This part of the carnivore guide includes the evolutionary explanations for a carnivore diet. Use this information when explaining to friends and family so they don’t think you're crazy.
This is the WHY behind a carnivore diet, from the evolutionary perspective.
The following covers the evolutionary reasons why a carnivore diet is the most appropriate diet for humans. Hopefully, this information will help you decide if you are on the fence.
This article is a great place to reference if you want to speak intelligently about a carnivore diet. So use it as a reference and come back to it as much as you need.
It may seem like we go deep into the weeds with this one, but that is on purpose and will serve you in more ways than one.
First, the more you understand the diet, the better you'll stick with it.
Second, when you understand evolutionary science, you have a framework of First Principles you can use in everyday life. You'll be surprised by how much is explained by our evolutionary past.
This is the perfect way to round out your base understanding of the many nuances of a carnivore diet. And you'll need this since there is so much dogma in our culture around food, animals particularly. You'll have to fight your own battles as well as those outside you to feel OK with eating a primarily animal-based diet.
Before we get to it, let’s get one thing straight: every hunter-gatherer society we’ve ever studied ate plants.
This does not mean plants are “good" or "bad." Some plants, we know for sure, are not something you should eat for various health reasons. (Most of these are modern-day hybridized man-cultivated foods today did not exist when our ancestors roamed the wild.)
As you read through this guide, keep in mind we are not saying you should eat only meat, though you may want to. That choice is yours and yours alone.
Scientists also found that hunter-gatherers prized meat as their ideal food source.
One funny quip that sticks in my mind went something like this:
An anthropologist asked a hunter-gatherer male about eating plants to which he replied: “We will eat (plants) when real food (animals) is not available.”
Plants were a backup food for our ancestors when meat was scarce.
In this section, I will highlight the reasons why I believe the carnivore diet is the natural human diet.
One version of carnivore may suit you now while another version may suit you once you get some carnivore under your belt. To learn about the four main carnivores it styles, check out this part of the guide.
Without further ado, let’s get to it.
Here are the primary topics I'm going to cover.
1. The ancestral evidence for a carnivore diet.
2. The lack of modern research for plant-based recommendations.
3. The anecdotal evidence for a carnivore diet. (There are thousands of case studies of people getting results with a carnivore diet.)
- What happens when someone goes carnivore, how do they look and feel? And for how long?
- The same question is asked for those that go 100% plant-based
4. The nutrition evidence - look at the nutrients humans need and where they are found in the plant and animal kingdoms respectively.
5. Finally, plant defense vs animal defense mechanisms.
Anatomically modern humans, known as Homo sapiens (meaning "wise man") have existed on Earth for around 200-300 thousand years.
That's you and me.
We've been living an agrarian way of life for the last 12,00 years. Since we gave up the nomadic hunter-gatherer way of life, our brains have shrunk as well as our stature. More on this later.
We have the largest brains relative to body size than any other animal in the animal kingdom. There are many reasons for this, but the primary reason is eating animals.
To see why this is, we need to go way back.
Our early hominid ancestors became proficient scavengers, unlocking nutrient-dense fatty calories from animal remains—bone marrow, brains—left behind by other carnivores that were unable to get through the tough bone.
Before Homo sapiens become the ultimate hunter, many scientists believe early hominids, such as Homo erectus, were proficient scavenges. Paleontologists have found primitive scratch marks on animal remains at Homo erectus sites suggesting early tool use. This was an advancement on the first tool ever used by hominids: the stone—using stone to crack open bones to unlock nutrition.
As hominids became better scavengers, they accessed more nutrients and calories that paved the way for brain growth. Our growing brains coincided with finding better and more ingenious ways of scavenging and hunting. This paved the way to more advanced tool use, and eventually, our greatest evolutionary invention of all: group cooperation.
Some scientists believe it was our rock throwing ability that joined our “evolutionary jump” in which hominid brain size grew tremendously in a short period of time. If you compare the shoulder joint to our primate cousin the chimpanzee, you see that humans are literally designed to throw while chimps do not have the shoulder socket connection to allow for proficient throwing.
