Carbohydrates and the Carnivore Diet

Carbohydrates and the Carnivore Diet

Carbohydrates and the Carnivore Diet

The title “Carbohydrates and the Carnivore Diet” doesn’t even make sense. Meat has virtually no carbohydrates. Nearly all carbs and sugars in our diet come from plant-based foods. But here I want to discuss what carbohydrates have to do with the carnivore diet.

Over the last few years I’ve done a number of experiments within the framework of “The Carnivore Diet.”

Previous Carnivore Diet Experiments

Carnivore Diet Experiments

I’ve discussed the results and findings of these experiments.

But over this time period, I hadn’t experimented with carbohydrates at all. In fact, I had gone years without eating any plant-based foods. Virtually zero carbohydrates. No fiber. Not even the occasional sugar cheat.

And for the last several years, on a daily basis, I’ve been asked about non-meat-based foods. And since I hadn’t eaten any in years, I couldn’t answer these questions from experience.

I was curious…

What would happen if I ate a jar of honey after not eating carbohydrates for years?

Would I feel terrible? Would cravings return?
Or would my muscles fill out and my training skyrocket?

What would happen if I ate blueberries and avocados after years of no fiber?

Had my microbiome morphed? Would it be overwhelmed and unable to handle this fiber? Would I bloat? Vomit? Explode?

What would happen if I ate a cheat meal? Or had an entire cheat day?

Would ice cream kill me?

Would curiosity kill the cat?

Well I conducted these experiments and I survived to tell you about them.
They were enlightening. Some of the results I anticipated. Some caught me by surprise.

But before I reveal the results of these experiments, I want to talk about carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates and the Carnivore Diet

For the purposes of this article I’m going to ignore many of the things that come “prepackaged” with these plant-based carbohydrates – like phytotoxins and antinutrients. For more on these (and as an accompaniment to this post), I highly recommend downloading the free ebook: “Health Dangers of a Plant-based Diet.

What are Carbohydrates?

Without going into all the biochemistry, there are a few things to know about carbs.

  1. We store carbohydrates as glycogen in our liver (~120 grams) and muscles (~400 grams).
    You can think of the liver and muscles as limited, short-term gas (energy) tanks. When the gas tank is full, excess fuel (carbohydrates) gets stored as fat, which is our long-term energy storage.
  2. Carbohydrates are sugars.
    Ultimately when we eat carbohydrates they get broken down into glucose, fructose, or a combination of the two.
  3. Most of our dietary carbohydrates come from plants.
    Virtually none come from animal tissue.

Let’s look at the paths a few common carb sources take.

Path of the Potato – Glucose

A potato is a heap of starch called amylose, which gets broken down into glucose and taken into the bloodstream.

The bloodstream delivers some of this sugar to the liver and some of it to feed cells directly. At these destinations glucose can be used, converted for use, or stored as glycogen or fat.

Path of the Pear – Fructose

Fructose, known as “fruit sugar,” is not used to feed cells directly. It is taken up by the liver, where it is broken down, and stored or used much like glucose.

Table Sugar – Sucrose

When someone mentions “sugar” they are usually talking about sucrose. It’s a molecule of fructose and glucose.

Most table sugar comes from sugar cane, which is a tall grass with a big stem. We don’t often think of sugar as a plant-based food, but it is.

The process involves shredding the cane, adding water, then crushing the mixture to extract the juice. The juice is then dried into a granulated form.

And voila. Sugar.

Sugar is simply a processed and refined plant part.

The sugar beet, which is a root, can also be refined to give us sucrose.

But almost all sugar in our diet comes from plants.

Whether it is the glucose from the potato, the fructose from the pear, or the sucrose from the sugar cane, sugar comes from plant-based foods.

NOTE: An exception to this is lactose, milk sugar. But it wasn’t until recently – in terms of human evolution – that we could even digest this molecule past childhood.

Low Carb Diets

Prior to the Agricultural Revolution, modern humans would have never eaten a significant amount of carbohydrates. A diet where 30% of calories came from carbohydrates would be the upper end of even the most aggressive estimates. Thus modern human physiology and biochemistry evolved in and from this “low” carbohydrate, low glycemic, low insulin environment. (r, r)

The default diet of modern humans in the wild was a low carbohydrate diet.

But it’s not just us humans that eat low carb diets in the wild.

Low Carb Cows

Cows are ruminants. They graze on roughage, grasses, and shrubs. They eat a lot of cellulose. Humans can’t use cellulose/fiber for any significant amount of energy, but cows can.

Low Carb Cows

Ruminants are “foregut digesters” which means they use their rumen, which consists of multiple stomachs filled with bacteria, to ferment fiber. This fermentation produces short chain fatty-acids (SCFAs) which make up the bulk of the cow’s nutrition.

So, via ruminal fermentation, cows are eating a diet that consists of about 70-80% fat (mostly saturated), 20-30% protein, and virtually zero carbohydrates.

Low Carb Gorillas

A gorilla eats a lot of leaves.

Low Carb Gorillas
Brooks – a gorilla at the Cleveland Zoo. He died of heart failure – the #1 killer of captive gorillas – just like us humans (r)

Leaves are about 60% protein and 40% carbohydrate (with just a miniscule amount of fat, less than 5%). And while we might be tempted to equate eating leaves (i.e. salads) and this high protein, low fat diet with a small gut and trim waist, the opposite is actually closer to the truth.

Due to the gorilla’s large gut (they are hindgut digesters) they can take all that fiber, which makes up about 75% of the leaves’ dry weight, and ferment it into short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs).

So, in reality, the gorilla eats a diet that is about 20% protein, 10% carbohydrate, and 70% fat – nearly all of which is saturated fat.

Gorillas and cows are not unique in their ability to turn seemingly nutrient poor plant-foods into high energy fat. All herbivores use one or the other of these digestion methods.

Low Carb Lions

Lions, like humans, can’t use fiber as an energy source.

Carnivores have a much simpler digestive system. But this is not an issue because lions eat nutrient-rich herbivores, which provide the lion with a high fat, low carb diet.

The cow, the gorilla, and the lion all eat a high fat, moderate protein, low carb diet.

The ancestral human diet also had macronutrient ratios similar to these. That is until humans thought they could outsmart nature.

High Carb Humans

Today, most humans eat a diet that is over 60% carbohydrates. (r) The USDA recommends up to 65%. (r) And in many areas of the world this percentage is even higher. Fat and protein are sacrificed. Protein often falls below 15% of one’s calories. And fat calories come from sources that are easily oxidized, proinflammatory, and damaging.

It’s common to equate a “plant-based” diet with a “healthy” diet. However, 70% of our diet is plant-based, and thus carb-based, and I’d argue our health is spiralling in the wrong direction. (r)

Cows eat grass, gorillas eat leaves, lions eat antelope, and humans eat carbs.

Perhaps it isn’t such a mystery why humans are the only chronically sick animal (besides those we domesticate). Wild animals don’t tend to get obese, don’t get diabetes, don’t get osteoporosis, arthritis, allergies, IBS, autoimmune diseases, heart disease or cancer. For humans (and the animals we domesticate) these are commonplace.

Over the millions of years of human evolution we had little exposure to high carb meals and no exposure to the super high sugar diets of today. Yet we wonder what is to blame for our downward spiraling health.

Essential Nutrients

There are nutrients that are essential – like certain vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and fatty acids – that we have to get in our diets. But carbohydrates aren’t one of them.

Only a few cells in the body require any glucose at all (ie. red blood cells and certain cells of the CNS/brain), and this small amount can easily be made in the body from proteins.

About 80% of the central nervous system can use ketones, which leaves less than 30g of glucose/day actually needed by the brain, which can be easily obtained via gluconeogenesis.

The one macronutrient that humans don’t need to eat, and it’s the one we eat in the greatest abundance.

The High Carb, Plant-based Diet of the World

If we look at what the world eats we can see carbohydrates dominate. But perhaps surprisingly there are just four “foods” that contribute to the majority of carbohydrate consumption: wheat, corn, rice, and sugar.


Wheat, corn, and rice are grains. And grains are thought of as ancient foods, daily staples since the beginning of human existence. But if you put all of human existence on a 24 hour clock, grains didn’t become any significant part of the human diet until 5 minutes ago.

For 23 hours and 55 minutes, humans didn’t eat grains. Besides requiring agricultural techniques to consume in any meaningful way, grains are laced with plant toxins and antinutrients to prevent herbivores (and humans) from eating the plant’s offspring (grains are the seeds of grasses).

However, 5 minutes ago we took these plant seeds and made them a significant part of the human diet by artificially breeding and selecting for size and abundance.

Then in the last second, during the Industrial Revolution, we began refining them, thereby further concentrating carbohydrates and their prepackaged toxins.

In this last split-second we altered them even further. We began genetically modifying them. Now about 90% of major crops are GMO.

We’ve engineered new traits into plants that wouldn’t otherwise naturally occur. We’ve engineered higher lectin loads to deter insects. We began spraying them with pesticides, insecticides, and fungicides.

We’ve added preservatives, so we can store and ship these foods around the world. And all of these changes came with a heavy price.


Let’s consider gluten.

While gluten is an energy storage protein (not a carbohydrate), it comes packaged in wheat which is a carbohydrate-based food. It’s a good example of how we have fundamentally changed plant-based foods into artificial, synthetic, dangerous foods.

