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!)

 

A Carnivore-ish Meal Plan

A few people have asked for a sample meal plan for what the kids eat. If you like printables, here’s a good one for meal planning. To be honest, I’ve been kinda winging it lately. It doesn’t go as well when I do that, though, so I made a proper plan this time, just for you. Here’s our likely week this week. Looks like I’ll run out of food before I run out of week:

 

Gosh, that’s a lot of scrambled eggs, isn’t it? It’s the fastest way to feed a crowd, and nobody seems to mind, so it’s what I do.

You’ll probably notice that that’s not “paleo”, as it contains beans, legumes, and seeds. I’m not totally anti-seed, like many paleo people. (I don’t even believe in cavemen; I’m a creationist, as a Christian ought to be.) I do try to keep seeds down to a couple of times a week, and only those kinds that I think all the tummies handle well. As a rule, there are no grains in our diet, but if we’re out somewhere and someone hands them a corn chip or a rice cake, that’s ok by me.

For the strict carnivores:

My own plan amounts to “procure, cook, then eat meat and/or eggs”, so there’s not much planning to do. I’m currently taking a high-fat approach to eating, so breakfast is a medium-rare steak of some kind and one whole egg plus 4 yolks cooked sunny side up. My second meal is usually 4-6 quarter-pound burger patties, with the rendered fat poured back on. If I’m still hungry at supper-time, I will have a bite of whatever meat the kids have, or an egg cooked in butter, or more hamburger patties. This is a maintenance amount of calories for me on a normal day with a workout and walking. I have a little bit less on a low-activity day.

It sounds a little bit monotonous, doesn’t it? But I’ve found that when I’m actually hungry, I’m never sorry that I have to eat just meat. If I don’t want to want to eat it because it sounds boring, that’s a clue that I’m not truly hungry, but bored or just seeking food out of habit.

Jesse eats the same breakfast as the kids, minus the fruit or veg. His lunch is either sandwich meats (mostly roast beef) or hamburger patties, plus boiled eggs and homemade coconut oil mayonnaise or herbed butter. (Mayo recipe follows shortly, if I ever get the pictures taken.) His dinner will be steak and fish, or hamburger patties, or whatever meat the rest of the family is having.

Honestly, there was a time I’d have laughed at anyone who thought there was something wrong with grains, seed oils, or any other food our culture sees as normal. Just give them all the things! Food can’t hurt anybody! Eat the rainbow!

You can see that there is a fair amount of repetition in the children’s diets, too. Some of them reject the vegetables entirely, so it’s even less varied for them. I’m good with that.

Until fairly recently, historically speaking, the insane variety in food choice we take for granted was something even kings couldn’t take for granted the way we do. The human race did just fine–nay, thrived–on just meat and local, seasonal produce, so that’s how I try to feed my kids. I admit, we eat more like the kings than the peasantry, and I’m tickled that we’ve been able to do so thus far. I thank God for that, and I pray that our food system can adapt to handle everyone’s need for more meat. Most people really aren’t eating enough protein to thrive.

Variety tends to be more seasonal than daily, but we do change things up from time to time. There will be more salads and berries in the spring, cucumbers and melons in the summer, and squash and grapes in the fall. Hopefully, I’ll be a somewhat better gardener this year than last, so some of that will even come from our own land!

How Does a Carnivore Mom Feed Her Children?

Friends and family who know how restrictive my own diet is often wonder if I’m doing the same sort of thing for–or to–my family. Well, yes and no. Some members of my family are 100% carnivore, some could be defined as paleo, and ketosis is something we all experience on a daily basis, as healthy humans should. I don’t aim for ketosis anymore, as I did when I was trying to lose weight, it’s just a metabolic fact around here.

I know of a number of carnivore parents for whom that way of eating extends to the whole family, and I do firmly believe that children–and anyone else in the world–can thrive on nothing but meat. Not only does their health not suffer, I think it’s probably superior, if you can pull it off. If your family is very young and you just don’t eat plants much, that will be normal for your kids.

But my older kids were raised on quite a bit more variety, so to take all the extras out of their diets would cause quite a ruckus. And as much I like the simplicity and safety of the carnivore approach for myself, there’s no good reason that all plants should be eliminated unless you have some damage to your body that requires drastic measures. I believe we’re blessed with the ability to make full use of what the world has to offer, and many of the plants are good for food and medicine. The trouble starts when we over-process our foods, find ways to eat things that shouldn’t be eaten, and start messing around with our microbiomes, hormones, and immune systems through antibiotics, vaccinations, and plastics. Many of the things that our society thinks of as “progress” are truly toxic.

