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Health Hack #48 - The Lost Art of Nose to Tail Eating

The Carnivore Diet

The Carnivore Diet. Some may have heard of this in passing, but there’s a decent chance that you’ve never heard of it before. The origins of the “movement” are a bit hazy, but it was largely brought into view during a Joe Rogan podcast a few years ago. Jordan Peterson, a prominent guest (who does not operate in the world of food; he’s a prominent author, speaker, clinical psychologist, and former university professor) discussed the ways in which a strict meat and salt diet had virtually cured his daughter of a litany of auto-immune related symptoms. Having needed a full ankle and hip replacement before the age of 21, she had battled debilitating arthritis her entire life, and attributed her diet to being a primary cause of many inflammatory reactions. After eliminating virtually everything except meat, she suddenly found that she could live much much better. She then compelled her father to try the same, and he too noticed a slew of physiological improvements in himself.

The science is far from settled here, and fortunately neither father nor daughter have used their platform in any dogmatic sort of way. Instead, they’ve suggested that this has worked for us. They’re not exactly sure why, but it’s seemingly been a good find. Others have hopped on board and found similar results. Others have given it a try and found the complete opposite, watching their health quickly deteriorate. So many questions linger. What about the importance of fiber (Soluble Fiber: A Vital Component of a Balanced Diet), which is devoid in an all-meat diet? What about the ramifications on our lipid panels? Well known adherents to the diet have seen a drastic rise in their LDL, which by all measures is reason for worry, and a known precursor for heart disease. The list of concerns goes on and on. The people converting to such a draconian diet are in many ways guinea pigs themselves. The jury is out, but hopefully in the years to come some scientific research can shed light onto its overall efficacy. Who knows. Maybe it’s curative for some in the sense that it marks the most austere elimination diet of all, and by way of eating only animals, they’re avoiding the plant-based foods that ail them. But maybe for most, those without autoimmune conditions or severe gastrointestinal-related issues and allergies, it’s not the way to go. We shall see.

Regardless of its true overall effectiveness, this new Carnivore Diet is likely to have its moment in the sun. Why? Because so many people will find it attractive. Ten years ago very few people had even heard of the ketogenic diet. Nowadays, it’s more likely than not that you know someone who’s on it. And if you shop at any grocery store, you’ve certainly encountered “keto-friendly” products. While providing a variety of nuanced benefits if adhered to correctly, ketogenic dieting (which generally consists of 80% or more of calories consisting of fats) has been infiltrated by a variety of slants that contort the premise into becoming a never-ending onslaught of bacon and cheesy eggs. Are bacon, cheese, and eggs “keto-compliant”? Yes, they are. Does a diet consisting primarily of these three foods embody a well-rounded ketogenic approach? No. But too many miss that latter point. There is more to sound nutrition than merely weight loss. Avocados, olives, and macadamia nuts all possess a bounty of monounsaturated fats, and it’s widely accepted that these fat constituents are your most beneficial sources of all (we delved very deeply into why here - The Power of Extra Virgin Olive Oil). One can also incorporate a variety of leafy greens into a ketogenic diet, since they’re super low-calorie, nutrient dense, and bode well when cooked and consumed with fatty oils. Diets tend often to be less prescriptive of the granular aspects found in micronutrients, and more focused in on the calories and the macronutrients (macronutrients meaning the amount of fat, protein, and carbohydrate in any given food).

Tying this in now to the Carnivore approach, there is bound to be attractiveness to the idea of eating red meat ad libitum. Wait? I can have a bun-less burger for lunch, and a ribeye steak for dinner? It may not sound appealing to the well versed omnivore, but for some, the idea is very enticing. Especially if it comes attached with the loose promise of improving aspects of their health. Unfortunately, many of the names and faces of this new movement champion the consumption of nothing but steaks. Ribeyes and New York strips all day long. There are, though, a select few advocates who think larger. And it's within their more nuanced viewpoints where it seems that a worthwhile, long forgotten food practice may soon return to prominence, thanks too, ironically, this whole Carnivore thing.

Nature’s Long Forgotten Superfood

Superfoods have been the victim of much co-opting by the food branding industry. Impulse items held near checkout at grocery stores and coffee shops likely consist of some packaged “superfood” touting a $10 price tag despite adding up to not much more than a snack. The term superfood generally comes to imply nutrient density, i.e. foods containing the highest concentrations of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants per calorie. Acia may ring a bell, a fruit that not long ago was an unknown exotic berry from Brazil. Virtually overnight acia had skyrocketed to prominence over its superfood connotation. Now you can’t find a healthy breakfast eatery without some iteration of an acia bowl.

The rankings of superfoods vary depending upon the publication. In some instances, salmon takes the crown. In others it's kale. Some lists anoint oysters as #1. Regardless of publication, virtually all lists consist of the same 10-15 foods, just in a slightly different order. Salmon, kale, blueberries, garlic, dark chocolate. All foods that we not only recognize, but that we likely consume with some regularity, or at the very least encounter the opportunity to purchase at virtually every turn. It’s safe to call these foods ubiquitous. Restaurant menus, grocery stores, etc. There is only one outlier to this rule. One food that appears on every list, but is not nearly as ubiquitous as all of the others. And chances are very high that you haven’t had any within the last month, possibly not even in your lifetime. Beef liver.