As we became better hunters through the use of throwing rocks of sharpened spears, hominids stumbled upon another invention: group cooperation. Imagine how much easier it must have been to thwart a predator as a group over the individual. Group cooperation had so many advantages that it was the spark of our evolution.
Now that we started working together, we could thwart predators with ease. This gave our early ancestors the ability to venture into what used to be the dangerous grasslands. Leaving the relative safety of the trees, which were receding at the time due to global warming coming out of an ice age, early hominids started scavenging. As we became more proficient scavengers, we also started hunting. Given enough time, we evolved from scavengers to hunting small animals to working together using sticks and stones to hunt larger game.
We became "selective hunters."
This meant we could focus our hunting efforts on big animals—megafauna like mammoths, mastodons, elephants, giant anteaters, sloths. Rather than relying only on the remains of other predator kills, we started moving up the food chain. After enough generations, we became the apex predator, and the rest of the animal kingdom didn't stand a chance.
(It is no coincidence that most of these large land species are either extinct or near extinction.)
Selective hunting was the linchpin that exploded our ability to find large amounts of calories and nutrients. This increased total available calories as well as certain nutrients like b-vitamins, omega-3s DHA, EPA, all of which became integral to supporting our ever-growing brains. (Did you know babies need a ton of EPA for brain development?)
There were many physical changes that resulted from these new evolutionary strategies. One interesting example I will highlight is the changing of eye shape.
Our eyes started to change from that of our primate cousins as a means to better corporate in a group. Try this: walk up and stand next to a friend and stare off in the opposite direction. Don’t speak or move your gaze. Then watch as they turn their head to see what you are seeing. This will be a universal response. (You could try it with strangers as well.)
As it goes with all things human nature, there is an evolutionary reason why we can’t resist looking in the same direction as those around us. The ability to signal danger or point out prey without making noise was a distinct evolutionary advantage for our ancestors. Chimps, on the other hand, don't look directly at other chimps since this is perceived as a threatening or dominating action. Chimpanzee eye shape is designed to hide gaze. This serves a purpose for chimps but would have been a distinct disadvantage in a group setting. Hunting in a group would have been impossible if you couldn’t see what your group was seeing.
This change in eye structure came with two positives: it gave us a hunting advantage as well as a defense advantage. As it goes with natural selection, Mother Nature is effective and ruthless.
Evolution kept the gears turning
As we became better hunters, our access to nutrition increased. One particular example is found in the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, which are not found in this form in the plant kingdom. Integral to brain development, we access DHA and EPA by eating whole animals and fish. (Babies need a bucket load of each for development).
As you can see, there was a natural cycle: eat nutrients integral to growing a big brain, become smarter and more cunning, increase hunting success and frequency, so on and so forth.
The better hunters we became, the smarter we got. The smarter we got, the better hunters we became. Once we unlocked this evolutionary strategy, the rest of the animal kingdom didn’t stand a chance, which is why most megafauna is now extinct.
As our brains grew from access to increased nutrition, our ability to grow larger groups of cooperating humans increased. For the next quarter of a million years, homo sapiens multiplied exponentially, reaching every corner of the globe.
Today, every aspect of your human biology is explained by this evolutionary process. Your ancestral past explains human nature, the good, the bad and the ugly. It explains why humans are getting sick at a growing rate in our current manmade environment.
Everything. Is. Explained. Through. Evolutionary biology.
Including why a carnivore diet is the foundational diet for humans.
NUTRITION RESEARCH (IF YOU CAN CALL IT THAT)
To understand why humans are primarily carnivores, and why I have no qualms about feeding my son meat every meal, we need to look at the current “research” that many cling to.
All research you hear people talk about that tries to link the modern disease to red meat consumption, or cholesterol or salt for that matter, is based on EPIDEMIOLOGY.
This kind of “research” shouldn’t be called research if you ask me since it is usually performed by sending food questionnaires in the mail to "test subjects."
All of these large-scale studies that have become popular are based on weak correlation-based research. Let's look at a few.
The China Study
The China Study wasn’t actually a study at all and was highly cherry-picked. The China Study Final verdict is DEBUNKED. Colin T Campbell also wasn’t a doctor, but a biochemist and his propaganda and lack of actual science in the book he wrote by the same title is a disgrace to the field.
