Carnivore Diet Experiment Part 3: Results & Takeaways

CARNIVORE DIET EXPERIMENT

The previous post detailed what I ate for those 40 days on my “nose-to-tail” carnivore diet experiment. This post will cover how I felt, an examination of some lab results and my main takeaways from such a diet.

At a glance:

  1. This diet has been the most nourishing diet I have tried. Unexpectedly it has also had the least repercussions and most benefits in terms of inflammation, autoimmunity, digestive, skin, joints, immune, reproductive, muscular and overall health and performance.
  2. My cholesterol levels went sky high, mostly due to the body’s adaptive mechanism to higher fat and reduced carbohydrate consumption. However, I’m not worried about cardiovascular disease due to the absence of insulin resistance and high inflammation/oxidation levels.
  3. This diet has taught me that meat/animal-based products are far more superior in nutrition compared to plants-based products. Mostly because of their bioavailability and lack of antinutrients. Therefore, for optimal health, I would emphasize including animal products in one’s diet. Preferably sustainably raised and/or caught ones and to eat “nose-to-tail”.
  4. Eating meat has been demonized in mainstream media. However if you choose your sources wisely, it can be good for both humans and the environment. (see Main Takeaways for more)

How I felt

Of all the diets I’ve tried, I have never felt more nourished and “well-fed”!

No wonder in the olden days, meat was always treasured and reserved for royalty and special occasions. I am now convinced that animal foods are the original superfoods – the most nutritious foods we can consume. Mostly because their nutrients are much more bioavailable than plants – meaning we can digest and assimilate much better.

In summary:

  • inflammation and autoimmunity were at its lowest
  • all past digestive issues resolved
  • minimal cravings
  • amazing appetite control
  • healthy weight gain and body composition
  • improved skin and joint health
  • better mental clarity and cognition
  • greater stress resistance and recovery
  • some issues with energy, skin and constipation at the start

Basically, I felt like every system in my body was getting an upgrade – from cardiovascular to neurological and even reproductive!

However, at the start, as I was tweaking and learning more about how to optimize the diet, I experienced some issues with energy, skin, and constipation. More details below.

INFLAMMATION/AUTOIMMUNITY: As mentioned above, I felt that the inflammation and autoimmune reactions in my body were at its lowest!

After living with an autoimmune disorder for 5 years, I am very attuned to levels of inflammation in my body. I can easily tell when they are going up by simple signs such as my fingers getting stiffer and swelling. However, on this diet my fingers hardly ever swelled and my joints never got stiff. In fact, they felt better than ever! This was the lowest inflammation I have felt in years.

This was a surprise as I always assumed that increased meat consumption is inflammatory and cancerous and just all bad for you.

I attribute the decrease in inflammation and autoimmunity to the theory that many plant foods trigger autoimmune reactions in the body. This stems from chemical compounds that plants make to defend themselves such as lectins in legumes [1], gluten in wheat [2], oxalates in many plant foods [3, 4] and many more. (see part 1 for more)

MORNING PHLEGM/MUCUS: hardly any phlegm/mucus in the mornings as compared to before, unless I cheated and ate something like a birthday cake. I believe this is a sign of a low-allergy diet which is not triggering the immune system. Classic foods that produce lots of phlegm for me in the morning are dairy and high-starch foods. The phlegm/mucus might be a way the body rids itself of toxins.

DIGESTIVE SYSTEM: One of my initial motivations for cutting out plants was actually because I was eating too much of them! Too much fibre made my stools bulky, rough and painful to pass. Most days when passing there was also blood! (see this post on the myths of fibre)

This quickly resolved after I cut out plant foods. Not only that, I realized that my other digestive issues also resolved too.

I no longer felt bloated after meals nor had much gas to pass. Even when I did, the gas was odourless!

Cravings were minimal and so were the blood sugar “roller-coasters” on a high carb diet.

