Sunday, August 12, 2012

A carnivorous diet

For almost 3 years, I've been eating an essentially carnivorous diet. By "carnivorous", I don't mean omnivorous, non-vegetarian, or simply including meat. I mean that I eat essentially only meat. I say "essentially", because I regularly consume a few non-meat products, including coffee, tea and herbal tea, and coconut oil. Rarely, at my discretion, I might eat a dill pickle, or the fancy leaf served with my sashimi, perhaps a square of unsweetened chocolate -- but these events are far from the norm, perhaps once every month or two. I consider eggs carnivorous, but I'm ambivalent about dairy products. In particular, while milk has a favourable protein and fat profile, it also has a lot of carbohydrate. I'm sensitive to carbohydrates, and so aside from butter, and small amounts of cream and cheese, I avoid it. In any case, carnivorous is not meant to be defining or prescriptive, but descriptive.

I eat this way because I have discovered that it significantly improves my health in several parameters. Most notably it keeps my propensity to fatness in check, and more importantly, my severe mood disturbances in complete remission. To you, Dear Reader, this is a mere anecdote, and that's fine with me. My intention here is not to persuade anyone of anything, but only to record my experiences.

One of the few scientific publications discussing carnivory came out of an experiment on Vilhjalmur Stefansson, a Canadian explorer and ethnologist. During his time with the Inuit, he had adopted their native diet of exclusively meat, and was so impressed with the health he enjoyed at that time, that he and a friend volunteered to live on meat for a year under medical supervision. There are two publications that I know of discussing the results:

The Effects on Human Beings of a Twelve Months' Exclusive Meat Diet Based on Intensive Clinical and Laboratory Studies on Two Arctic Explorers Living Under Average Conditions in a New York Climate by Clarence W. Lieb, M.D. in JAMA. 1929;93(1):20-22. Unfortunately, this paper is not open-access.

Prolonged Meat Diets with a Study Function and Ketosis. S. McClellan and Eugene F. Du Bois in The Journal of Biological Chemistry, 87, 651-668, 1930.

Stefansson wrote about his arctic dietary experiences for Harper: Eskimos Prove An All Meat Diet Provides Excellent Health, and also in Not by Bread Alone, which I have not read, because it is out of print, and a collector's item.

It was my understanding, though I forget from where, that Stefansson had not ultimately continued eating this way. However, I recently came across an edition of Richard Mackarness' s book Eat Fat and Grow Slim. It includes a preface written by Stefansson's wife, Evelyn, which I had never seen before. I reproduce it here because it is an interesting perspective from a wife and home-maker.

PREFACE

One morning at breakfast, the autumn of 1955, my explorer-anthropologist husband, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, asked me if he might return to the Stone Age Eskimo sort of all-meat diet he had thrived on during the most active part of his arctic work. Two years before, he had suffered a mild cerebral thrombosis, from which he had practically recovered. But he had not yet succeeded in losing the ten pounds of overweight his doctor wanted him to be rid of. By will power and near starvation, he had now and then lost a few of them; but the pounds always came back when his will power broke down. Doubtless partly through these failures, Stef had grown a bit unhappy, at times grouchy.

My first reaction to his Stone Age diet proposal was dismay. I have three jobs. I lecture, in and out of town, and enjoy the innumerable extracurricular activities of our New England college town of Hanover, New Hampshire. Forenoons I write books about the arctic, "for teen-agers and uninformed adults," to be able to afford the luxury of being librarian afternoons of the large polar library my husband and I acquired when we were free-lance writers and government contractors, which library now belongs to Dartmouth College. I take part in a course called the Arctic Seminar, and last winter was director. I sing in madrigal groups and act in experimental theater plays. Only by a miserly budgeting of time do I manage these things. "In addition," I thought to myself, "I am now supposed to prepare two menus!"

But aloud I said: "Of course, dear." And we began to plan.

To my astonished delight, contrary to all my previous thinking, the Stone Age diet not only proved effective in getting rid of Stef's overweight, but was also cheaper, simpler, and easier to prepare than our regular mixed diet had been. Far from requiring more time, it took less. Instead of adding housekeeping burdens, it relieved them. Almost imperceptibly Stef's diet became my diet. Time was saved in not shopping for, not preparing, not cooking, and not washing up after unrequired dishes, among them vegetables, salads, and desserts.

Some of our friends say: "We would go on a meat diet too, but we couldn't possibly afford it." That started me investigating the actual cost of the diet. Unlike salads and desserts, which often do not keep, meat is as good several days later as the day it was cooked. There is no waste. I found our food bills were lower than they had been. But I attribute this to our fondness for mutton. Fortunately for us it is an unfashionable meat, which means it is cheap. We both like it, and thanks to our deep freeze, we buy fat old sheep at anything from twenty-two to thirty-three cents a pound and proceed to live on the fat of the land. We also buy beef, usually beef marrow. European cooks appreciate marrow, but most people in our country have never even tasted it, poor things.

