue to:

  • Hashimodo’s thyroiditis (I’m currently experimenting with no thyroid medication, and it seems to be going well. I’m cautiously optimistic.)
  • bunions
  • ADHD (I have improved self-control in every aspect of my life, but let’s face it: I’m always going to be a little bit squirrely.)

And that’s just me. For privacy’s sake, I won’t be able tell you most of what has changed for my family as I’ve narrowed down their diets to what works for them, and should work for just about anybody. We’re still figuring some things out. I’ll just tell you that it is 100% true that everything, right down to those old-lady bunions you’re getting, is affected by the way you eat.

Why is restrictive bad? Fences are restrictive, but they keep the bull from goring every passerby, so I’m good with those restrictions. Marriage is restrictive. The yellow lines on the road are restrictive. Lots of things are.

But do you know what’s really restrictive, in a very negative way? Having to fill in your eyebrows with a pencil before you feel ok letting other people look at you. Being stuck at home because of social anxiety. Using inhalers. Paying expensive doctors to give you even more expensive medicines that don’t work. Getting hideous boils that restrict movement and make you just miserable. Being unable to exercise because your energy is non-existent. Being so OCD about the house-keeping that your children don’t get as much of you as they deserve.

Does any of that sound like healthy living to you? Because that’s what I get when I loosen up my way of eating.

My small children often ask me “Could you eat this, Mommy?” and the answer is “Of course! I can eat anything I want. But why would I want something that would make me feel bad?”

You can think of carnivore, or keto, or low-fat, or water fasting, or any other eating pattern as restrictive, but the question for me is, is your diet making you better or worse? Just that, and nothing more, is how you should judge your eating choices.

How restrictive do you need to be?

Very few people jump straight to a carnivore diet, because it seems too far out. For me, it has been a very quick path to health. What consequences you do feel comfortable with? Do you love your raw kale salad so much that you don’t mind suppressing your thyroid function? Is cheese so important to you that you don’t care that it gives you brain fog or constipation? That’s entirely up to you! Do you look at that healthy, tasty, whole grain bowl of oatmeal, and then your out-of-control blood sugars and say “Yeah, I think diabetes is a fair trade for this breakfast experience. Shoot me up with that insulin, doc!”? Fine. Up to you. You are the one that has to live with that choice.

I’m willing to deal with the slightly disturbed sleep I have after wine, so I drink a couple of glasses occasionally. For a while there, I felt comfortable enough with that last patch of eczema behind my left knee to go on feeding my coffee habit. That was worth it to me. But once I found out that coffee inhibits T4 production, I had no trouble letting go of that plant toxin. I’ve eased myself off of T4 medication over the last few months, so I need optimal functioning. I’m now coffee free, and eczema free. Hopefully, I’ll find that my thyroid labs look good, as well. Certainly I feel good–better than I did with the T4, surprisingly. I’ll let you know how this particular experiment turns out, either way.

I listed everything that the carnivore way of eating has taken out of my life, but it really should be stated more positively than that. I have better skin, better poop, no pain, a great mood, better relationships, clearer thinking, better productivity, more fun (FUN! I never had fun before!), fantastic body composition, more stamina, impressive strength for such a little gal, and the emotional freedom to explore the world God made for us.

How could anybody ever call that restrictive?

How’s Your Poop?

And other totally appropriate questions. 

I have a minute while my carnivore meatloaf (for which an very easy recipe should appear shortly) is in the oven to discuss a few diet-related things.

When I first switched to an all-meat diet, I would explain that I only eat meat, but I’ve had to change my approach a little bit. Now I tell people that I don’t eat plants. For some reason, the former way doesn’t quite sink in, and nobody fully realizes what I’m saying. It’s like saying the earth is flat. Nobody quite believes you really mean it. The latter way, they seem to understand more quickly. And the comments I get have become every bit as predictable as the many reactions I’ve gotten to having a large number of children. People just can’t help themselves. This sounds insane!

Besides My word, why would you do that?, the most frequent question I get from everybody–whether I’m talking to my best friend or the mailman–is the poop question. As a mother of eight, a dog-mommy, and a chicken rancher, poop has been a going concern in my life for well nigh 17 years now, so I don’t mind talking about it at all. It’s a good thing I don’t mind, because everybody else wants to talk about it. If you don’t, though, close this tab and I promise I’ll try to be more tasteful with my next post. Clearly everybody else finds this to be a steaming hot (sorry) topic, so why shouldn’t I?

Before I talk about poop, though, I want to say this: it is astonishing how personal people are willing to get when they find out you only eat meat. I tell people I’m a Christian, they change the subject. A Trump supporter, either a high-five or a cold shoulder. A homeschooler? Meh. Everybody’s a homeschooler these days. But tell people you only eat meat, and whew, suddenly everybody is your doctor, your psychotherapist, and your mother, all in one convenient package. It’s not worse than the golly-that’s-a-lot-of-kids conversation, but it’s close.

So, poop! Do I? Yes, once a day and quite comfortably, and thank you for asking. Seriously, love the question, stranger.

Carnivores do poop. Typically, they poop just fine. The result is quite diminutive compared to that of plant-eaters because the intestine is able to absorb a far higher percentage of meat foods than plant foods. So much of the meat is absorbed that I’d bet more than half of what comes out is cell turn-over from the GI tract, rather than waste product. (And isn’t waste product an oxymoron?)

The expectation that the current upside-down nutrition advice has set is that you need fiber–indigestible, bulk-building fiber–to be able to go comfortably. Constipated people are always told to put more bulk in their diet. I ask you though, how do you think putting more useless bulk through an already struggling system helps anything? Constipation isn’t, as it turns out, a result of not having enough waste to pass, but of the gut being unable to either process or move whatever is already in there. You should be more selective about what you put in your body, absolutely. Nutritionists have that correct. Don’t select for bulk, though. Select for digestibility.

Digestibility is where meat beats every other food.

I was introduced, to my horror, to something called a “poop knife” yesterday in a carnivore group on MeWe. We had a pretty good laugh, but goodness. Imagine needing to keep a knife in the bathroom so your ridiculous amount of waste can be flushed safely. Guys, if you’re wasting that much, you’re probably not absorbing as many nutrients from all your “superfoods” as you think you are. You’re probably very sick, actually, even if you don’t know it yet.

Poop Knife

Don’t spend time playing in the toilet (something I teach my children not to do), hacking your poop into smaller chunks. Back off on the fiber. Eat whole, unprocessed foods, mainly meat.

Now, the poop question isn’t all roses and sunshine. Some people do experience diarrhea in the transition to carnivore. Some people aren’t very happy with their poop for several months, in fact. I have a few thoughts on why that might be for any given person, and how to avoid it, but since we’re all individuals with different needs, I’m not going to bore you with all that. If you try a carnivore way of eating, and you have problems, I think I can help you troubleshoot. (Gosh, the puns nearly write themselves, don’t they?)

All I can say is that, for me, and for at least thousands of other meat-only eaters that I’ve interacted with in one way or another, the poop is fine, and we never have to touch it.

So, how’s your poop? Just kidding. You don’t have to talk about that if you don’t want to.

But do ask me anything you like, or give me your very strong opinions about my carnivore/zero-carb way of eating in the comments, and I’ll store up your questions for further blog posts.