One of the greatest benefits I felt was an improved sensitivity or ability to regulate my food intake. The longer I stayed on this diet, the better I instinctively knew when I had eaten enough of anything. I suspect the nutrient density of such a diet improved my satiety hormone signalling and sensitivity.

The only issue was constipation at the start. On average, I passed stools on alternate days. The stools were also pebble-like and greyish to light yellow in colour – a clear sign of constipation, fat malabsorption.

After some research, I realized that I was not getting enough choline in my diet to produce enough bile to digest and absorb my food.

The remedy came in the form of 4 egg yolks a day (without the whites because they contained Avidin, an anti-nutrient that binds to B7 which I needed for skin/hair health). About a week or so after starting the egg yolks, my poop colour was visibly darker brown and more regular. Problem solved!

However, it should be noted that unlike plants which contain indigestible ingredients like fibre, animal foods do not. Because I was absorbing almost everything I ate, it is natural to have less poop than before. Thus I was never really worried about the constipation as it hardly caused me any digestive distress.

ENERGY: I have been eating a mostly low-carbohydrate diet for many years so I thought I would adapt to a zero-carb diet like this easily. I was wrong. I think my activity levels were still too high and so I started to experience significant fatigue and reduced productivity.

I remedied this by adding a small bowl of white rice or rice-based noodles once a day after realizing that it would take my body a few more months to become fully “keto-adapted”.

The usual ‘afternoon slump’ in energy after lunch also disappeared. I attribute this to the flatline levels of blood glucose since I consumed no carbs at lunch.

SKIN: very dry skin at the start. Peeling, flaking and itching at times. All over, from body to face and scalp (dandruff).

On hindsight, I realized this was a combination of the cold, dry weather, too little carbohydrates and too much liver! I also suspect my oil glands aren’t producing as much sebum and natural oils as I age.  

Dry peeling skin and reduced sebum production is a symptom of too much or too little vitamin A. In my case it was probably hypervitaminosis A – too much as I was consuming about 50g of liver a day (see previous post for details of the nutritional data in liver)

So, I cut out the liver and switched to kidneys and egg-yolks for micronutrients. It took about 7 days for the dry skin to improve. I then retested the theory by eating small bits of liver and sure enough, my skin worsened every time I did.

Adding the carbohydrates back also seemed to improve the dry skin. Possibly due to the dehydrating effects of ketosis.

WEIGHT AND BODY COMPOSITION: like most ketogenic diets, staying lean was effortless. However, once I added the rice back in, I started to put on weight easily. This was in the form of more muscle bulk rather than spare-tires possibly due to more efficient glycogen storage replenishment.

Gaining muscle mass was definitely much easier on this diet than any others I’ve tried. Of course, exercise contributed to this but I did not change much in my fitness routine.

Since returning to Singapore and back to our high-carb, moderate-to-low protein and more plant-based diet, I realized that I’ve become much skinnier and lost strength. More about dietary comparisons in the following post.  

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH: this is somewhat awkward but oh heck, it’s a noteworthy observation. I literally felt my testes increase in size.

And from not having a single wet dream in months, I had 2 wet dreams in 25 days after starting the diet! My libido was also driving me nuts! (pun intended!)

There are 2 ways of looking at this.

The first is the traditional view that meat is bad because it causes people to become aggressive and ‘lustful’. Hence the whole 7th Day Adventist and Buddhist philosophies.

The second is that this is clear evidence of how health-promoting this diet is for both hormonal and reproductive health!

Reproductive health is the hallmark of how healthy a species is. Our bodies normally would not prioritize reproductive health until the rest of the body is settled nutritionally.

This is in stark contrast to many vegan or vegetarian diets where hormonal and fertility issues are often encountered. Simply because such a diet does not provide enough nutritional building blocks for the body; similar to starvation.

My theory is that most plant-based vegan/vegetarian diets are beneficial in the short run because they mimic caloric restriction. But in the long run, no human benefits from chronic starvation/malnutrition.

Lab-test results

Here are my labs, done on day 45, about 5 days after reverting back to a ‘normal’ diet.