When some people eat gluten it triggers an immediate, severe attack on the lining of the small intestines. It’s known as Celiac disease.

health dangers of a plant-based diet

Celiac disease dramatically increased in the US in the 1960s and 70s. This is the same time that genetic breeding further transformed wheat. The 4.5 foot “amber waves of grain” turned into 2 foot, semi-dwarf, wheat. Yields went up. Profits went up. And so did the gluten concentration. And it was not only more abundant, but the gluten was fundamentally different. The molecular structure of gluten was chemically altered. (rrrrrr)

Many people think Celiac’s is just a genetic condition and gluten doesn’t cause problems with people who don’t have this condition. But “an extensive study has confirmed that the risk of developing Celiac disease is connected to the amount of gluten children consume.” (r)

The ability to tolerate gluten is now commonly seen on a spectrum from those who have the ability to tolerate it in certain quantities to those who can’t tolerate even the smallest doses.

We know that our digestive tract doesn’t handle wheat proteins (prolamins) like gluten and other lectins very well. Genetically modified wheat and altered proteins are like foreign invaders to the body. They cause damage to the gut (“leaky gut”) that can lead to widespread inflammation, autoimmune disorders, and disease.

But it’s not just wheat that we’ve transformed. Consider our next major carb-based food – corn.


There’s a big difference between eating an organic ear of corn vs high fructose corn syrup extracted from genetically modified corn.

That said, an ear of corn is quite unnatural itself. Originally corn was small, about the size of your little finger. The seeds of this wild grass easily fell off and dispersed.

Today we’ve engineered it to give us massive ears of corn. The seeds cling to the cob so tightly it can’t even exist on its own in the wild.

So although an ear of corn is quite unnatural today, it’s not even close to the other versions of corn that make up so much of our diets.

Today most of us eat the version of corn that results from steeping it, taking the starch, refining the syrup, and further processing it to yield High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). This is the version of corn that we eat in massive quantities.

Corn is a good example of what we tend to do with many plant-based foods. In the wild the plant part is relatively scarce, small, and low in carbohydrates. It would be difficult to eat in large quantities. But we selectively breed, genetically modify, and change these natural plants into unnatural variations for bigger versions, sweeter versions, higher yield versions.

Just look at some of the things we use corn for:

  • We take the corn starch made from the endosperm and use it as a thickening agent. It’s also the main ingredient in biodegradable plastic.
  • We squeeze the germ of corn to get oil. We fry our food in it. It gets further hydrogenated to make margarine.
  • We use corn to make cereals, snack foods, salad dressings, soft drink sweeteners, gum, peanut butter, and flour products.

When we eat these end products, the fact that we are eating a high carb, plant-based food becomes obscured.


Rice, like corn and wheat, is a seed of a grass and it’s a worldwide staple food. And like all seeds (grains, nuts, and legumes), it comes with potential problems.

Remember – grains are the seeds of grasses. Seeds are vital for the survival and success of a plant specie. And because seeds are so important, plants take extra measures to ensure they get protected, spread, and have the best chance of growing and producing their own seeds.

Ensuring the offsprings’ survival and success is of paramount importance to the plant, and so they lace them with phytochemicals to deter predators from eating them.

Contrary to popular belief, the nutrition in seeds is intended for the growing plant, not for human health and nutrition. And trying to steal that nutrition for ourselves often has dire consequences.

Today, these 3 carb-based foods – wheat, corn, and rice – make up about half of the world’s food.


With grains we took plants and processed them into our daily food staples. We’ve done the same with sugar.

130lbs of sugar

But sugar as we know it is even newer. When refined white sugar first came to Europe it was very expensive. It was a luxury reserved for the wealthy.

It wasn’t until the 1900s, after industrial processing and extraction were developed, that sugar became a significant part of the diet. Now it’s cheap and wildly abundant.

Sugar makes up over 25% of our diet.

By weight sugarcane is the world’s largest crop. We produce 175 million tons of sugar a year. The average American eats over 130 lbs of sugar a year. (r, rrrr)

Our bodies aren’t designed to handle this.

It’s common to equate sugar with “empty” calories. But when we look under the hood, we see it’s more dangerous than just empty calories. (r)

Metabolic Derangement

With every carb-loaded meal we create a metabolic panic, stressing the pancreas to unload insulin to re-establish homeostatic blood sugar.

The insulin dump immediately halts fat burning, drops blood sugar, and urges hormones to tell the brain to eat more. We feel this as a strong craving for more sugar.

Since fat burning is largely turned off thanks to the insulin – the craving can feel more like a panic due to low blood sugar (i.e. we can’t use our fat energy reserves to supply the energy we need). With this drop in blood sugar our energy drops, we get tired, our brain gets foggy, and we get “hangry” for more sugar. Willpower gives way, we reach for more sugar, and feel the “reward” from the brain reinforcing this behavior. What results is binging, cravings, and addiction.

In this vicious sugar cycle we are always hungry and always storing more fat. We disrupt hormonal signaling and lose the ability to tap the abundant energy stored in our fat cells.

Besides leading to chronic hunger and fat gain, this massively unnatural carbohydrate load and blood sugar rollercoaster wreaks havoc on human health.

Metabolic hormones become dysregulated.

The high blood sugar levels disrupt cellular water balance, impair the immune system, and damage vision, kidneys, and nerves.

Obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and dementia all became increasingly common stepwise with the ever-increasing consumption of carbohydrates.

The human body has about 1 tsp of glucose (sugar) in all the blood. Only a few cells in the body require any glucose at all, all of which can be made from protein. There is no essential carbohydrate. No need to eat any sugar at all. And yet we are eating it by the wheelbarrow load.


A major problem with carbs is that they are addicting.

If you don’t believe me, just ask someone to give them up for a month.

You’ll get all the signs. First, denial. Then if they accept your challenge they’ll get uncontrollable cravings, have withdrawal symptoms, and exhibit the signs of physical dependence. Then it’s all but certain they will engage in isolating behavior to sneak a dopamine hit. Once relapsed, they will go back to denying that it’s a problem. Rinse and repeat. (r, r)

Your Brain on Meat
Here’s a look at the contrast between your brain on sugar vs your brain on meat.

Sugar’s effect on the brain is staggering.

Sugar causes neurochemical changes in the brain similar to other addictive drugs. It activates the same regions of pleasure as cocaine. (r, r, r, r, r)

A big problem is that we develop tolerance to the sugar-reward cycle and we need more and more to continue to derive pleasure. (r)

Sugar stimulates the neurotransmitter dopamine, which drives the reward center in the brain. But dopamine also down-regulates its own receptor (which generates the reward signal).

This means the next time around, you’re going to need more sugar to generate more dopamine to generate less reward, and so on, until you’re consuming a whole lot of sugar, and getting almost nothing for it. It’s called tolerance. And as one’s tolerance increases, so does the addiction. (r, r)

Sugar Toxicity

Is sugar toxic?

I was recently asked, “Is sugar toxic?”

Toxicity is the degree to which a substance can cause harm. There is acute toxicity from a single exposure, and there is chronic toxicity from exposure over an extended period of time.

While death from a sugar binge (acute toxicity) is rare, eating sugar over a long enough period of time results in chronic toxicity in the form of metabolic diseases like heart disease, cancers, and dementia.

But I think “is sugar toxic?” is the wrong question.

A better question might be: “What dose of sugar can be tolerated to avoid chronic toxicity?

It’s not an easy question as some people get metabolically deranged from modest doses of sugar while others eating the same amount can appear to avoid adverse effects. Genetics, exercise, and other diet aspects all play a role.

But to put this sugar toxicity into perspective, consider smoking.

I think smoking is one of the worst things you can do for your health, but only 1 in 6 smokers die of lung cancer (this is not to say it doesn’t exacerbate other diseases and conditions).

The impact of chronic sugar exposure is probably more significant than that of tobacco seeing that the top causes of death all stem from metabolic disease.

Can you imagine if tobacco was added to 75% of our foods? That’s what we do with sugar.

And while sugar is an easy target, it’s easy to forget that all carbohydrates ultimately get broken down in to sugar, and thus we can see toxicity with not just sugar but carbohydrates in general. (r)

Carbohydrates and Disease

You’ve heard the statistics.

Most people are overweight or obese. On average, Americans carry about 30 pounds more fat than we did in the 60s. A third of kids are overweight or obese.

If you don’t have diabetes or high blood pressure, you are in the minority.

The leading causes of death are all chronic diseases of modern civilization.

This downward health spiral is speeding up despite medical, scientific, and research advancements.

Eating meat and animal fat has also seen a downward trend during this time – about a 20% decline since the 70s.

But we didn’t just fill in this 20% of lost calories from meat with nothing. We replaced it with non-meat foods. And we not only replaced these calories, but piled on an extra 500+ calories on top of that.

So since the 70s we’re eating less meat, but more calories, which means we are eating a whole lot more plant-based foods – especially in the form of refined carbohydrates. (r)

And we are getting fatter and sicker.

Metabolic Derangement

Metabolic dysregulation (i.e. metabolic syndrome) is at the intersection of all of our major degenerative conditions. And carbohydrates play a leading role in this problem. (r, r)

Because it’s not just how much you eat. Not all calories are created equal with regard to their impact on health.

