DR CABOT: Hello. My name is Dr Sandra Cabot and I’m joined by naturopath and author Margaret Jasinska.
MARGARET: Hi, Dr Cabot. Thank you for having me on. And thank you to all our listeners for tuning in.
DR CABOT: And today we’re talking about something that’s really very topical and in the news. And indeed, it’s in the Australian newspaper today. And that is a diet known as the carnivore diet. And it’s fairly extreme. And a lot of people think, “Wow! I could never do that!” Because what it means is all you’re eating is meat. Isn’t that correct, Margaret?
MARGARET: It depends on the type of carnivore diet you’re doing. There are a few variations of it. So, animal products include seafood, poultry, eggs and meat. And so, the majority of people that would go on a carnivore diet would eat all of those foods.
DR CABOT: So, it’s not just red meat. So what can you have on a carnivore diet?
MARGARET: It depends on what your reason for wanting to embark on the diet is. If someone is just wanting to improve their overall health, reduce inflammation, improve their mental health, lose weight, then they could eat all those foods. However, egg sensitivity is common. And sensitivity to seafood is quite common. To chicken is quite common. So, if someone has severe autoimmune or severe gut problems, then generally they’re the kind of people who only eat beef, lamb and drink water and add salt to their food. Or ruminant animals. So, it could be lamb or beef or goat, depending on what you enjoy and what is available and affordable in your area where you live.
DR CABOT: Right. So basically, just red meat. And as you said, there’s different variations on the carnivore diet. But for people who need that very strict, red-meat-only diet, then that is more focused. And they are the type of people who have serious health problems, such as autoimmune disease, like psoriasis or dermatitis that’s out of control.
MARGARET: Yes, exactly. The average person isn’t going to restrict their diet so much for no reason. So, this is a type of eating regime that’s only done by people with very stubborn, hard-to-treat health problems that are not responding to conventional treatments. And by conventional treatments, whether it’s prescription medication or conventional treatment, like a very healthy diet where they’re not eating any junk food, but they’ve still got quite severe health problems that are not being resolved.
DR CABOT: That’s right. We see a lot of people like that. They might have very severe form of psoriasis or dermatitis. It’s absolutely ruining their life. Very severe extreme cases.
MARGARET: Or rheumatoid arthritis. Something that’s really… an illness that’s taken over their life and severely compromised their quality of life.
DR CABOT: Yes. And they’re often on very strong drugs, like immunosuppressants or biological drugs. And these drugs are working, but not as well as the patient would want and the doctors would want, as well. So, they’re only getting a limited response. And of course, they’re worried about long-term side effects. So, they’re willing to try something that is considered by the average person extreme. But nevertheless, for 2 or 3 weeks is quite safe to try.
MARGARET: Yes. And you might feel a lot worse in the first 2 to 3 weeks before you start feeling better. So, most people kind of recommend that you would be on it for at least 6 weeks to see if there’s going to be a noticeable difference in your health and in your symptoms. And common public perception is, “Well, vegetables are the healthiest food you could possibly eat.” And so not eating vegetables, surely that can’t be good for your health. However, plants do contain substances, and we might call them natural defense molecules. Plants don’t really want to be eaten. If you’re an animal, how can you defend yourself against a creature who wants to eat you? You might have sharp teeth, a beak, claws. If you’re a plant, you’re just sitting there. And so, plants do manufacture natural defense molecules to try and deter birds and insects from eating them, particularly in their youngest stage. Because if they were all eaten, the life cycle couldn’t continue for the plant. And so, natural defense molecules, things like salicylates, lectins, tannins, saponins. There are several others, FODMAPs. And so, for the average person, if we eat those foods, we’re not going to die, like an insect or a bird might. But if you have autoimmune disease, if you’re a highly allergic individual, if you have a very irritated, compromised gut lining, those substances in plants can act as irritants. And so, something like the carnivore diet of just eating red meat and salt and drinking water, it’s the ultimate elimination diet, isn’t it? Because in one swoop, you’ve eliminated so many potential problematic foods. Things like gluten, dairy products, maybe eggs or nuts, nightshade vegetables, citrus. There are potentially so many food sensitivities a person could have. And so, a diet like this is kind of creating a clean slate where you remove everything, you evaluate and see how you feel and then you can reintroduce foods and watch for a reaction to see what your body can tolerate.