Inflammation:

  • C-Reactive protein: 0.9                (0.2 – 9.1MG/L)
  • ESR: 20H                                        (1 – 10 MM/HR)

Low C-Reactive protein (CRP) reflects low levels of inflammation in my body. This was what I was most happy about. I am not too concerned about the high ESR as it is not as accurate as CRP and I exercised the day before the test. Anaemia and high cholesterol can also raise ESR.

The low CRP also proves the point that meat is not inflammatory. Good news!

Lipid Panel:

  • Total cholesterol: 14.77*             (desirable <5.2 MMOL/L)
  • HDL: 2.44                                       (desirable >1.0 MMOL/L)
  • LDL-c: 12.09*                                (desirable <4.1 MMOL/L)
  • Triglycerides: 0.52                        (optimal <1.7 MMOL/L)

This was the shocker!

I’ve NEVER seen any lipid panel this high! 😂 My LDL is literally “through-the-roof”!

After seeing my results, the doctor immediately told me I should be on statins. Haha 🤣

And of course I told him, “Let me think about it?”

He did not even believe me when I proposed that it could be due to my dietary experiment. Eventually, I managed to convince him to let me re-test it after some time back to a ‘normal’ Singaporean diet.

If, after seeing those numbers, you’re worried about my risk of cardiovascular disease, don’t be. Because I’m not.

Firstly, it is helpful to understand what these numbers mean.  

Lipoproteins like HDL and LDL are basically transport proteins that transport various substances to and from the liver.

Source: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/nn103098m

LDL carries triglycerides and cholesterol FROM the liver to the rest of the cells. HDL does the opposite.

The risk of heart attack is said to increase with increased levels of LDL. However, this is based on the observation that the foam cells that form arterial plaques, are made up of LDLs. And these plaques end up blocking blood vessels, causing heart attacks or strokes.

However, statistically, high LDL alone is a poor predictor of heart disease. In fact, it appears to be quite the opposite when considering all-cause mortality. [5]

Another study found that the mean lipid levels for about 140,000 patients admitted for coronary heart attacks was: [6]

  • LDL 104.9 +/- 39.8 mg/dL (2.7 +/- 1.0 MMOL/L)
  • HDL 39.7 +/- 13.2 mg/dL (1.0 +/- 0.3 MMOL/L)
  • triglyceride 161 +/- 128 mg/dL (1.81 +/- 1.45 MMOL/L)

These numbers are quite the opposite of mine!

So… what actually causes heart attacks?

In a nutshell, it is when certain environmental factors (esp. sugar and processed vegetable oils) cause the oxidation of lipoproteins, especially LDL. The body then doesn’t recognize them as ‘healthy’ anymore. The immune system takes over and TRAPS these damaged cholesterol in the arterial walls to prevent them from causing damage elsewhere. [7]

Macrophages from the immune system then ‘eat’ up these damaged lipoproteins, forming foam cells and fatty streaks. Over time, this accumulates together with muscle cells that migrate to the site in an attempt to heal some damage but form atherosclerotic plaques instead. When these plaques get too big, they block the blood flow and cause cardiovascular events.

Source: https://www.thno.org/ms/getimage.php?name=thnov03p0894g001.jpg

Another cause is direct damage to arterial walls or endothelial layer from too much carbohydrate consumption, but this is something I have yet to research deeply into.

So… what is more predictive of cardiovascular disease?

Or rather, instead of LDL, what should we really be worrying about?

Inflammation and oxidation.

This is indicated by a high triglycerides / HDL ratio and insulin resistance, indicated by a high fasting insulin. [8]

My triglycerides / HDL ratio was 0.52/2.44 = 0.21 which is extremely low and although my doc did not allow me to request a fasting insulin, my fasting glucose was 4.5 mmol/L – within the reference range and suggestive of no insulin resistance.