Calories from fat vs calories from protein vs calories from carbs affect the body in different ways.

Diet, apart from just calories, has a substantial impact on hormones and metabolism that influences everything from hunger to energy utilization and storage. The type of calories consumed influence calories burned, how those calories are stored, and how hungry one is for more calories.

For example, the “carbohydrate-insulin model” describes a vicious cycle: carbohydrates lead to overeating, which leads to fat gain, which leads to more overeating. (r, r, r, r)

This happens because chronically elevated insulin makes fat cells preferentially store energy. By hoarding energy, fat cells don’t leave enough energy for the rest of the body. Couple this with high carbohydrate foods and low nutrient density, and we get a situation where the body is starving for nutrition, yet there is an excess of energy being stored as fat.

Carbohydrates, especially added sugars, are to blame as they are directly linked with metabolic disease. The more carbs we eat, the higher the risk for metabolic syndrome. (r, r)

Carbohydrates and Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular disease is the #1 killer worldwide.

But most people don’t link carbohydrates and cardiovascular disease. Instead we have associated saturated fats and cholesterol as the culprits for clogging arteries. But this is misguided according to the research.

  • A 2019 meta-analysis shows carbohydrates are the likely cause of heart disease. (r)
    • The strength of the conclusions meet Hill criteria suggesting causation
  • Metabolic disease is the #1 predictor of cardiovascular disease
    • A 2011 study shows hyperinsulinemia as the top predictor of heart attacks (r)
    • 2 out of 3 heart attack victims have metabolic syndrome (r)
  • High blood pressure is linked to high carbohydrate consumption
    • A 2016 meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials suggests restricting carbohydrates and eating more animal protein to improve blood pressure (r)
    • More sugar is associated with higher blood pressure and cardiovascular mortality (r)
  • Carbohydrates, not fat, are linked to heart disease across 42 European countries (r)
    • A 2019 study looking at low carb diets and CAC scores found that animal-based, low carb diets don’t cause CVD (r)
  • Higher total mortality is associated with higher carbohydrate intake (r)
    • This study included 18 countries, 130,000+ people, and showed fat had zero association with heart disease. It also showed that the more animal protein one consumed, the lower the death rates
  • The Nurses Health Study included nearly 100,000 women and showed that women who drank more than 2 servings of sweetened drinks per day had a 40% higher risk of heart attack and death from CVD (r)
    • Risk of CVD mortality increases exponentially with increasing percentage of calories from added sugar (r, r)

Sugar is so dangerous the World Health Organization lowered its “target” recommendations for added sugars from 10 percent to 5 percent (less than a can of soda). But Americans still consume about 15% of calories from added sugars (drinking a gallon of soda per week), which doesn’t include “natural” sugars or other carbohydrates that ultimately turn into sugar.

Metabolic syndrome is classified as having 3 or more of the conditions listed – all of which are exacerbated with increasing carbohydrate consumption:

  • Obesity
  • High Triglycerides
  • Low HDL
  • High Blood Pressure
  • High Blood Sugar (insulin resistance)

Besides being a top predictor of cardiovascular disease and death, metabolic syndrome increases the risk of many/most chronic diseases including cancer and dementia.

As mentioned in the research, one of the best ways to improve metabolic syndrome is to reduce carbohydrates. (r, r)


Chances are that if you are able to read this and if cardiovascular disease doesn’t kill you, then cancer is the next most likely cause of death. Most people don’t associate metabolic disease with cancer, but the research suggests that we should.

Cancer cells need a lot of glucose, much more so than healthy cells, because they rely on anaerobic glycolysis to fuel their rapid growth. The more glucose in the blood, the more likely cancer cells can proliferate.

Cancer cells also thrive in high insulin environments as this growth hormone helps cancer cells grow. With insulin resistance, the body tends to have higher insulin and blood sugar levels, which sets the stage for cancer cells to thrive.

  • Research has linked elevated insulin with elevated cancer risk.
    • A 2014 study showed that when fasting insulin was above 6.1 there was a 250% increased likelihood to have prostate cancer than when insulin was below 2.75 (r)
    • Another study showed similar results. When fasting insulin was above 10 it increased the risk for cancer mortality by over 200% (r)

Evidence suggest that carbohydrates play a significant role in cancer.

  • Increased processed food consumption, increases cancer risk. (r)
  • About 1 in 8 women in the US will get breast cancer. But lifelong vegetarians have an increased risk and diets high in carbs greatly increase the risk of breast cancer. (r, r, r)
  • Colon cancer is linked with high carbohydrate diets (more so than the weaker association the WHO used to declare red meat a risk factor for colon cancer). (r) And there is even mechanistic data for the role of HFCS in the causation of colon cancer. (r)

Further, evidence suggests that meat consumption is linked with less cancer (and cardiovascular disease). (r)

Keto and Cancer

So it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that a carb-restricted, ketogenic style diet is being used as an adjunct to cancer treatment. (r, r, r)

Dr. Seyfried has done pioneering work in this area. His research has shown that when animals with brain tumors are put on a ketogenic diet they exhibit markedly decreased tumor growth rates.

Dr. Seyfried found that when he improved an animal’s “glucose ketone index” for 2 weeks, the animal’s tumor weight decreased nearly 90% and it had a 5X survival rate. (r)

There are numerous case studies in humans as well.

In a 1995 case study two young patients with high-grade brain tumors were unresponsive to standard treatment and were expected to die. They were then put on a ketogenic diet as a last resort experimental therapy and both patients experienced long-term tumor management without the need for further treatment.

A 2010 case tells of a woman who suffered from a high grade astrocytoma (brain cancer). With standard treatment plus a ketogenic diet the tumor was eradicated. Only when she suspended the ketogenic diet did the tumor return. (r)

Because of countless stories like these as well as the data which strongly suggests that metabolic alteration may be a highly effective adjuvant to the current standard of care for certain tumors, carb-restriction in some cancer patients is becoming increasingly common.

Hopefully we start moving in the direction where we don’t wait until cancers appear to start a lower carbohydrate diet.


I remember when I first came across Dr. Perlmutter, now a well known neurologist, because he said something that I couldn’t forget.

He said carbohydrates are the cause of almost every modern neurologic malady. His stance is that carbs are the problem underlying everything from dementia to depression.

“Inflammation is the cornerstone of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis — all of the neurodegenerative diseases are really predicated on inflammation…it’s already there. In the peer-reviewed literature. It’s been there for decades.

Dr. Perlmutter (r)

He connects chronic carbohydrate consumption with chronic inflammation.


Inflammation – constant, low-level, immune system activation – underlies most noncommunicable disease (not just neurologic).

Evidence suggests that conditions like – Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, MS, depression, as well as cancer, arthritis, asthma, gout, diabetes and many others – are fueled by insidious, long-term inflammation.

In effect, the immune system’s inflammatory response slowly kills us.

But inflammation is a response. The question is “what is the stimulus?”

What is causing the inflammatory response day-in-and-day-out?

Could it be something that most people do 3+ times a day? Could eating, or rather what we are eating, be slowly killing us?

We know spikes in blood sugar promote oxidation and inflammation. Cells get flooded with sugar and the chemical pathways to process glucose get overloaded. Overwhelming this metabolic pathway causes free radical byproducts which damage cells from the inside out. This damage signals inflammation by calling cytokines like IL-6 and TNF-alpha to the scene as first responders. (r, r)

Meal after meal, day after day, year after year, chronic inflammation damages tissues and organs. Disease manifests in the brain and body.

The Cornerstone of All Disease

Dr. Lustig, an endocrinologist, agrees with Dr. Perlmutter but takes it a step further saying carbohydrates are at the cornerstone of all of our major degenerative conditions.

What these doctors are arguing is that these chronic diseases stem from metabolic dysfunction.

“Glucose hypometabolism” is a term used to describe how sugar metabolism gets broken.

  • Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is preceded by decades of worsening glucose metabolism. (r)
  • About 80% of sufferers are insulin resistant (r, r, r)
  • And it’s believed most cases could be prevented. (r)

Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded, “higher glucose levels may be a risk factor for dementia, even among persons without diabetes.” (r, r)

Whether someone is technically diabetic or not, if they have high blood sugar they have a faster rate of cognitive decline than those with normal blood sugar. (r)

The evidence points to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome of the brain, being the driving force behind dementia.

  • High carb diets increase the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia (r, r, r)
  • A low carb diet is neuroprotective (r, r, r)

But I think just focusing on blood sugar would be short sighted.

We know that people who have diabetes and are treated with insulin are also more likely to get Alzheimer’s than diabetics not treated with insulin. This suggests elevated insulin, hyperinsulinemia, plays a role in the development of Alzheimer’s. (r)

Again, it’s high blood sugar, high insulin, and overall metabolic derangement that is wreaking havoc.

And we see this evidence in studies that show how obesity and type II diabetes are associated with lower cognitive performance, cognitive decline, and dementia. (r)

Mental Health

The impact of carbs on the brain shouldn’t be limited to its later-life disease manifestation. Carbs negatively affect the brain at all ages and in numerous ways.