If someone is healthy (and that is increasingly rare in this world) he should simply avoid the things that cause damage and eat whatever real food he likes.

I have a few guiding principles for feeding my children:

  • Whole foods only, except for special occasions when we will veer off into some processed foods like keto birthday cake, or maybe even a gluten-free sugary birthday cake.
  • No seed oils, ever, under any circumstances.
  • Fats and carbs. Healthy people are made to get their energy from both fat and carbohydrates, so I allow my children both substrates. It’s not necessary to eat carbs the way it is fats, and we do prioritize fats. But there’s a sweet potato or an apple, for example, at least once or twice a day. There’s no good reason to restrict whole food carbohydrates in healthy people.
  • Nose to tail. I don’t force any of the kids to eat organ meats, but they’re available several times a week. I encourage them to at least take a bite and see what they think. I do think organs and offal are superfoods, but they seem to only taste good when a person has a real need for the nutrients, so I leave that to the individual palate.
  • Most vegetables and fruits should be cooked or fermented. There are a number of good reasons for this that I won’t bore anybody with for now.
  • No wheat, and other grains are eaten only when unavoidable (corn and rice are, at present, on my “ok if we have to” list). Because of auto-immune problems with several of us, we have to adhere strictly to gluten-free eating.
  • Carbs are on the low side when compared to most children’s diets. We have one or two whole-food starches per day.
  • I don’t make my children eat their vegetables or finish everything on their plates. A person’s hunger is what should drive him to eat, not guilt over “waste” or insulting the cook, or whatever. If you don’t need the food, it’s a waste to eat it! This is one thing that I’ve flubbed in the past. I insisted that none of my children will be picky eaters, and they’ll eat some of everything that’s offered. Now I think that’s ridiculous. One of my “picky eaters” turned out to have IBS, and needs a 95% carnivore diet to control it. I was harming him by making him eat foods that he knew didn’t agree with him. A child absolutely should be in control of how much and which foods they eat, provided that the foods on offer are real food. My job is to make sure that my kids have a healthy range of foods to chose from, and let them learn to listen to their bodies. Compared to the standard American diet, I offer a much smaller array of choices, but they are learning to make good choices, and not learning emotionally or socially-driven eating behaviors.
  • Meat and eggs are the main thing, and sometimes the only thing. Many of the meals are 100% carnivore.
  • No snacking. Who has time for grazing, anyway? If you’re feeding children appropriately at the meal, they can go a very long time without needing to fill up again.
  • Foods that cause noticeable symptoms are avoided, even if the symptoms are supposedly harmless. For instance, most beans bloat my littlest one’s belly up to a ridiculous size, so we limit beans and legumes to lentils and chickpeas, which don’t do that for some reason. Some of us can have dairy, and some can’t. One child gets excruciating stomach pain from white potatoes, so he skips those if they’re offered.
  • No stressing about perfect eating. It’s the pattern, what was eaten over the course of the day or week or month, that matters, and not the single food item. If we went to a birthday party and ate ice cream, then we just thank the Lord that we had a chance to hang out with our friends. If poor choices become habitual, poor outcomes are sure to follow, so we make sure that these kinds of things are far from our daily routine, but an occasional deviation is not a big deal.

When I type it out like this, it seems like a lot of rules, and probably looks at first blush to be a very difficult way to eat. And, to be honest, when we’re traveling or visiting others, it does present some challenges. At home, though, I spend less time in the kitchen than I used to, not more. I don’t often do more than add salt and pepper to some meat and veg, and then throw it all in the oven or crock pot, so its not at all time-consuming the way it used to be. It’s really a very simple and satisfying way to eat.

But it is thought-consuming. It takes a good bit of research to decide who in the nutrition world is making the most sense right now. So many opinions are out there, and I have to figure out what works best for our situation. I am emphasizing physical health in a way that my parents certainly didn’t. They didn’t have the information I have, and our food environment wasn’t yet as toxic as it is today. Health extends far beyond food, of course, but we can talk about the other stuff some other time.

Everybody has reasons for eating what they do. I’d like to know what you guys are doing and why, if you don’t mind leaving comments.

Do any of our food “rules” seem overly restrictive to you? Too permissive?