Fasting glucose: 4.5        (3.9 – 6.0 MMOL/L)

For more information you may want to refer to these few great write-ups. [9, 10, 11]

Full Blood Count:

  • Haemoglobin: 13.2 L*               (14.0 – 18.0 G/DL)
  • RBC Count: 4.32 L*                       (4.5 – 6.3 x 10^12/L)
  • Haematocrit: 40.9                  (38 – 52 %)
  • MCV: 94.7                                      (78 – 98 FL)
  • MCH: 30.6                                      (27 – 32 PG)
  • MCHC: 32.3                                   (32 – 36 G/DL)
  • RBC Distribution width: 12.4     (10.9 – 15.7 %)
  • Mean Platelet Volume: 10.4       (7.2 – 11.1 FL)
  • Platelet count: 236                       (140 – 440 x 10^9/L)
  • WBC Count: 3.88 L*                     (4.0 – 10.0 x 10^9/L)

It is interesting to note that I was still anaemic despite consuming meat for 40 days. Although borderline, I have been anaemic for almost 5 years now since I was first diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder.

However, in 2019, prior to carnivore, I was mostly vegetarian, only consuming some eggs. I even did a 4-month vegan diet stint with iron supplements. The anaemia proves that some supplements may not work for everyone.

My guess is that it takes the body roughly 90 days to fully recover from iron-deficiency anaemia, even with the reintroduction of meat. However, there are other causes of anaemia that I shouldn’t overlook and so have just gone to draw another round of bloods, this time to investigate for B9/B12 deficiency and for genetic causes such as Thalassemia. (more on this in the follow-up post)

The slightly low white blood cell count is actually good news for me. It shows that my immune system isn’t overreacting like before.

Main Takeaways

  1. This experiment has convinced me that animal foods are nutritionally much more superior than plant foods.
  2. A well-constructed “nose-to-tail” carnivore diet can fulfill all your dietary requirements, promote health and reduce inflammation and autoimmunity.
  3. A carnivore diet might be the best elimination diet for anyone with chronic diseases.
  4. Cholesterol will likely increase but the low levels of inflammation and insulin resistance means there is nothing to worry about
  5. I really enjoyed the simplicity of this diet
    – I spent a lot less time in the kitchen and also saved quite a bit on groceries
    – No need to worry about buying, soaking, washing, cutting and cooking vegetables
    – Nor did I ever get bored of food not having a variety of tastes/flavours as salt alone made everything taste great!
  6. Contrary to mainstream media’s portrayal as meat being bad for humans and for the environment, there is plenty of evidence to show the contrary.
    Pasture-raised sources of meat are key to the health of our soils and regenerative agriculture is far more sustainable than monocrop agriculture which most plant-based products are grown in.
    More information here: 12, 13, 14

Will I continue a Carnivore diet?

Probably not.

Looking at the whole picture and weighing the benefits against the costs, this is my thought process:

  1. Presently, my autoimmune disorders and symptoms are very well controlled so I am in no need of such an elimination diet
  2. I seriously enjoy eating Singaporean cuisine like traditional dishes and hawker foods and so I’m willing to sacrifice a little ‘inflammation’ occasionally for this
  3. Sourcing for quality animal produce mentioned above can be very expensive in Singapore and it does not make sense to pay extra for importing them from far-away countries.
    Not to mention the added carbon-footprint that leaves.
    Also, I am heavily against industrial farming of animals where they are not allowed to live in their natural environment or eat their natural diet.
    Eating locally and seasonally from the land you live in is wiser and better for the planet too.
  4. Even though animal products are more nutritious, I wouldn’t discount the many benefits that plants offer too.
  5. However, I now see the benefits of including more quality animal products in one’s diet so why not reap the benefits of both plants and animals?
    Perhaps a diet like my mentor’s which alternates between carnivorous and plant-based might be more holistic and help achieve the best of both worlds
    Meat-based = anabolic / stimulating growth
    vs
    Plant-based = catabolic / autophagy / cellular cleanup

Conclusion

Everything has to be taken in context. From your genetic makeup to your present state of health, culture, lifestyle, social-economic status, living environment, the state of the planet, etc.