Mental health is a modern day epidemic. (rr)

  • 20% of Americans suffer from a mental disorder in a given year
  • 4 of the 10 leading causes of disability are mental illnesses
  • 20% of doctor’s appointments are related to anxiety disorders
  • 1 in 5 young people suffer from a mental health problem
  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for 10-34 year olds

The causes of mental health problems are thought to be multifactorial yet are largely unknown. Biologic and physiologic changes like low levels of certain neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine are commonly seen. There are genetic associations. There are environmental and societal impacts and influences.

What often gets left out is diet’s potential impact on mental health issues.

Psychologists and psychiatrists have long failed to appreciate the impact that food can have on their patients.

To remedy this, researchers looked at grains – the world’s most abundant food – to see how they affected mental health. (r)

They found 3 things:

  1. Grains can increase gut permeability causing autoimmune disorders that negatively affect the brain
  2. They release opioid-like compounds capable of causing mental derangement
  3. A grain-free diet can improve and even cure mental health disorders

It’s early but we are finally getting to a point where low carb diets are being used to treat psychotic symptoms. (r, r, r, r)

Carbs and Disease – The List Goes On

While carbohydrates contribute to the biggest killers, they also are implicit in many of the most common chronic health problems.

Autoimmune Disorders

Carbs, especially grains, promote intestinal permeability that can lead to autoimmune disease. (r)

Autoimmunity is a disorder of our time.

It’s estimated that 50 million Americans suffer from one, making it more common than cancer or cardiovascular disease. And the frequency of diagnosis is increasing. (r)

While it’s still largely a mystery, even to immunologists, why the body turns on itself and attacks its own cells and tissues, I’d argue our plant-based, carb-based diet plays a significant role.

Carbs, Caries, and more Conditions…

We know sugar fosters tooth decay and gum disease. Dental decay is the #1 chronic disease of children. And 9 out of 10 adults have some degree of tooth decay.

Just because we have culturally normalized tooth decay, doesn’t mean it’s a normal process. Imagine if your doctor told you bacteria was feeding on all the carbs you were eating and enabling them to eat holes in the bones in your arms and legs. You’d probably stop eating carbs.

Dental decay, like other chronic diseases, is preventable because it requires a carbohydrate substrate. Remove the carbs, prevent the decay. (r)

The list of ailments associated with high carb diets goes on and on. Dyslipidemia, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), rheumatoid arthritis, macular degeneration. (r, r, r)

But if that’s not reason enough to consider cutting back on carbs, sugar even makes you look older. (r)

Advanced Glycation Endproducts (AGE)

Sugar directly damages tissues through glycation.

When a molecule gets glycated, AGEs can cross-link with other molecules creating a cascade of damage.

This damage doesn’t only age you, it is also implicit in a number of health problems including diabetes, hypertension, vascular damage, and dementia. (r)

It’s all interconnected.

Conclusion on Carbs and Disease

Carbs can increase your likelihood of death from the 3 big killers (cardiovascular disease, cancer, and dementia) and they can wreak havoc on health throughout life via mental health disorders and physical ailments (autoimmune, obesity, caries, etc…).

Plus they just make you unhappy. (r)

How did this happen?

As I was working on this article a question kept repeating in my head:

How did we let this happen?

History is telling.

How did this happen: Part I (2 Major Changes and the 3 Sugar Waves)

2 Major Changes

The first major change in carbohydrate consumption happened so long ago that it goes largely unnoticed. Pre-agricultural nutrition, that of hunter-gatherers, consisted of meat and fish with the occasional and opportunistic consumption of some plant products like seasonal fruits, tubers, and nuts. Carbohydrate intake was miniscule, under 15% would have been the norm, not the exception.

With the Agricultural Revolution, there was a switch to cereals in Europe, rice in Asia, corn in the Mesoamerica, and potatoes in South America. This dietary change caused a noticeable rise in tooth decay, and a more insidious decline in overall health. (r)

The second major change in carbohydrate uptake is marked by the mass production and consumption of refined carbohydrates and sugars marked by the Industrial Revolution.

Before sugar became a low-cost commodity, overweight and obesity was a privilege of the aristocracy. This privilege spread to the rest of the people in England first. With their massive importation of ever-cheaper sugar during the 18th century, they became the first country in which obesity became endemic through larger segments of the population. (r)

This 2nd major change can be further subdivided into “3 Sugar Waves.”

The 3 Sugar Waves

The 1st sugar wave started in England and spread quickly through the second half of the 19th century with the boom of the sugar beet industry.

Sugar infiltrated and morphed foods into new versions. We saw the rise of jams, candies, and chocolates. Beverages like tea and coffee became sweet tea and sweetened coffee.

During this time we saw an astronomical increase in sugar consumption compared to the miniscule amounts just one generation prior. But it was nothing compared to when the next 2 waves hit.

The 2nd wave hit after the Great Depression (1930s) when the fruit juice and cereal industry took off.

By the 1960s, thanks to phenomenal marketing and the addictive properties of sugar, breakfast foods turned into desserts.

The catastrophic impact of this cultural “normalization” of eating junk to start every day is difficult to put into words.

Then the 3rd wave hit in the late 70s.

At this time we saw the confluence of the “fat-is-bad” movement, the introduction of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and industry motives aligned with profits, not consumer health.

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

Refined white sugar is bad. But in 1956 we made sugar even more dangerous with the discovery of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) – which was even sweeter and cheaper than refined white sugar.

By the 70s and 80s HFCS infiltrated our diets. It was loaded into soft drinks and juices, snacks and desserts, syrups and salad dressings.

Fructose, “fruit sugar,” has to be processed by the liver in a special way. It has to be detoxified.

Not unlike alcoholism, chronic HFCS consumption bombards the liver with a toxin in excess. This can fatten and damage the liver. In fact, it’s a primary player in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

With this abuse, the liver eventually starts ignoring insulin, thereby impairing its ability to process glucose. Again, blood glucose builds up, the pancreas pumps more insulin, fat accumulates, appetite gets dysregulated, and hormonal systems dysfunction. (rrrr)

Glycation is especially dangerous with fructose – causing glycation at 7-10X the rate of glucose. And for diabetics who already have high blood sugar, this is a recipe for accelerated aging and vascular damage. (rr)

Moreover, there is some evidence that too much fructose (like in the quantities you get when you chug HFCS-laden sodas) can cause unique problems. The liver has to use ATP to convert fructose. After lots of conversions, it can leave an excess of the ADP byproduct hanging around. The buildup of ADP thus turns into uric acid and is sent to the kidneys for removal. Some people think this triggers gout.

Also noteworthy – there is a genetic “disease” called Hereditary Fructose Intolerance that gives the afflicted seizures upon exposure to their first sip of fruit juice. They are fructose-free for life. And they are among the healthiest people in existence. (r, r)

By the end of the 3rd sugar wave grocery store aisles were littered with low-fat products. These food inventions removed the fat and replaced it with sugar.

Since the 1970s the incidence of diabetes has more than tripled. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a buildup of extra fat in liver cells, wasn’t even a known diagnostic problem until this time. Now almost 1 in 3 US adults have it. And doctors are now treating the 1st generation of kids with fatty livers.

How did this happen: Part II – Industry

As early as the 1950s, the sugar industry discovered that if Americans adopted low-fat diets, then per-capita consumption of sucrose would increase by more than one-third. And they knew that when they added sugar to processed foods, we buy more of them. (r, r)

The sugar industry went on to pay scientists to downplay the link between sugar and heart disease, and instead to pin saturated fat as the scapegoat.

Coca-cola provided millions of dollars to fund research that would conclude that sugary drinks aren’t linked with obesity. (r)

For the next 50 years sugar-sponsored research heavily manipulated science to protect its commercial interests, to influence regulations, and to shape public opinion. We still feel this influence today with our current dietary recommendations. (r, r)

Not until recently did a group of researchers perform a detailed review of the 60 studies between 2001 and 2016 that looked at whether sugary drinks contribute to obesity or diabetes. About half of the studies found no link – all funded by the sugar industry or conducted by people with financial ties to the industry. The other half of studies did find a link – nearly all of these were independently funded. (r)

Dr. Mark Hegsted, a beneficiary of the sugar industry, went on to become the head of nutrition at the United States Department of Agriculture, where he helped shape the federal government’s dietary guidelines.

The sugar industry made it into Harvard too via Dr. Fredrick Stare who became the chairman of Harvard’s nutrition department.

It has taken decades to bring this corruption to light. And perhaps too late.

More than 75% of our food has added sugar. It has infiltrated every food category.

The food industry created a need for sugar with it’s palatability, addictibility, and price. And by manipulating research and recommendations, they also manipulated our beliefs about food. (r)

The “Fat-is-Bad” Movement

The sugar industry needed a scapegoat for the downward health trends.

Fat took the fall.

In 1953 a doctor named Ancel Keys manipulated some data to conclude that animal fats were responsible for the dramatic rise in heart disease.

I’d argue his published paper is one of the deadliest “studies” ever done.

Cholesterol and the Carnivore Diet Ancel Keys

Keys published his “research” showing 6 countries with high animal fat intake and their associated higher risk of death from heart disease.

This was a catalyst to the low-fat, high-carb recommendations of the last century – and is one of the biggest contributors to our skyrocketing epidemics of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Fat, and in particular meat, became bad.

