Considering all the comments I get on my answers and blogs when discussing this, I think it deserves its own question. I know several people online and offline who follow this diet. It involves eating mostly grassfed steak cooked in tallow/lard/butter. No vegetables, no fruit, no seafood, and no offal (or rarely).
Participants are fans of Vilhjalmur Stefansson (who didn't follow this diet because he ate seafood and offal and DID document the Inuit eating such things) and "The Bear" (who eats mostly steak with some offal and fish once in awhile).
Note: This diet is always ZC, but most Zero Carbers eat ample amounts of offal and seafood- emulating carnivorous hunter-gatherers. The muscle-meat diet is a spin-off that does not emulate hunter-gatherers because its adherents eat mostly prime cuts like t-bones.
asked byBread_Eating_Beelzebub (56671)
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on May 27, 2010
at 09:19 PM
WARNING: Brain dump on "zero carb" to follow.
If you read Fat of the Land, Stefansson states that eating organs was unnecessary, and went so far as to claim that the Inuit he stayed with would only eat them in times of famine. He even mentions feeling chagrin, thinking that it was his fault that people came to the conclusion that the only way to survive on meat was to eat raw organs all the time and chew bones, when that was not what he believed at all. You can read these and other such claims in his book: http://www.zerocarbage.com/library/FOTL.pdf
Other Arctic explorers did not report the same thing, of course, and everyone's favorite globetrotter Weston Price claimed that the Inuit prized organs as much as the rest of the HGs he visited. So Stefansson's observation of low intake of organ meats might have been an aberration. However, it's important to note that he very clearly believed organs are not necessary, and reported eating them only occasionally. The book implies that he spent the last years of his life eating his meat diet. Died at 88 of a stroke.
The Bear said more or less the same thing in his vast low-carb rant thread, which is linked by the OP. The zeroinginonhealth forum sprung up around Stefansson and appears to have adopted the Bear as a demi-god. As if to rub in his nutritional idiosyncrasies, the Bear claims that there is no difference between grass-fed and grain-fed beef, which, among other things, has lead Charles Washington, of ZIOH, to eat only cooked "walmart meat" as he puts it. I think he was doing 73-27 hamburger only last I checked. Haven't been over there in a while.
Lex Rooker (his journal) blends some pet food containing organs into his daily food ration. He's claimed in a recent interview that he no longer is confident he needs to do that. Not sure how much of his daily intake is organ meats, but he claims dramatically improved health on his raw carnivore diet, including bone health, despite a low intake of calcium/vitamin D.
Why people eat this way
I suppose the main reason people end up zero carb (ZC) is to lose weight; ZC is the logical end result of carb restriction, after all, and most people end up on low-carb because of weight problems. I was completely ZC for a few months in an attempt to reverse Crohn's Disease, which appears more or less successful (no starch, no fiber, minimal carb, trying to starve klebsiella pneumoniae). Lex Rooker ended up that way as a sort paleo end game after veganism had failed him so miserably.
To generalize all of that, ZC tends to appeal to people who are in ill health. For those of us with more recalcitrant health problems, or those of use who find peace of mind in simplicity, ZC has appeal. I'm not sure that many "normal" people end up eating that way, since less extreme dietary intervention usually achieves results for such people.
And I suppose that is the main con: many people just can't handle it. While I disagree with the Bear about a lot of stuff that he wrote in his rant thread, I think he nailed it when he talked about food being highly acculturated - most people can't seem to seriously consider giving up sugar, and the thought of all meat is literally inconceivable. If you're the type who can drop preconceptions, ZC is not different or difficult in the least. It's just food. But most people don't appear to be this way, and so the diet is never a good fit.
The other con is the basic uncertainty of the diet. Another reason I went ZC for a while was incredulity after reading the Bellevue study paper. My response was basically "No way they ate meat for a whole year." So I figured I'd be a good little skeptic and give it a shot (after a few months I started eating cheese and cream and eggs, which is more of a "Bear" diet than ZC, mostly for convenience - hard to get a lot of fat without cream). There isn't some reassuring study you can point to that will tell you that eating a lot of steak won't kill you, and the social pressure can be intense if you're susceptible to that sort of thing. Unless you trust the Bear completely. In which case, you can always fall back on, "Well, he did it for five decades, I can do it for a while."
You're allowed to eat seafood on ZC, not sure where the idea that you couldn't came from. It's just easier to munch steak all the time, since seafood tends to be more expensive. It's also usually less fatty, which is of concern when you're only eating protein and fat. So seafood fits in to ZC just fine, it's just not usually present for other reasons. Although, as a result of that, many people coming into the diet do seem to take it to mean beefsteak only.
Vitamins and minerals
The basic ZC position is that until proven otherwise, a carnivorous diet doesn't have deficiency problems. There are obvious and glaring deficits when one compares it to the RDA for many things, most notably vitamin C, but thus far there haven't been reports of acute deficiency in ZCers despite a fair variety of ZC approaches being tried. There's even some all pemmican types out there who seem to do ok. Lex Rooker, being the test monger that he is, provides a lot of the actual evidence to analyze, and he's disturbingly normal despite his raw meat and fat diet.
That said, it's not hard to come up with ways people might become or be in a state of chronic low level deficiency. What is lacking is good evidence that they are. For example, one might postulate that since ZCers ingest essentially no vitamin C, they should have C deficiencies. Problem with that is that C has a very short half-life and once depleted you get acute problems; simply put, where's the scurvy?
Having obliterated one "required" vitamin hypothesis, the rest need to be dragged before the court of science for a review, and that's simply going to take a lot of time. I remain agnostic on everything until the evidence comes in, and so far the evidence claims that a "ZC" diet results in different vitamin and mineral requirements. As more people eat that way for more time, and fall off the diet with angry testimonials, more anecdotes will trickle in to look at, and eventually people might be able to say, "well maybe you don't need C but you really do need a lot of [whatever]".
This answer is way longer than an answer ought to be so I'll close with that.
on May 28, 2010
at 12:19 AM
Pros: It does emulate the metabolism of paleolithic hunter-gatherers living in northern areas. It's simple for picky eaters too. "The Bear" is rather old and from limited pictures available, looks pretty good. It's hard to judge the diet based on appearance since many who are on it adopted it because of severe illness.
Cons: It does not actually contain the range of foods actual paleolithic hunters or carnivorous hunter-gatherers ate, so it basically misses one of the points of paleo, which is that we should eat like our ancestors. No studies have been done on any populations eating only muscle meat.
Iodine, A, E, C, calcium, manganese, magnesium, and potassium will end up kind of low, though the significance of this is debatable.
"The Bear" has had cancer and a heart attack, though he has plenty of excuses for these, some of which make no sense such that the heart attack was caused by broccoli.
Stefansson was not a scientist and his writings are littered with various errors.
Interestingly, actual bears eat plenty of plants. Tigers and wolves also eat plants occasionally. All of these animals also consume clay on occasion too. Many theories on this abound including: that these clear parasites, that phytonutrients fight illness, and that clay provides minerals that meat does not.
on May 27, 2010
at 08:45 PM
unless offal is consumed I don't see how one can eat such a diet without ending up with deficiencies, in particular with Vit A C & E, calcium, manganese, magnesium, and potassium.
on May 27, 2010
at 08:41 PM
Pros: It might not kill you.
Cons: It might kill you.
Unfortunately, you really can't tell which based on experiences of only a few people.