When you eat as a primitive Eskimo does, you live on lean and fat meats. A typical Stefansson dinner is a rare or medium sirloin steak and coffee. The coffee is freshly ground. If there is enough fat on the steak we take our coffee black, otherwise heavy cream is added. Sometimes we have a bottle of wine. We have no bread, no starchy vegetables, no desserts. Rather often we eat half a grapefruit. We eat eggs for breakfast, two for Stef, one for me, with lots of butter.

Startling improvements in health came to Stef after several weeks on the new diet. He began to lose his overweight almost at once, and lost steadily, eating as much as he pleased and feeling satisfied the while. He lost seventeen pounds, then his weight remained stationary, although the amount he ate was the same. From being slightly irritable and depressed, he became once more his old ebullient, optimistic self. By eating mutton he became a lamb.

An unlooked-for and remarkable change was the disappearance of his arthritis, which had troubled him for years and which he thought of as a natural result of aging. One of his knees was so stiff he walked up and down stairs a step at a time, and he always sat on the aisle in a theater so he could extend his stiff leg comfortably.

Several times a night he would be awakened by pain in his hips and shoulder when he lay too long on one side; then he had to turn over and lie on the other side. Without noticing the change at first, Stef was one day startled to find himself walking up and down stairs, using both legs equally. He stopped in the middle of our stairs; then walked down again and up again. He could not remember which knee had been stiff!

Conclusion: The Stone Age all-meat diet is wholesome. It is an eat-all-you-want reducing diet that permits you to forget you are dieting--no hunger pangs remind you. It saves time and money. Best of all, it improves the temperament. It somehow makes one feel optimistic, mildly euphoric.

Epilogue: Stef used to love his role of being a thorn in the flesh of nutritionists. But in 1957 an article appeared in the august journal of the American Medical Association confirming what Stef had known for years from his anthropology and his own experience. The author of this book has also popularized Stef's diet in England, with the blessing of staid British medical folk.

Was it with the faintest trace of disappointment in his voice that Stef turned to me, after a strenuous nutrition discussion, and said: "I have always been right. But now I am becoming orthodox! I shall have to find myself a new heresy."

Evelyn Stefansson

April 22, 1959.

44 comments:

  1. Hello Amber

    How do you prepare the meat you eat? Do you prepare them with sauces?

    It seems to me a diet with no vegetables would be kind of boring. How do you get verity in your diet?

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  2. Hi, Matt. I mostly grill, broil, or fry. I don't use a lot of spices, and no sauces. In fact, for the first several months I didn't even use salt or pepper. I sometimes do now. I admit that it was a bit bland at first, but I quickly became able to appreciate the taste of the food itself, and now when I taste spiced food, I usually find it overbearing.

    I get variety through types and cuts of meat. Ribeye steak is my favourite, but I eat for example, chuck roasts, hamburger patties, chicken legs, trout and salmon, pork chops, pork belly, liver, shrimp, and this year I had the privilege of getting some elk steaks from a generous friend.

    Ultimately, the novelty factor of other foods wasn't worth the pain I was suffering.

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    1. Yes, indeed. I haven't had it very many times, but I like it a lot. Last summer I bought a container of duck fat just to use as a spread on leaner cuts. That was very nice, too.

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  3. "By eating mutton he became a lamb" - hehe!

    I noodled (sry, carbs) my way here from a comment you left at Ned Kock's blog, via your ketogenic blog. Very impressed at the style and precision. Surprised the posts aren't more frequent but I guess it takes time to put the pieces together.

    ps. good looking family.

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    1. Thank you for the kind words, shtove.

      Yes, I have many posts in mind I'd like to write for both sites, but my life is full of competing interests right now, and even when I have the pieces, getting that high level of precision is the proverbial 80%.

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  4. Hey, Amber!

    First I'd like to thank both you and Zooko for your site ketotic.org, as well as this one.


    I'm actually interested in eliminating vegetables from my diet as much as possible, however, oftentimes, when I tried discussing it somewhere, I got warned about vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Have you had any problems with that, and are you currently taking any supplements?

    Another thing I'd like a tip on is chewing the animal fat on steaks. It may seem weird, but, over years of "fat is bad for you" dogma, I had an aversion to all fat, especially animal fat. Although now I can eat butter and coconut oil by the spoonfuls, the moment I eat animal fat from steaks, if it's not in very miniscule amounts (so that I have to chew it) I start gagging. I think it's not so much the taste, but rather it combined with chewiness and mouth feel of fat. Do I just tough it out and it will go away, or should I stick to butter for fat intake instead?



    I'd also like to mention that I read your comment on diagnosisdiet website and found it rather fascinating that a diet helped you with your depression. Although I have no idea how exactly that works, the implications seem rather large to me.