Grains (“healthy carbs”) and vegetable oils (“healthy fats”) became good. Sugar was considered innocuous (“empty calories”).

What gets lost in history is that Keys excluded 22 other countries from the study that didn’t support his hypothesis.

His conclusions were based on epidemiology (observational studies) and these are limited in many ways even without cherry-picking the data.

Is animal fat really to blame?

If we just take a quick glance at food consumption data, we start to see another picture:

  • In England animal fat consumption was stable between 1920 and 1970 but heart attacks increased 10X.
  • In Switzerland, after WWII, the death rate from heart disease decreased yet the intake of animal fat increased 20%
  • In Yemen, the people who ate mainly animal fats had little heart disease and diabetes, while in Israel where they ate margarine and vegetable oils had the highest levels of both.
  • In Georgia of the former Soviet Union, those who ate the most fatty meat lived the longest.
  • In the US, animal fat consumption fell throughout the 20th century while heart disease increased.

Using USDA consumption data, compared to a century ago Americans eat less saturated fat and less red meat (but more poultry). And we eat a whole lot more carbs in the form of grains and sugars. The result: our health is getting worse and worse. (rr)

Fats slow redemption

It’s taken a long time for fat to make a come back.

In 1998 a detailed study looked at the effect of fats in cardiovascular disease and found that Key’s conclusions failed. There was no evidence to link saturated fat to heart disease. (r)

In 2010 the search continued to justify the “fat is bad” doctrine of the previous decades. But a massive study published in “The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” which included nearly 350,000 people concluded “dietary intake of saturated fat does not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease or coronary heart disease.” (r) And another that year with nearly 60,000 people arrived at the same conclusion, but instead found an inverse relationship with stroke (i.e. the more fat consumed, the less likely one was to suffer a stroke). (r)

In 2014, Dr. Chowdhury led a study which was published in the “Annals of Internal Medicine” and found “no evidence that eating saturated fat increased heart attacks and other cardiac events.” As Dr. Chowdhury put it: “It’s not saturated fat that we should worry about.” Instead, research shows that replacing saturated fat with vegetable oils increases the likelihood of death and heart disease (62% and 70% respectively). (rr)

Slowly but surely, fat is getting redeemed and carbs are getting exposed.

Low Carb Diets – the Original “New” Thing

We know the human ancestral diet (pre-Agriculture) was low carb.

Although agriculture transformed diets across the globe, there have been societies that maintained an ancestral meat-based diet. And by and large, they demonstrated superior health. They lacked the chronic diseases that plague modern life.

Low carb diets have received some recent publicity and popularity. Atkins Diet was extremely popular. The Ketogenic Diet has become a household name. And now the Carnivore Diet is starting to take off. But these low-carb diets aren’t a new thing.

As we’ve discussed, it was the default diet of our early ancestors.

High-carb diets, in the context of human diets over time, are the new kid on the block. And the new kid has been a troublemaker.

In fact, in the 1800s it was widely accepted that carbohydrates were fattening.

In 1825 Jean Brillat-Savarin published a book which blamed a relatively new problem, obesity, on starches, flours, and sugars. And less than 20 years after that Jean-Francois Dancel claimed every case of obesity could be cured with a diet consisting primarily of meat.

William Banting is considered by many “the father of the low-carb diet,” by popularizing weight loss via limiting carbs and sugars in the 1800s. He struggled with obesity throughout his adult life. He tried everything to lose the weight, but nothing worked. He came across Dr. William Harvey, an ENT who was researching the effects of sugars and starches, and consulted with him. Harvey told him to try eliminating sugar, bread, and potatoes. He told Banting to focus on eating large amounts of meat. Banting finally lost the weight.

We tend to think of medicine as primitive in the 19th century, but what they lacked in science during this time, they seemed to compensate with simple common sense, observation, and experience.

Yet with the rise of processed and refined carbs, the 3 sugar waves, and misaligned industry motives, the success of these low-carb diets were forgotten in the 20th century.

We replaced them with new diet recommendations.

By 1992 the USDA released the “de facto” healthy diet in the form of a food pyramid. The base of the pyramid, the foundation upon which a health diet is made, was determined to be grains, recommending a staggering 6-11 servings a day.

The results of these recommendations are clear.

Carbohydrates and the Carnivore Diet-Experiments

Based on everything mentioned above, you may wonder why I’d even consider experimenting with carbs.

That’s a valid question.

Here’s why:

  • I’ve received so many questions about carbohydrates and the carnivore diet, that I wanted to be able to speak from personal experience, not just theory.
  • Quite frankly, I was genuinely curious what would happen with these experiments
  • Finally, I do think there is a case for carbs, which I’ll get to.

So after years of only eating meat, without a single deviation, not one plant, basically zero carbohydrates, no fiber, I ran the following experiments…

Carbohydrate Experiment #1 – Honey

What would happen if I ate a jar of honey after not eating any carbs for years?

Carnivore Diet and Honey

Would I feel terrible? Would cravings return?
Or would my muscles fill out and my training skyrocket?

I first experimented with raw, organic honey as a way to test the effects of a “pure” carbohydrate without much of the other negative things in plants (i.e. phytotoxins, antinutrients, etc..). I considered running this test with a pure carbohydrate source like dextrose/glucose, but I wanted to run these experiments with “real” food sources.

Another reason I chose to test with honey is that in the Meat Health group, one of the most civil meat-based nutrition facebook groups, every time honey gets brought up it turns into civil war. I wanted to see what all the rage was about.

Experiment Design:

  • 1 jar of raw organic honey
  • 100g/day (5 Tbsp) for 4 straight days
  • 50g pre-workout; 50g post-workout


I had some preconceived expectations with this experiment.

Having done various forms of carb-cycling over the last 2 decades, I knew how carbs could impact the body when reintroduced after a period of restriction.

I thought it was likely that my hunger would go through the roof. I didn’t think my weight would change very much, if anything maybe a slight increase from holding a bit more water from glycogen supercompensation. I thought maybe I’d see a slight uptick in short-term energy, maybe a slightly better pump in the gym, and thought I’d experience an energy crash and brain fog coming down from the sugar high.

Turns out I was pretty much wrong about everything.

  • I did not experience any increase in hunger or cravings.
  • I did not gain any weight (ok I was right about this).
  • I did not have an uptick in energy or a better pump in the gym.
  • I did not have an energy crash.

Talk about the most boring experiment ever. But I think this is fascinating.

After years of not eating carbs or sugars, I must have finally slayed carb/sugar addiction. So when I brought them back in, it was no big deal.

When I used carb cycling in the past, on “high” carb days I always had a massive uptick in hunger and cravings as well as energy and mood. I didn’t experience any of this during the week of the honey experiment, or the subsequent weeks in which I went back to just eating meat.

Just as interesting, from the years of eating just meat, it seems my muscles fully adapted to optimize glycogen storage without the need for carbs, thus I didn’t experience any increase in weight (from water retention) nor a better pump in the gym.

Again, back when I used carb cycling, after 3 or 4 days without carbs, I would start to flatten out (i.e. muscle bellies would not be full of glycogen). Then on the carb re-feed days they would refill. During this experiment I didn’t notice any increase in muscle fullness, nor in the subsequent week did muscles seem to flatten out.

Now these results raised a whole lot more questions.

  • How long could I continue this carb intake and be able to maintain this metabolic flexibility?
  • How long until addictions and cravings return?
  • Is there a safe amount of sugar/carbs that I could consume to stay metabolically flexible, to keep addiction at bay, and feel great in the presence or absence of carbs?
  • How many carbs for how long would then require me to “re-adapt” to carnivore? To “re-kill” addictions?

My intuition tells me that if I were to keep eating 100g carbs/day from honey a sugar addiction would develop in pretty short order. I think I would lose a degree of metabolic flexibility where muscles would flatten out without the consumption of carbs.

But I don’t think this is necessarily “all-or-nothing.”

For example, what if I wasn’t eating a 100g of honey every day, but rather every other day, or just once a week? Or what if one week I had carbs, then the rest of the month I didn’t. Or what if I just had carbs in the summer (seasonally) and not in the winter – perhaps more closely imitating an ancestral pattern? There are an infinite number of scenarios I could devise. While I may never have definitive answers to these questions, I do think they are worth asking.

Fiber Experiment #2 – Blueberries and Avocado

What would happen if I ate blueberries and avocados after not eating any fiber for years?

Had my microbiome morphed? Would it be overwhelmed and unable to handle this fiber? Would I bloat? Vomit? Explode?

My next experiment was with fiber.

Carnivore Diet and Fiber

I conducted this experiment after the honey experiment, but before diving into this one, I went back to a pure, meat-only diet for two weeks to “reset” my meat-based baseline.

Like the honey experiment, I wanted to test the effects of fiber via food and not supplement, so I chose two carb sources (low sugar fruits) that I think are close to the best options when having to eat plant-based foods.

Experiment Design:

  • Day 1: Blueberries
    • 1 pint in the a.m.
    • 1 pint in the p.m. (post-workout)
    • ~20g fiber
  • Day 2: Avocado
    • 1 avocado in the a.m.
    • 1 avocado in the p.m.
    • ~20g fiber


I had no idea what to expect from this fiber experiment. I thought perhaps I’d have some bloating and GI distress.

