As a (‘dirty’) carnivore, I shouldn’t be too fussed about opening a can of worms.
So here goes. It’s quick look at the issues around storing or breaking down fat, and under what circumstances. And I will be using the ‘k’ word!
Could something be stopping you from burning fat when you are to all intents and purposes zero carb? It could be that you want to get leaner, but it’s not happening.
Dairy? Caffeine? Volume/quantity? Silent, secret carbs? The dreaded macros – too much fat, or too much protein?
Dr Zsofia Clemens of Paleomedicina says you can be ‘zero carb’, total carnivore, and totally plant free and STILL run on glucose if your protein consumption is excessively high.
Amy Berger, author of ‘The Alzheimer’s Antidote’ and low-carb nutrition expert says that when it comes to fat loss, protein is your friend, and you mustn’t be scared of gluconeogenesis (the process whereby protein or fat is transformed into glucose).
Carnivores tend to say that if you just eat meat and drink water, then you will gravitate to your optimal body composition over time, and the time it takes is the time it takes to heal everything. It will be what it will be.
Dr Clemens says an all-meat diet is not necessarily ketogenic. Too much protein and not enough fat, she says, can stop you from running on ketones and hence from mobilising fat cells for energy. You’ll be on a carbohydrate-based metabolism, she says, despite not really eating any!
The caveat that Clemens adds is that if you are in good health and especially if you are physically active, then this shouldn’t be a problem. But if you are ill and trying to heal yourself, she stresses that it is vital that you get the proportions of fat to protein right.
And Amy Berger agrees that if your entry into ZC/carnivory is purely to become leaner, that’s different from if you are seeking radical health improvements as a primary goal, such as overcoming an autoimmune condition.
Carnivores say that you just don’t need to entertain the concept of ketosis: just follow the simple rules of ‘eat meat, drink water’ and over time you will become fat adapted and your body composition will optimise.
For hard-core carnivores this is a simple issue: eat fatty meat and offal according to hunger and taste, and all will sort itself out. Micronutrients and macronutrients will, over time, be consumed in appropriate quantities and ratios for optimal health, and fat adaptation will take place.
But there’s another strong point from the carnivore camp: many people who come to carnivory have practised ‘keto’ or intermittent fasting or some other way of eating for which some attention to quantity of food, or make-up of meals, or timing of meals has been required. Hence they are used to restrictions. Hence, according to the carnivore experts, they simply do not consume enough fatty meat to get the steady flow of appropriate nutrients. By eating more, you hasten the healing.
Adding clarity to the views of Dr Clemens and Amy Berger, Dr Benjamin Bikman says the insulinaemic effect of protein is heavily influenced by the underlying glycaemic status. If carbs raise insulin levels at the expense of the catabolic hormone glucagon, and fat raises glucagon levels with not a twitch from the insulin producers, then protein ingestion can raise both insulin – aargh! – and glucagon – phew!
In a hypERglycaemic state (ie eating standard western diet), the ingestion of protein seems to cause a spike in insulin levels, and a drop in glucagon. In a hypOglycaemic state (ie ZC/LCHF) the ingestion of protein seems to have no effect on insulin, yet stimulates a rise in glucagon production.
Remember, glucagon is a catabolic hormone. It wants to break down and mobilise eg fat cells (while insulin, its great rival, is anabolic, wants to accumulate and store).
In a fasted state, the production of insulin would bring down glucose levels even further, with catastrophic results, so in response to the ingestion of protein there’s no insulin and lots of glucagon. In a fasted state a little gluconeogenesis is a necessary thing.
Dr Bikman goes on to assert that the ratio between insulin and glucagon indicates what metabolic function is likely to be dominant: if insulin:glucagon is high, that produces an anabolic, or storing, state; if glucagon:insulin is high, that produces a catabolic, or breaking down, state.
With a high glucagon:insulin ratio, says Dr Bikman, you have insulin sensitivity, autophagy, lipolysis and the activation of brown adipose tissue – all elements of losing fat and getting leaner.
You also get, at the liver, ketone production. In the ‘keto’ world you get people refusing real food – meat, say – because it has protein in it and ‘It’ll kick me out of ketosis’, and pouring gallons of oil down their throats. But listen, without glucagon, ketone production is very low. And ingesting protein bumps up glucagon levels, remember?
No matter how low your insulin levels, in the absence of glucagon, ketone production will be low. Add carnitine into the mix, essential for ketone production, and you’ll find that protein + fat + carnitine, consumed in the absence of insulin will be both ketogenic and catabolic.
Is there a food that fits this protein + fat + carnitine profile? You bet. It’s called red meat. There are leaner cuts and fattier cuts. And guess what, if you’re coming to ZC and carnivory from a typical western diet, you’re overweight and moving towards metabolic syndrome, with constantly elevated insulin levels – you need more fat than protein.
And if you’re already an old hand at keeping your insulin levels under strict control, then you can eat more protein than fat.
So I think the carnivores are spot on. Just eat meat. Your underlying metabolic state will guide you to fattier or leaner meals, and either way insulin will be low and ketone production will be appropriate for your needs without you having to wee on a piece of plastic several times a day to check.
Finally, never forget that your need for protein increases with age, as redistribution of ingested protein becomes less efficient. Even more reason to embrace protein!
Wishing you the best of health. Thanks for reading. Till next time.