Longtime readers of this blog may recall a prior article (Eat (Real) Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants) espousing the food philosophy adopted by Michael Pollen, a lifelong journalist who spent the better part of a decade trying to define an ideal food outlook for the betterment of both humans and environment. He boiled his philosophy into an easily memorizable phrase: Eat Food, Not too Much, Mostly Plants. Food, as opposed to edible food-like substances, like much of the processed garbage found on the room temperature shelves comprising many aisles in most grocery stores.

One of the memorable food rules he provided in his best known book on food was: Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. Sorry Doritos lovers. That’s not food. There is a flipside to this perspective, which is often lost on us. It probably wasn’t lost on Michael Pollan, but one only has room for so many rules in one book. And plus, the argument holds true that not all purported health wisdom was sound back in great grandma’s era, anyway. Any Mad Men fans know full well that smoking was as heralded a daily practice as drinking coffee. It wasn’t until the tobacco industry was exposed for withholding evidence on the dangers of nicotine that the public caught on to the adverse health effects inherent in smoking. The flipside, though, with the above caveat taken into consideration, is: Well what about the foods that great grandma used to eat that are missing from our plates, nowadays? It’s a good question to ask ourselves.

All families are different, and heritage certainly impacts food decisions made within individual households. But in hearing stories about my grandparents, and even great grandparents, liver was an integral part of their family dinners. Liver and onions, specifically. The same seems to be true amongst most older generations. Just consult with any butcher shop owner/manager in their upper years about how buying habits have changed over the past fifty or so years.

It’s foggy as to why muscle meats like sirloin, london broil, ribeye, etc. rose to the forefront during the latter half of last century and pushed organ meats into virtual obscurity. Liver, but organ meats in general, have a very lengthy history of reverence, and very sound evolutionary reasonings for why. For starters, beef liver is one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet. It is the canonical superfood. One of our distant ancestors’ great leaps forward in maturation towards our modern day homo sapiens species was the advent of consuming animals. Anthropological records date this discovery back to 2.6 million years ago, evidenced by butchery marks found on fossilized animal bones. In discovering these nutrient powerhouses (in comparison to low-calorie, tedious to consume plants like grass) our brains literally began to grow, and it was with this starting point that our next leap forward in evolution began. Above all other parts of the animal, it was the organ meats that packed the most potent nutritious punch.

Liver specifically, but other organs like kidney and heart, possess far more nutrients than muscle meats. Our ancestors learned this. To this day, there are a variety of traditional cultures maintaining this worship of organ meats, evidenced by their discarding of the muscle cuts, and in some instances feeding the muscle meat to the local dogs. Wolves hunt in packs, as we know. During the mealtime following a fresh kill, the organ meats are consumed by the alpha male, with the remainders of the carcass left for the rest of the pack. Nature seems to have a keen understanding of their value.


If the Carnivore movement picks up steam only to derail off of a cliff as science begins to emerge that laughs in its face, then at the very least, let's hope that it sheds some light on this long forgotten tradition of incorporating organ meats into our diet, assuming we’re omnivorous in our food choices (as opposed to being vegan or vegetarian). Let’s consider liver, alone. It’s off the charts in Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin B-12, Iron, Zinc, and Folate. Recognize any of these? If there’s any recipe for immune boosting, there it is. Nature’s vitamin.

But wait? Isn’t the liver loaded with toxins? Isn’t that it’s purpose, to detoxify? The function of the liver is to neutralize toxins, yes. However, it’s not a storage facility for toxins. Toxins typically reside in fat stores.

Like all foods, it’s important to source products with integrity. Pasture-raised organs meats are far superior to those generated in a commercial feedlot. The more natural the diet and environment, the higher the quality of the nutrition found within the animal. In other words, not all organ meats are created equally. If living within the Philadelphia area, inquire with our favorite butcher over at Primal Supply Meats (check them out here), as their supply chain rivals the best in the game. There, you’ll be able to source the highest quality organ meats around.

But what about Michael Pollen’s overarching tenet? What about the plants? We’re not advocating for a carnivore approach, only for the re-inclusion of a long lost superfood. As it turns out, despite being a full blown nutrient powerhouse, pasture-raised beef liver is lacking in phytonutrients and flavonoids. To source these must haves, we must look towards fresh produce. The richness of most organs, liver included, is generally enough to prevent overconsumption. Unlike fatty cuts of steak that are often consumed in overwhelming quantities, consumption of organ meats is typically self-limiting, making it almost intuitive to stack a fair share of plants alongside the nutrient dense meat source. So yes. Eat food, not too much, mostly plants, and hopefully some high quality organ meats as well, if you’re so inclined…