My microbiome is different after years without fiber. But how different and what that difference would mean – I really wasn’t sure.

After the blueberries, after the avocados, after the 40g of fiber…I felt just fine. No stomach issues. No bowel changes. No bloating or anything out of the ordinary.

What does this mean?

I can hypothesize that in the long-term absence of fiber, the changes in the gut aren’t so drastic that you can’t return to eating fiber.

My microbiome seemed to handle the fiber just fine. Many people fear the consequences of irreversible microbiome shifts that could occur from the removal of fiber over a long period of time. Well for me, that fear is unfounded.

Cheat Day Experiment #3

What would happen if I ate a cheat meal? Or an entire cheat day?

Would ice cream kill me?

Carnivore Diet Cheat Day

After the fiber experiment I returned to an all meat diet for another 2 weeks before the big test – a weekend trip. During these 2 days, I decided I was just going to eat whatever my girlfriend ate (for the most part), and see what happens.

Day 1

The 1st test happened on the train ride from St. Louis to Chicago where I ate some trail mix. I also drank some of my girlfriend’s coffee that she sweetens with artificial sweetener.

When we got there I ate a shrimp salad for lunch and for dinner I had some chicken and rice. To top off the day, I had a spoonful of my girlfriend’s ice cream (I wasn’t daring enough to order my own).

I didn’t push the envelope too much on Day 1. I had meat with every meal and a few sides/snacks.

But one thing stuck out like a sore thumb.

Sweetness and Sensitivity

My girlfriend’s coffee tasted terrible. It was the sweetener.

I used to love artificial sweeteners. Free calories!

But one sip of her coffee and all I could taste was the terrible aftertaste. In the past I never noticed this, or if I had, I sure didn’t’ mind it. In fact, I think I liked it.

But it seems my taste buds have gotten far more sensitive to sweetness.

While this caught me off guard at the time, it doesn’t surprise me. Our taste buds would have never encountered the level of fake sweetness in these “sugar” packets.

A neat thing happens when you eliminate sugars and carbs and stop bombarding your taste buds with sweetness, they regain their normal sensitivity.

I think this same analogy can be extrapolated to other areas of health.

Diabetes manifestes when cells lose their sensitivity to insulin.
I think we lose sensitivity to certain foods that we deem are “ok” yet really are negatively impacting our digestion, causing inflammation, and adversely affecting health. But we’ve lost sensitivity to many of these cues.

By long-term removal of carbs/plant-based foods, I think people can regain sensitivity and get more “in-tune” with their bodies. It becomes easier and more clear to determine which foods make you feel good, and which cause problems.

Ice Cream and Control

While I didn’t care for the greens or the rice they didn’t seem to cause any real immediate problems.

I have to admit though, the ice cream was phenomenal.

In the past if I tasted something like this I would need to eat a half gallon of it.

However, I had a spoonful of my girlfriend’s and I was satisfied. It was enough.

My psychology and relationship to food undoubtedly has changed. I can eat a treat, I don’t need it, and when I’ve tasted a bit of it, I can feel “that’s enough” without needing to devour an entire carton.

Anyone who knows me, knows that this “isn’t me.”

I’m the “all-or-nothing” guy. If I’m eating ice cream, I’m eating all of it.

I think one of the most underrated benefits of the carnivore diet is the psychological change so many people experience. It fixes our relationship with food.

Where most diets fail is that this relationship with food is never repaired. Addictions persist. Hunger and cravings win out over willpower. But when you no longer have to exert willpower to eat right, you can finally win the battle.

Day 2

On Day 2 I ordered bacon and eggs for breakfast. I was on vacation and the last thing I wanted to do was ruin my day by eating something like biscuits and gravy that could wreck me.

For lunch we opted for a “healthy” option – steak and rice/veggie bowls.

If you’ve ever ordered one of these, you’re probably aware, the serving of steak leaves much to be desired. I’m accustomed to eating closer to 2 pounds of meat in a meal, not 2 ounces. A few thin strips of steak just doesn’t cut it. So as is typical with these meals and the Standard American Diet in general – I was hungry again in a couple hours.

Dinner was the biggest test yet. It was my brother’s birthday and we took him to an Italian restaurant. While the meal was mostly meat, it had seasonings and spices as you’d expect. And I noticed it in my digestion. I was burping and just not feeling great.

It wasn’t dramatic, but when you know what good digestion feels like, it’s much easier to know when it isn’t perfect. Again, I think this is an example of having a much higher intuitive sense of feeling/tasting/knowing when things are right and wrong.

If you’ve been on the “right” track for so long, and deviate, it’s easy to notice it. But if deviation is the normal, it takes a wild deviation to notice.

Further Thoughts on these Experiments

These experiments tested some “acute” responses to foods after long term absence. But they really don’t say anything about long-term “chronic” exposure to these foods.

It’s important to note that “false positives” and “false negatives” can completely skew results of simple n=1 experiments like this.

Since these initial tests, I’ve experimented with a few other “Targeted Carnivore” experiments where I cycled in some carbohydrates / plant-based foods.

I’ve tried adding in carbs in various ways:

  • Carb timing
    • Post-workout carbs
    • Pre-workout carbs
    • Morning vs evening
  • Various intervals between carbs
    • Every other day, every 3rd day, 4th, etc
    • Back-to-back day with carbs, then no carbs for numerous days
  • Various carb sources
    • White rice
    • Potatoes
    • Squash
    • Berries

What I’ve noticed from these experiments is that some carb timing, amounts, and sources may be better/worse than others (it depends on a whole lot of factors). But there was little consistency.

For me it’s been hard to draw any conclusions besides the fact that carbs complicate things. They don’t seem to improve much of anything (caveat: see “Case for Carbs” below), and they have a negative impact to varying degrees.

To summarize some of the learnings from these carbohydrate experiments and long term zero carb/zero fiber/zero plant-based foods, it’s evident that adequate carb restriction can:

  • Kill carb and sugar addictions
  • Restore a healthy relationship to food
  • Re-sensitize taste buds
  • Enhance dietary intuition
  • And just overall make you feel great (mentally and physically)

Without a doubt people have different abilities to handle plant-based foods and carbs. The poison is likely in the dose and duration based on one’s individual tolerance ability.

Blood Glucose

I didn’t wear a blood glucose monitor during these experiments. Besides being expensive and a bit tedious, I’m not sure how meaningful the results would be.

I’m fairly confident I would have seen high postprandial blood glucose.

There is some research on long term carb-restricted diets and the reintroduction of carbohydrates. People who have undergone such experiments generally see post-meal hyperglycemia (high blood sugar spikes) when they re-introduce carbs.

A couple things can cause this.

  1. My insulin had been very low for a long time.
    And so my body doesn’t “expect” to need a lot of insulin at any one time (as is needed with a high carb meal). So when I reintroduced carbs the body gets “caught off guard” and the amount of insulin released is less than needed, which results in higher blood sugar levels.
  2. On long term low/no carb diets, the body can develop a degree of glucose sparing / insulin resistance in the muscles. Muscle cells adapt to using the higher levels of circulating fatty acids for energy and they block insulin so as to save glucose for the CNS. It’s like the exact opposite of typical insulin resistance seen in diabetics.

In a sense the body needs to get carb-adapted just like the body had to get fat-adapted. Fat-adaption can take weeks and one reason is that muscles shift from ketone use and more towards fatty acids for fuel thereby sparing both glucose and ketones for the CNS.

So I don’t think it’s smart to eat a lot of carbs ever, but if going from a near zero-carb diet and reintroducing some, I’d take it slow as to limit these hyperglycemia events. And if you conduct any experiment like this, I’d also recommend introducing the carbs post-workout which can help promote glucose uptake in the muscle (via enhanced non-insulin mediated glucose uptake).

The Case for Carbs – Carbohydrates and the Carnivore Diet

I think the most important benefit of the Carnivore Diet is getting healthy.

This doesn’t just mean healing an underlying issue like an autoimmune disease or getting a better body (both of which can certainly be a part of getting healthy!), but developing a healthy relationship with food upon which long term success can be built.

If you’re hungry, if you’re malnourished, if you’re always fighting against cravings, you’ve already lost. But if you can get nourished, satiated, and satisfied, if you can fix this relationship with food, the hardest part of the battle is won.

Win this battle first.

Then I think there are 4 potential cases for including carbohydrates in the diet.

  • Unique Individual Goals
    • Body Composition / Performance / Metabolic Flexibility
  • Genetics
    • Carb / Plant Tolerance
  • Adapting to Carnivore
    • Tip-toeing vs Diving in
  • Adhering to Carnivore
    • Lifestyle / Culture / Entertainment

Goals / Performance

Beyond health, we eat for countless other reasons such as to transform our bodies to look a certain way or to enjoy the taste of something new.

how to lose fat on the carnivore diet

And I think the 1st case for carbs relates to an individual’s unique goals related to performance and body composition.

This is a huge topic. It include muscle building, fat loss, endurance, strength, sport, etc…

If using carbs to supplement a body composition or performance goal, I’d recommend diving in deeper with these podcasts.

The Strong Sistas, Ashley and Sarah, use the carnivore diet with some targeted carbs. Ashley has more of a strength emphasis. Sarah is more “bodybuilding” oriented with a focus on hypertrophy. Of course, there is a lot of overlap in these 2 arenas and if you have body composition goals, I highly recommend listening to this discussion.