DR CABOT: Yeah. Well, the carnivore diet is the ultimate elimination diet. People will do get confused. They’ll often contact us and say, “Well, they said I have to give up all grains and I have to give up eggs and nuts and whatever. But can I have a little bit of this food?” And they’re always trying to sneak things in on the side. But with a carnivore diet, it’s very black and white.
MARGARET: Absolutely. The rules are crystal clear. Perception is everything. So, you can either look at it as, “Oh no! I can’t eat this and I can’t do that.” Another way of looking at it is, “Well, it’s simplicity.” And time spent in the kitchen is significantly reduced. Time spent washing up is significantly reduced. If the rules are so simple, you don’t really need to overthink your diet. Also, meat is satiating. And so, people often find that they lose weight or they hope to achieve a healthy weight because they don’t need to eat as much. They feel full and satisfied and they don’t spend most of their day thinking about food. They lose their cravings.
DR CABOT: Well, it’s ketogenic. So, you will burn fat and your insulin levels will come way down. And the insulin is a hunger hormone, so you won’t feel hungry. You’ll just need to drink plenty of water.
MARGARET: Yes. And eat fatty meat, not lean meat. Meat contains protein. Your body uses protein for structure and rebuilding. Your body uses carbohydrate or fat for energy. So, you’re not eating any carbohydrate on this way of eating. So therefore, you would need to eat fat to make sure you have enough energy and feel well. And also, fat is a laxative and salt is a laxative. So those things help to prevent you from being constipated while on a diet like this. And salt – sodium – is an electrolyte. And so that helps to maintain your electrolytes on a very low carbohydrate diet. Your kidneys don’t retain sodium or water, as well. So therefore, you need more sodium. And some people also like to add potassium and magnesium in supplement form, just as additional electrolytes. And they find that gives them more energy. They sleep better, they don’t get cramps, their mood and their brain is sharper. But also, just adding more salt to your food helps your kidneys retain magnesium and potassium better, also. So fatty meat and salt are really important.
DR CABOT: And you can cook the meat in its own fat, too. You don’t need to add coconut oil or olive oil because you’re trying to eliminate everything else other than red meat.
MARGARET: Yes. And if you need a little bit of fat to add to the pan, then we would suggest animal fat, like lard or tallow or duck fat. So, an animal fat.
DR CABOT: Yes. Okay. So, in our practice and through our websites, we do get a lot of patients who are suffering with autoimmune diseases and they’ve tried everything else. And this is why we’re talking about the carnivore diet. It has other applications. It could be very helpful just for weight loss, as a type of ketogenic diet. But for people who are really desperate with autoimmune disease, I think it’s a good start to focus this way and see the results. And we can test before and after. We can look at your blood tests.
MARGARET: Yes, exactly. That’s right. So, the average person would be quite worried and concerned that this diet is bad for their health. However, if you feel really sick and unwell and you go on a diet like this and 3 months later your energy is better, your sleep is better, your joints don’t hurt you. Well, is that bad for your health or not? Surely not. And I think a good predictor of future health is current health. If you’re feeling good, if you’re feeling better, then your health seems to be moving in the right direction. But of course, we can also give you blood tests or scans, whatever you need, relevant to what your health problem is, to make sure that you are well and healthy.
DR CABOT: For example, let’s say you have an autoimmune disease. You probably would have abnormally high levels of inflammatory markers in your blood, such as CRP or ESR. You may have elevated levels of autoantibodies. So, after doing the carnivore diet, probably you’d need to do about 3 months, really, to be looking at inflammatory markers. Maybe even 4 months. Now, you’ll be able to see it validated in the results of your blood test, as well as in the way that you feel, as Margaret said.
And Margaret, what about the safety of doing a carnivore diet for 3 or 4 months?
MARGARET: It really depends on what your health conditions are. Ideally, you would discuss this with your doctor, your specialist, whichever healthcare practitioner you see. If you are a type 1 diabetic, I definitely wouldn’t do this just on your own. There are many type 1 diabetics who have successfully improved their health with this way of eating. But please don’t do it on your own. Be closely monitored. If you have kidney issues, don’t do this way of eating.