The 7 Countries Study
The 7 countries study by Ancel keys is the big bugaboo that was at the center of the "heart health" low-fat dogma. I recommend you read any of Gary Taube's work to see how damaging this single researcher was for the health of millions of Americans. Some suggest he is responsible for more deaths than all the world wars combined. Yikes.
He paved the way for the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical and food company landscape we now have.
In his research, Keys included as many as 21 countries in this original data set but dropped the ones that didn’t fit, like France, Greece, and Italy, because they contradicted his hypothesis.
He also bullied other scientists in an attempt to discredit anyone with conflicting ideas.
The Farnham Study
Results were so poor for what they were trying to find that they shut it down.
Meta-analysis of the Farnham data by third parties showed NO CORRELATION to meat consumption and Herat disease. Since the study was killed, you don't see these results. How convenient.
THE PROBLEM WITH EPIDEMIOLOGY
The major problem with epidemiology and nutrition is the number of variables germane to human health. Consider your life for a moment.
- How many times have you eaten sugar in the past month? (Whatever you guess will be way off.)
- How many times did you exercise? What kind of exercise?
- How much sunlight did you get each day?
- How many hours did you sleep on average for the last 6 months?
- How much stress do you have in your life? (How do you even answer this? 1-10? Come on. How unscientific)
- How happy are you?
- How sad are you?
- What is your resting insulin level? What about fasting glucose?
- What are your lipids?
- How much water do you drink?
- Do you have mold in your home
- Do you take walks?
- How often do you sit?
- How often do you stare at a screen?
I could keep going. This list could literally be 10,000+ data points, all of which affect health for better or worse.
So when you fill out a food survey, make broad assumptions and guesstimations, then mail it back to researchers, you are not conducting research. You are submitting your opinion and this should be called nothing more than a mail survey.
Yet researchers tabulate these questionnaires then use it to make connections. And while they do call it "correlation" or "association" the public, and eager journalists, don't know the difference. So an association between eating meat and getting cancer is promulgated. But guess what? We could find a correlation between watching Disney movies and getting cancer. Or to being a football fan and getting cancer. Or to drink water and getting cancer.
Come on. What a joke.
Yet this is what the majority of our nutritional research has been based on. It's all a sham. It's so bad that it should be tossed out and we should start from zero. Really.
HEALTHY USER BIAS
Let’s look at a few of the issues with nutrition research before closing this section out. This is very important for you to shed any of your old dogmas around meat and health. We all need to UNLEARN all of this really bad advice that has been perpetuated to us for the last 30 years.
An example of this is someone that eats more vegetables, for example, might be more health-conscious and is thus less likely to smoke. So you have large swaths of these 'healthy users' that otherwise pay attention to their health.
Making claims this way or that yet not controlling for healthier people compared to a less health-conscious individuals that may smoke or otherwise not pay attention to their health makes claims null.
Individual A: eats a plant-based diet, limits animal proteins, doesn't smoke, practices Yoga and takes long walks each day. Don’t worry about bills. Has a strong community.
Individual B: Eats the typical American meal of steak and potato with a few veggies, a glass full of milk + a 12oz beer. Then finishes this off with 4 heaping scoops of ice cream. Takes 4 smoke breaks during the day. Never exercises. Sits at a desk all day. Constantly feels tired and sluggish. Stopped going to poker night years ago, so don’t have many friends.
As you can see, there are many variables to consider here, each one not quantifiable or controllable by researchers. Yet what so often happens is a link between meat consumption is inferred because of the many individuals like B that eat meat + live unhealthy lifestyles.
You also get bad recommendations based on individual A, oftentimes around the idea of a plant-based diet being “healthier” for humans than a meat-based diet. But this is, again, not controlling for the other variables and thus should be ignored completely.
Then you take the fact that each of these individuals filled out a survey answering such questions as, “How many cups of ribs did you have each week for the past 6 months?”
These are literally how these surveys are conducted. I don’t know about you, but I forgot what I ate two days ago, let alone what I ate each week.
It’s all flawed.
What you get from epidemiology is correlation-based nonsense like the following:
Individual A and her cohorts eat more plants than animals (at least that's what they say on the survey) and have lower levels of disease, which must mean that plants are good for you and meat is bad.