Danny Vega carries a tremendous amount of muscle. He’s mixed keto-carnivore and some carbs to achieve incredible results with building muscle, burning fat, lifting outrageously heavy weights, and performing at an ultra-high level.

Zach Bitter is a world record holding ultramarathoner. The epitome of endurance sport. In this talk he discusses how he uses a carnivore diet supplemented with some carbs to set records in 100 mile races.

Based on decades of personal experience as well as that of others, a whole lot of research, and intuition that results from this, I think intelligent use of the right carbs, at the right times, for the right person can help optimize for certain body composition and performance goals.

That statement is incredibly vague on purpose. Everyone has a different history, different goals, different personality, desires, and on and on. This is where a tailored approach is needed.

However, this comes with a GIGANTIC caveat that the wrong carb sources, amounts, timing, etc can do more harm than good, both with health and the objective sought to achieve. 

In many cases I think even if body composition or performance goals are a top priority, keeping health #1 will help optimize your long term success in these particular areas. Build your body and performance goals on a meat-based foundation.  


While humans are far more genetically alike than we are different (compared to other intra-specie genetic differences), there are differences to take into account.

Some people have higher “carb tolerances” than others.

In Southeast Asia there is an entire continent of people who consumed a lot of white rice and had low levels of obesity and diabetes until, like everyone else, they start eating a more Western diet.

Some people can detox certain phytotoxins better than others. The poison is in the dose and duration, and some can tolerate small doses of poisons and be fine, while others get harmed by even miniscule doses.

If you are going to eat carbs it’s wise to figure out which ones you tolerate best.

Adapting to Carnivore

I’ve written extensively on how to adapt to the Carnivore Diet.

For most people, I think removing carbohydrates from the start is the best way to go. It’s like jumping into a pool. There is an initial shock which can be uncomfortable, but you get in and get acclimated fairly quickly.

Slowly cutting out plant-based foods and carbohydrates can be like tip-toeing into a cold pool. It can prolong the agony. It can draw out adaptation symptoms. It can cause people to just turn around and forget about getting into the pool altogether.

However, there are some people where the initial shock is too much. The water is too cold. And it takes too long to adapt to this new temperature.

While I think this is the exception, not the rule, some people benefit by slowly weaning off carbohydrates. By leaving in some fiber and carbohydrates adaptation symptoms can be lessened. I’ve seen it help people who initially struggled with sleep, bowels, and energy.

If you do happen to fall in this camp, what I’d do is keep a small amount of carb/fiber foods such as low sugar fruits like avocado or blueberries or maybe a sweet potato (peeled and pressure cooked) with each meal. Then I’d slowly reduce the amount per meal, and eliminate them from some meals altogether. Then maybe go one full day without any carbs/fiber, then the next day include some. Then 2 days without carbs/fiber, then include some, etc…

This can be a bit like slowly pulling off a bandaid, but for some people this is the only way they can manage.

There are serious downsides to this approach. Beyond delaying adaptation and prolonging symptoms, slowly tip-toeing into the water can keep cravings around. It takes longer to fix the relationship to food. Relapse becomes a big concern. So I don’t recommend this approach for most people, and reserve it for those who just can’t deal with the shock of jumping straight into the cold deep end.

Adhering to Carnivore

“Flexibility” in one person’s diet, is another’s “relapse.”

Long term success with a healthy way of eating requires self-awareness.

For some people, they know that 1 cookie turns into 10. It’s easier to say no to all cookies. A “flexible” diet is a recipe for relapse into old habits, cravings, and carbs.

This is how I am with alcohol. The opportunity to drink arises every single week. It’s easier for me to say “I don’t drink” (to myself and others) than it is to say “I’m not drinking tonight.”

100% is easier than 98%

With the former, “I don’t drink,” no decision has to be made. It’s already made. No willpower is required. There isn’t any temptation. 100% is easier than 98%.

With the latter, “I’m not drinking tonight,” it leaves the situation open-ended. It leaves the possibility that I could say, “Yes, I’ll have a drink,” and thus it requires energy to make the “right” decision. It requires willpower. And I’d rather save that willpower for other decisions.

On the flip side, there are many people who can stick to a healthy way of eating as long as they have wiggle room. The flexibility to have an occasional drink or dessert makes it easy to adhere the other 95% of the time.

95% is easier than 100%

People often tell me that as long as they can have some chocolate after dinner they can easily stick to a meat-based diet. However, if they aren’t allowed that chocolate, they would rather just stay with the SAD (Standard American Diet).

If “deviating” is scheduled in then it isn’t really deviating. And if 5% flexibility allows for 95+% on-target, that’s success.

It’s important to note here that “life happens.”

If “deviations” are expected and factored in, it helps many people from throwing “the baby out with the bath water.” One slip up doesn’t derail the train. By factoring in “life” they have much higher degrees of long-term success.

This also ties in closely with eating in a way that fits your “Lifestyle.”


Most people live in cultures dominated by carbohydrates. There are very few meat-based societies anymore.

Carbohydrate-based foods play a role in our lifestyles, cultures, and in society at large. Food takes the form of entertainment and pleasure. We don’t just eat to survive, but we eat to fulfill other aspects of our lives.

For this reason I think people need to define “Carnivore Diet” for themselves.

Should Everyone be on the Carnivore Diet?

I do think the majority of people should be on the carnivore diet. With the caveat – everyone needs to define their own version.

In the podcast with the Strong Sistas (above) I asked them about various Carnivore Diet frameworks like:

  • Flexible Carnivore
  • Keto Carnivore
  • Targeted Carnivore
  • Caveman Carnivore
  • etc., etc., etc….

There is a plethora of Carnivore Diet derivations.

Who should follow which kind?

And they gave me a perfect answer.

They said you should follow the [Insert your Name] Carnivore Diet.

What they mean is that everyone should tailor the carnivore diet to their unique life, goals, and personality.

I often see people get their identity wrapped up with a “diet.” This can be a good thing. If someone identifies as a “Carnivore” they are more likely to stick with it. It can also be a bad thing. If someone attacks the diet you identify with, you may take it as a personal attack.

For example I saw Dr. Shawn Baker, a friend and one of the biggest advocates for the Carnivore Diet, get criticized for eating cake at his son’s birthday party. People said he was “meat-based,” not “carnivore.” This turns into cult-like-dogma. It’s why I like to use the term “meat-based” instead of “carnivore” anyways.

“Meat-based” is vague, broad, yet understandable. And that’s why I like it. If I were to try and define it, I would say that it means getting the vast majority of your food from animal-sourced nutrition. Meat is the foundation of every meal. And meat includes muscle meats, organs, seafood, eggs, and maybe even some dairy.

Meat-based Diet

The goal is not to follow a “diet.”

The goal is to eat healthy and maintain it over the course of your life. Success comes from thinking long term lifestyle, not short term diet. And to make a meat-based diet fit into your life for the long term you need to tailor it to your goals, lifestyle, desires, and even genetic variability.

I think one of the best ways to achieve this is to understand the foundation (carnivore – meat-based diet) and have your unique definition included on top of the foundation.

And while I think experimenting with your personal [Insert Name] Carnivore Diet is important, what I don’t think is worth experimenting with is the meat-based foundation.

Personalize on top of the foundation. But leave the foundation in place.

Your Carnivore Diet

If you are going to stray into including some carbs, whether on a regular basis or just occasionally, there are some things worth keeping in mind.

Regular Carb Inclusion

I would recommend rotating between at least a few different carb sources that you seem to tolerate best.

By rotating carb sources you’ll get exposure to different phytotoxins in different amounts, ideally in low enough doses that the body can handle with no major problems. It’s when you eat high doses, like eating the same plant-based food day after day, that insidious problems can arise.

For example, if you like potatoes and seem to feel ok when you eat them, and thus include them every day, you may not realize the negative cumulative impact of alkaloids. Or if you ate berries every day, you could be oblivious to the oxalates that can build up over time.

Cost – Benefit Analysis

I think there are substantial risks of including carbs on a regular basis.

It’s taken years to regain taste sensitivity, to kill carb addictions, to regain amazing brain function, and just feel great, and this does put some of that at risk.

The dose, frequency, and duration can all impact the potential problems or “okness” of carbs.

What kinds of Carbs?

Carbohydrates complicate things.

In my carb experiments I chose to test sweet potatoes. Even though I carefully picked these, aggressively peeled them, and pressure cooked them they still came with problems.

For example, when eating just meat I never have body odor. After eating a sweet potato I do. It makes me raise my eyebrows.

Also, more than once, within minutes of eating a pressure-cooked and peeled sweet potato I’ve gotten nauseous where my stomach dropped and cramped. Other times I was perfectly fine.

I also experimented with just a bit of white rice and salt pre-workout to see how it affected my energy and “pump.” The indigestion and burping ruined the workout. Even if these carbs had some tiny benefit pre-workout in theory, the negative impact from how I felt greatly outweighed any of those benefits.

I mention this because if you decide to include carbs on an ongoing basis, like some form of “Targeted Carnivore” for example, it complicates things, and it can definitely have negative consequences. Things to keep in mind.

Proper Prep

Most plant-based foods can be made “safer” by using appropriate preparation methods.