As a naturopathic student specializing in herbal medicine, I am naturally biased towards herbs and am quite convinced of their medicinal efficacy.

This experiment was to play devil’s advocate and challenge conventional thinking.

Unexpectedly, it has convinced me that including animal foods into one’s diet is crucial for optimal health. They may not be necessary, as you can survive on a well-supplemented vegan diet however I believe you would not thrive.

At the end of the day, it is worth taking a holistic viewpoint of things.

  1. What are your main intentions/goals?
  2. Would you forgo all the pleasures of your historical/traditional/cultural cuisine?
  3. Is it accessible and affordable for you to obtain antibiotic- and hormone-free, pasture-raised and/or wild caught whole animal products, including organ meats and bones?
  4. Would following such a diet create more stress for you?

Most diets work simply because they encourage the removal of processed foods and inclusion of more natural/whole foods. “Eating closer to the land” so to say and avoiding the “white man’s food”. Especially refined sugars/grains and highly processed vegetable seed oils.

It has been repeatedly shown that indigenous peoples who migrate from their native land and diet and start eating the “Standard American Diet (SAD)” end up with diseases of modern civilization that they otherwise would have had very low incidences of.

Many other factors also contribute to health such as having a purpose in life, healthy thoughts/emotional patterns, spirituality, being surrounded by a close-knit community, an active lifestyle and less overall stress/toxicity.

Diet might actually not play such a huge role 🙂

The next post will cover some follow up tests to investigate my anaemia, as well as what I’ve experienced since reverting back to the “standard Singaporean diet” for the last 60 days!

Thanks for reading!
J.T.

Carnivore Diet series:

  1. CARNIVORE DIET: WHAT? WHY?
  2. CARNIVORE DIET EXPERIMENT PART 2: WHAT I ATE

Links and references:

  1. Dr. Paul Mason – ‘How lectins impact your health – from obesity to autoimmune disease’ (YouTube)
  2. Lerner, A., Shoenfeld, Y., & Matthias, T. (2017). Adverse effects of gluten ingestion and advantages of gluten withdrawal in nonceliac autoimmune diseaseNutrition reviews75(12), 1046-1058.
  3. Oxalate Basics FAQ Fact Sheet
  4. AHS17 Lost Seasonality and Overconsumption of Plants: Risking Oxalate Toxicity – Sally Norton (YouTube)
  5. Ravnskov, U., Diamond, D. M., Hama, R., Hamazaki, T., Hammarskjöld, B., Hynes, N., … Sundberg, R. (2016). Lack of an association or an inverse association between low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol and mortality in the elderly: a systematic reviewBMJ open6(6), e010401. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2015-010401
  6. Sachdeva, A., Cannon, C. P., Deedwania, P. C., LaBresh, K. A., Smith Jr, S. C., Dai, D., … & Fonarow, G. C. (2009). Lipid levels in patients hospitalized with coronary artery disease: an analysis of 136,905 hospitalizations in Get With The GuidelinesAmerican heart journal157(1), 111-117.
  7. Beyond the Lipid Hypothesis (Part 1): Plaque Development: https://cholesterolcode.com/beyond-the-lipid-hypothesis-plaque-development/
  8. Bertsch, R. A., & Merchant, M. A. (2015). Study of the Use of Lipid Panels as a Marker of Insulin Resistance to Determine Cardiovascular Risk. The Permanente journal19(4), 4–10. doi:10.7812/TPP/14-237
  9. https://carnivoreaurelius.com/cholesterol-on-carnivore-diet/
  10. https://cholesterolcode.com/beyond-the-lipid-hypothesis-plaque-development/
  11. https://www.kevinstock.io/health/cholesterol-and-the-carnivore-diet/
  12. https://climateandcapitalism.com/2018/06/26/why-avoiding-meat-and-dairy-wont-save-the-planet/
  13. http://blog.whiteoakpastures.com/blog/carbon-negative-grassfed-beef
  14. https://carnivoremd.com/is-grass-fed-meat-really-worth-it/

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