DR CABOT: That’s right. If you had kidney failure. If you have a fatty liver, well, it’s perfect. But if you have liver failure, you wouldn’t be able to do it either. So, organ failure, like liver or kidney failure. And if you’re a type 1 diabetic, you have to do it under supervision of your doctor. If you’re a type 2 diabetic, well, that’s a whole different thing to type 1 diabetes. And it could work extremely well for you, particularly if you have a lot of inflammation in your body.
MARGARET: Yes. And majority of type 2 diabetics have a fatty liver and a fatty pancreas and clogged arteries. And so, this way of eating, because it’s free of carbohydrate, it will clear your internal fat, the dangerous fat, the visceral adipose tissue, the type of internal fat that increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes, cancer.
DR CABOT: Yes. The carnivore diet is definitely in the news lately. And it’s worth thinking about for people who’ve tried everything and nothing’s working for them. And there is a lot of scientific information now on the carnivore diet.
MARGARET: Yes. And there are also a lot of Facebook groups that you can join for information and support. And the majority of those groups are owned by doctors, researchers, scientists. So, people with a great deal of knowledge in science and how the body works. So, it’s not a bad diet and it’s not a dangerous diet for the average person. There is a lot of science behind it.
DR CABOT: It’s the ultimate elimination diet, that’s for sure. Very black and white. I should say red and white, and so simple. Nothing to think about, really. And for people who have severe autoimmune disease, whether it’s in their skin or their joints or their organs, I think it’s worth a try. Because sometimes you see dramatic results and then once you’re a lot better, we can start introducing foods one at a time. Keep a food diary and see the reaction of that food on your immune system and your gut.
MARGARET: Exactly. And that’s what the majority of people end up doing. They transition eventually to a diet that is based on animal foods with smaller quantities of plants that they can tolerate.
DR CABOT: Yes, that’s right. Okay. Well, very interesting! I think maybe we’ll go back and live in the times of the cavemen. We could have a dinosaur steak.
MARGARET: Isn’t that where the majority of humans originated?
DR CABOT: Yes.
MARGARET: I was born on the most northern tip of Poland. In winter, it sometimes gets down to -30 degrees. Good luck trying to be a vegetarian. The ground’s frozen over, covered in snow. So, humans hunted for things like deer, bison, birds, seafood. So, at least for part of the year, they existed with no plants in their diet.
DR CABOT: Yes. And they did very well. We didn’t have an epidemic of diabetes and autoimmune disease.
MARGARET: Yes. And many would argue that, “Well, they didn’t have a long life expectancy.” However, if you got an injury, even if you sprained your ankle, you may get killed by another animal. So modern medicine can be great to save your life in acute situations. It’s just not very good for chronic disease states.
DR CABOT: That’s right. And obesity has become a disease. It’s a chronic disease and people must get their weight down. If they don’t, they’re going to be prone to diabetes, fatty liver, immune problems. And whatever it takes, don’t give up. It can be a lot easier when you go more ketogenic to lose weight. So, there’s always something you can do. It’s very, very important to keep your weight in a healthy range and the carnivore diet may be just what you need to get started.
MARGARET: Yes. And if you’ve got questions, you can just leave comments in the blog section below this podcast. Or you can write to us from our liverdoctor.com website. We’d love to be able to give you more help.
DR CABOT: And give us your feedback. How did you go? We like to know about your blood tests. Did they improve on this diet or the supplements that we talked about? Did that improve you? We love that feedback because we all need motivation and passion to continue on a healthy path.
MARGARET: And support, as well. And you may not get support from the people who live in the same house.
DR CABOT: That’s right.
MARGARET: Sometimes you need support from someone on the other side of the world through your computer.
DR CABOT: Someone objective.
MARGARET: Yes. But we can be there to help support you.
DR CABOT: Yes. Okay. Well, thank you, Margaret. Very interesting. I feel like giving a big growl now to say goodbye since we’ve talked about carnivores. So bye, everyone! Grrrrrrr!