I recommend downloading “Health Dangers of a Plant-based Diet” where I discuss many phytotoxins and various cooking methods to help neutralize these toxins.

The most common ways to limit the downside of many of these plant-based foods include:

  • Peeling
  • High Pressure / Temperature Cooking (pressure cooker)
  • Boiling and draining the water
  • Soaking
  • Fermenting
  • Allow to fully ripen

Choosing local, organic, fresh, non GMO, seasonal fruits and vegetables helps a lot as well. Choose wisely.

Conclusions: Carbohydrates and the Carnivore Diet

This post got to be way longer than I intended, but I think a solid understanding of carbohydrates throughout history, its impact on health, and place in one’s diet and lifestyle is important.

We know that modern humans, for the vast majority of our existence, ate a low carbohydrate diet. It wasn’t until the agricultural and industrial revolutions that carbs started infiltrating our diets in any meaningful way. “The 3 Sugar Waves” greatly exacerbated this.

Now the majority of our energy is derived from carbs. Wheat, corn, rice, and sugar are the staple ingredients of the human diet.

We know sugar – and thus carbs – are addicting.
We know that carbohydrates are a nonessential nutrient.

It’s clear that simple sugars, fructose, and refined carbohydrates dysregulate our hormones and appetites, lead to overeating and obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes, and are implicit in the most deadly diseases today including heart disease, cancer, and dementia.

The Foundation: Carbohydrates and the Carnivore Diet

I’ve talked a lot about my Carnivore experiments over the last several years. But it’s worth mentioning that I’ve done about 20 years of diet experiments, most of which manipulate carbohydrate consumption in various ways.

As I’ve mentioned in this article, there are still things I’m interested in testing, still things to learn. But without a doubt, I can attest to one conclusive statement:

The foundation of a healthy human diet is animal-based nutrition.

While we all differ to varying degrees with our goals, genetics, lifestyles and cultures, we have more in common than we do differences. As a single human species we are designed to eat a similar diet. And that is a meat-based diet.

On top of this foundation, we do have individual differences whether it be muscle building and fat burning goals, some variability in genetics and ability to tolerate certain plant-based foods better than others, and different lifestyles and cultures.

But I think these differences, these “Cases for Carbs,” exist on top of the meat-based foundation. They don’t replace that foundation.

Over the last several years, I’ve been asked countless times:

“Is it ok to eat cake at my kid’s birthday party?”
“Is it ok to have a glass of wine with my significant other on our anniversary?”
“Is it ok to eat carbs post-workout?”
“Is it ok to include an avocado as a snack?”

I hope this article helped answer these questions.

Because I think what is at the heart of these questions is: “How can I make a healthy, meat-based carnivore diet work in my life?” And by understanding the foundation, and adopting a “framework” (i.e creating your own!) it is possible to tailor the carnivore diet to fit your life and goals.

Find what works for you.

I know I feel my absolute best when I’m not eating carbs, when I’m eating just fatty meat without measuring or monitoring. When I deviate from this foundation whether it be with “Targeted Carnivore” or a piece of cake at a birthday party, it’s a toss up if I’ll feel fine or terrible or somewhere in between.

If there is an overarching take home message – it’s that meat is the foundation. Carbs at most should be a supplement to this foundation to fit your life and goals. Some people can tolerate some plant-based foods better than others, and I think the best way to find out what works best for you is to first build a solid foundation.

If you want to learn more about how carbohydrates can fit into your meat-based / carnivore diet, I’d highly recommend watching the Meat Health Masterclass:

106 Replies to “Carbohydrates and the Carnivore Diet”

  1. Excellent article. Thank you for consolidating a lot of information into a concise and easily understood discussion!

  2. Wonder about your thoughts on stearic acid vs. linoleic acid with carbs (AKA Croissant Diet). Paul Saladino, Ivor Cummins, Tucker Goodrich, Chris Knobbe, Brad Marshall and Peter Dobromylskyj (who’s work is the others’ starting point) have been discussing how different fats are handled by the body.

    At present their consensus is leaning that stearic acid (beef/lamb/cocoa) is a signaling molecule that tells the body to burn, not store fat. Whereas, linoleic acid (veggie/nut/seed oils) signal the body to store fat for expected lean times (AKA bears fattening for the winter). The fact this functionality at the electron transport chain is conserved across all living organisms (with mitochondria). (I’m getting way over my skies here …. so may find minor errors in my statements.)

    So it may not be NO fat with carbs but the KIND of fat with carbs.

    1. Yes “KIND” of fat is very important – going to be discussing this in the “Fat” part of this macronutrient series!

    2. Omigosh
      Ofc cocoa is stearic acid! Which is why chocolate is craved, like meat is craved. 🤯
      I love science. I love carnivore.

  3. Interesting read. Have you had any experiences with being no carb when exercise takes you into the high anaerobic zone?I do not have energy in the high anaerobic zone when I am no carb. I run into this on bike rides during a hill climb when I am trying to condition with high intensity intervals. Tough for me to get up near my max heart rate.

    1. You can’t “try it”, u have to adapt to ketones as fuel. Dr William Davis of WheatBelly fame talks a lot about this.
      Give urself a month of adaptation (so prob 6-8 wks after starting keto or carnivore) then try ur workout or activity. U can’t bounce back n forth.

  4. Great Stuff! Very thorough and reasonable, a great antidote to the bickering among prominent carnivores lately.

  5. Very informative. I feel like a lot of the grains you discuss are white rice, bread, pasta? What about organic brown rice, quinoa etc? Sorry if this was in the article and I missed it. Also, where do you get all or antioxidants and nutrients from? I thought most cattle was now raised on GMO crops (including grass fed, corn fed etc) and given antibiotics, plus many are raised in stressful environments so I thought a lot of meat wasn’t that healthy. Very happy to hear both sides of the discussion so thank you!

    1. Hi Katrina, thanks for the comment! Actually, I would choose white rice over brown rice – I explain much more in detail about this in the ebook “Health Dangers of a Plant-based Diet” (you can download on this website for free). Cattle are raised differently and I prefer grass fed grass finished for sure. I will be writing more about this and sustainability in the very near future.

      1. Look forward to hearing your thoughts on sustainability! I have downloaded “Health Dangers of a Plant-based Diet” and will give this a read tonight.

  6. Nathan, The article is an eye-opener for the MILLIONS of people who didn’t study biology and have no idea what carbs do to the body! And none of this information was taught when I studied biology in junior high school (around sixty years ago) 😉. A bit presumptuous to criticize an article simply because you are familiar with the material….🙃

  7. Bro… Nobody has time to read all this. Get to the point. I had to scroll for nearly 20 minutes to get to the “meat” of the article. I don’t need a semester worth of biology to know what carbs do the the body.

    1. I read all of this and really appreciated the info. You should give it a try.

      Also, he apologises at the end for how long it is heheh.

      All the best!

  8. The historical factors, reasoning, and providing your personal experiences was eye opening. Thank you for sharing this article.

  9. Great and very thorough article! I would just like to point out, as someone who went from a fully Carnivorous diet (9 months or so) to now one of meat, dairy and fruits as the staple foods, that the body will require 4-7 days to adapt to the reintroduction to carbs. During this transition phase, there will be some digestive upset and fluctuations in blood sugar, but now (after 4-5 months of eating this way) my blood sugar, insulin and appetite is plenty stable. A meal of only meat and fat makes me burp and feel full but not completely satiated, but adding just an apple or a few grapes and I feel much better.

    I transitioned because my thyroid health and testosterone suffered after several months on the carnivore diet (where I initially felt all the positive effects reported by most people), and this has now been resolved by the introduction of carbs.

    Of note is that my “sweet spot” (pun intended) in carbs is mainly fruits and berries from 80-150g of carbs total (according to training and activity demands), and it still requires me to keep starches and grains to a minimum to feel the best. I do go through periods of not eating meat at all (increasing my intake of dairy) and then periods where I want to eat mostly meat, so I guess I would describe it as more of a flexetarian approach – I try to listen to my internal intuition on what my body needs…and having been fully carnivorous was, at least, an invaluable experience.

    You may want to check out Don Matesz, author of “The Hypercarnivore Diet” as well as “Meats & Sweets – a high vitality diet”, who also went through the same experience after several months of eating all meat to now eating meat, dairy and fruits as staple foods.

    The common theme IMO, regardless of dietary direction, is that the WOE (you will find this in vegetarian/vegan circles as well) will work well for some people for many months, but you rarely hear about those who drop out. Most likely because they will feel like *they* failed the diet and not the other way around, and even if they dare to speak up about it in various FB groups or forums they will often be shunned or attacked as “not doing the diet right”…so it is understandable how many may become dietary zealots – their cognitive bias is reinforced by never seeing those who the diet doesn’t work for.

    Keep up the good work!

  10. How does the increased testosterone affect postmenopausal women who are not producing estrogen and not taking estrogen supplements? I’m going on 72 and work out daily. Mostly classes (Pilates, core, etcetera) but want to get back to weights (machines and free weights). My background is classical ballet so I want to get stronger but not bulked-up. Thanks for your help!

    1. Hi Janet – not sure what you mean by the “increased testosterone” – are you assuming this happens or have you experienced this?
      In my experience with many people, this is not an issue.

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