Since Individual B eats meat regularly and is at an increased risk for modern disease, we are going to "correlate" or "associate" high meat intake to this increased risk for disease.
Like I said before, even though researchers will probably disclaim that these are correlations and do not prove causation (meaning it's the cause), the media picks this "research" out and touts it as fact. And even when the journalist offers an objective take on the topic, covering both sides, the public doesn’t know any better. Most people just read headlines.
So what you get is a bunch of people perpetuating a lot of really bad ideas about nutrition.
This has led to the average person defending these food myths with the common statement: “THERE IS SO MUCH RESEARCH."
Right, there is a lot of nutrition research, and most of it is terrible, bias, and usually funded by big food companies that sell processed food to the masses.
There are more problems with this approach that are outside of the scope of this article. I would recommend independent study if you are interested. Here are a couple of must-read books: Good Calories, Bad Calories, The Big Fat Surprise, The Vegetarian Myth.
What’s funny about “all this research” research is the interpretation of the data. If you take the same data used in these studies, you can see correlations to the real culprits of our current health crisis: sugar, vegetable oil, and processed food intake.
Yet researchers interpret the data to associate meat consumption because that is what they are looking for or because they have a built-in bias. (In many cases, it’s a combination of both.)
Not all research is bad.
There are objective studies done that have looked at many of these studies and found the opposite. There have also been independent reviews and analyses done by individuals that have pointed out the many flaws in this research.
But why don’t you hear about those? Because the food companies aren’t paying for them!
It goes much deeper than you can fathom, it’s scary.
To close out this point on research, I will leave you with one last research fact: there is not a single controlled interventional study linking meat to modern disease.
Not one controlled study has been able to show a negative effect of eating animals. Zero. Zilch. It doesn’t exist.
On the flip side, there is research showing two individuals eating a 100% carnivore diet for a year and showing ZERO negative health effects.
Finally, there are plenty of epidemiology studies showing NO correlation to meat consumption and disease. But again, they rarely get covered.
There’s a lot of other data we can look at, Singapore as an example, eats more meat than the rest of the world and still live the longest.
So now that I’ve provided you with some of the most basic hurdles you may have to eat more animal products in your life. What I want to leave you with are some threads you can pull on that explore the many reasons supporting a carnivore diet.
Carnivore diet topics to look into:
1. Jaw size and teeth development compared to ruminants or primates and how ours are more suited for meat consumption.
2. How often chimps or monkeys or gorillas chew food and eat throughout the day, we are talking HOURS each day of just chewing. That’s what’s needed to break down tough plant cellulose. Humans are not able to digest plants this way, and if we didn’t figure out hunting and group cooperation, we’d be stuck in the forest still munching on twigs and leaves with our primate cousins.
3. Since the advent of agriculture, average human height and brain size have shrunk in size from our hunter-gatherer ancestors. This is the result of becoming farmers and relying on nutrient-poor plant foods over hunting and gathering. Our bodies had to adapt downwards to this low-quality food supply.
4. Chinese and other Asian rice-producing cultures are short for a reason: they rely on grains. There are real-life examples of a young generation of Asians coming to America, eating more animal products, and then growing much taller than their parents and/or grandparents. Look at any Asian American, they are usually taller than their parents that grew up in Asia. Interesting…
5. Observe any modern hunter-gatherer ever researched by anthropologists and they all consumed animals. The number of animals consumed was dependent on area, with some cultures eating less due to limited availability—like island peoples. In fact, this gives us another interesting data point to consider: hunter-gatherer populations that ate more total calories from animals were taller and generally more robust than groups that ate fewer animals.
6. There is no DHA in the animal kingdom. Your body NEEDS DHA. And those that try to claim ALA can do it, like the omega-3s you hear about in flax or chia seeds, well that converts very poorly, something as little as 1% and is not sufficient to supply enough or human body.
7. Humans need essential b-vitamins. There are none found in nature. If you go in the wild and you don’t eat animals, you will die.
8. There is not enough energy in the plant kingdom to support humans as hunter-gatherers. Imagine trying to feed 40 mixed-age and size humans in the wild relying on some leafy greens and berries you find on a bush. Plants in the world just don’t cut it. A pound of spinach contains 104 calories. A pound of steak contains 1,227 calories, and a bucketload of essential fatty acids and essential amino acids.
9. The final point I want to bring up are plant toxins.
There are potentially thousands of compounds that plants use to protect themselves from predators. These, to varying degrees, attack our human biology.
Some of the more popular and understand include gluten, phytates, and oxalates.
You rarely hear about plant toxins in the food we eat. So what are they and why do plants have them?
Plants can’t move, so they had to evolve certain defenses to kill insects and other predators like ruminant animals that would want to eat them.
Compare this to animals that run, hide, bite, chew, position you, etc. Animals can evade and defend themselves. Plants cannot. So plants had to become good chemists and build their defense into their structure.
Animals, on the other hand, did not evolve internal defense mechanisms because once you were eaten you were eaten. Since it was a zero-sum game, animals had to figure out ways to keep themselves from being eaten.
Every species alive today figured out an evolutionary strategy to survive.
We still know little about the effects that certain plant toxins can have on the human body. Some, like gluten, have research supporting our understanding of the potential risks.
Without going into a deep dark and confusing rabbit-hole, what you should consider is every plant has a different chemical structure and thus a different effect on your body. Understanding the various plants and listening closely to how your body responds if of paramount importance in figuring out which plants you can tolerate and which might be causing you issues. This is why I recommend everyone start with Level One carnivore to set a baseline and experiment from there.
Finally, consuming whole animals does not expose you to these toxins, another benefit of eating a nose-to-tail carnivore diet and the primary reason why those with auto-immune issues do so well on a carnivore diet through the elimination of plant toxins.
So there you have it: a bunch of facts supporting a carnivore diet. Pull-on any of these threads that spark your curiosity and see where it leads you. That’s part of the fun! And what’s also really cool is, you’ll know more than 99% of the population about human nutrition, more than most doctors. (Though you may not want to tell your doctor that. And always consult your doctor when making changes to your diet.)
Before I let you go, I want to disclaim that I’m not claiming plants are bad or that everyone should do a strict carnivore diet.
My purpose in promoting a carnivore diet is two-fold:
- Remove the negative stigma around animal products.
- Get more peopling eating an animal-centric diet.
Unfortunately, we have a rising trend in our culture of people thinking and claiming that meat is bad and plants are good.
I suspect in the next 10 or so years we will be realizing this is actually backward.
I know think about plants this way: as a supplement to a diet. They can be used strategically, though they are not inherently “healthy” and some do damage.
So Is The Carnivore Diet Solved?
There is so much overwhelming evidence that supports a carnivore diet while all the evidence negating it is flawed at best, that, in my mind, I consider this solved.
I’ve also experienced the best results I’ve ever had in my health, body composition, and well-being than anything I’ve done before in my 35 years alive.
Let’s say you still need some convincing, or maybe you aren’t fully bought in just yet.
In that case, I would have you ignore everything above and perform one experiment.
1. Go 100% carnivore for 60 days. You would eat .75-1g of protein per pound of body weight and the rest fat.
2. You would eat the highest quality meat possible, grass-fed, grass-finished beef (here is my fav), wild-caught seafood, wild game, pasture-raised chicken, and pork.
Then in 60 days, this is what would most likely happen:
- You would lower your body fat percentage, likely losing around 10 lbs or more depending on how much extra weight you are carrying around.
- You would look leaner and fitter whether you exercised or not.
- You would feel better.
- You would sleep better, have more energy, more mental clarity.
- You would most likely improve every measure of health, all of which you could test for via blood and hormone tests.
And after all that, if you wanted, you could do a reverse test of 100% plant based.
Then compare the results you got with each.
Hint: carnivore will win hands down every time.
This is not science to those worried about getting published, yet it is science.
It is research.
Being published in some journal, a highly political and competitive and flawed afraid does not hold claim to what science is or isn’t.
Using an experiment, a hypothesis, and collecting data are conducting science.
You can perform the carnivore experiment anytime you want and you’ll get all the data you could ever need. You’ll see it and feel it, better than any researcher could ever understand looking at numbers on a chart.