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    1. Xucthclu, I'm so sorry to have missed this comment. I have to fix my notification system.

      Minerals are harder to control than vitamins, (I think) because they are dependent on soil. I take magnesium, potassium, and sometimes zinc and selenium. The only vitamin that you can't get much of in meat is vitamin C. However, it's been argued that you don't need as much vitamin C when carbs are lower. Nonetheless, I take C sometimes anyway.

      About fat on meat, I prefer the fat to be cooked quite crispy. I don't like it to be chewy. That can be tricky, since I like the lean to be medium rare. On the other hand, I have no aversion to gristle.

      Yes, the depression relief could be deep and important. The more people I talk to, the I realize how prevalent depression is, and I know how debilitating it is first-hand.

      Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you will see that I answered eventually.

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    2. Hi Amber, first I'd like to echo all the positive comments about this blog and ketotic.org. I found you and zooko's work through Anna's Life Extension blog, then through Woo, and then, after beginning my reading, through Dr. Eades having mentioned your blogs, too!!

      Anyway, as regards vitamins and minerals, yours is more or less my approach, too. As I am sure you know, Dr. Weston Price found a consistent and profound difference in the mineral content of the traditional diets he studied, wherein the traditional life ways had up to 20x the amount of some minerals as compared to the Western (ie. American) diet at that time.

      I have also come across (somewhere!?) the idea that if carbohydrates, particularly the grains and sugars, affecting the need for Vit. C. What is less often considered in this kind of discussion is the fact that traditional carnivorous or mostly carnivorous diets tended to use the whole animal. So, for example, glandular meat -- which is a regular delicacy in many ways of eating, ranging from Lions to Humans -- can contain high amounts of Vitamin C. The thymus gland is one which I consume fairly often (a.k.a. sweet breads). I think the highest Vit C count is in the adrenal glands, at least according to Dr. Price (hearsay from Inuit) but I would not have any idea how to even access that. Probably tastes like thymus. :)

      Keep up the wonderful work. Very inspiring btw. And Merry Christmas to you and your family.

      Juan
      Toronto, Canada

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    3. Hello, Juan. Thank you for the kind words.

      I only just found Anna's blog. I haven't explored it all yet, but this article offering a different story on amylase is very interesting to me. I'm hoping to respond to it soon.

      I don't eat a lot of organs, but I do like them. I have tried thymus once. It was mild and a bit, well, sweet. ☺

      By the way, I lived in Toronto for a couple of years, too. (I'm from N.S.)

      Happy Holidays,
      Amber

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    4. In animals that make their own vitamin C, they make it from glucose. So even in animals that don't make vitamin C, the vitamin uptakes through glucose receptors. If your blood sugar is consistently higher because you're always eating carbs, you will need to consume more vitamin C to ensure that enough gets into your cells.

      Unfortunately, the government's standard for daily vitamin C requirement assumes a higher-carb diet, so we don't really know (well, most of us don't know) what a human's daily requirement would be at a fasting glucose level, since most of us don't stay there all day.

      Vitamin C can be obtained from raw adrenals. Some C will survive if you dry-roast the cuts of meat most likely to contain it. It's water-soluble but some of it will survive dry heat. The USDA website has information about that if you dig around.

      Alternatively I could see breaking a meat-only rule to take, say, an acerola powder supplement. Even Inuit would have had access to berries sometimes. It's low-sugar and you get the whole C complex.

      Minerals--in their best form for assimilation, mind you--can be obtained through bone broth. Make sure it's the real homemade stuff. There are recipes all over Google.

      I'm pretty sure every other nutrient is covered adequately on an all-meat or mostly-meat diet. Definitely the B vitamins and the fat-solubles. You even find the best forms of folate that way, particularly in the liver.

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    5. Yes, Good points.

      Also, I see no reason not to take vitamin C if you're concerned about it. It seems unlikely to hurt. I don't eat meat-only for the principle of it, only because it makes me feel great.

      My take on minerals is that I think they are soil dependent, and so supplementing them may be a good idea. We don't really know how much broth gets you, but I'm pro-broth, anyway. Eating bones probably makes good material for making bones.

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    6. Hi Amber,
      Happy New Year and I hope the crazy weather has not affected you too negatively, and that the year has begun on a positive note. (Same wishes go out to the other commenters).

      Yes, I agree, soil destruction is a major issue, and in my view might actually be the underlying cause (literally!) of the overall nutritional depletion of our modern food supply. I get very sad just thinking about that and how much we are so much at the mercy of current insane food production methods.

      On a happier note: have you tried the sweet breads (thymus gland)? I keep mentioning them because I have just recently "discovered" them myself. They are rather easy to prepare and quite delicious, and as I wrote earlier, full of vitamins and minerals. The USDA site that Dana referred to suggests that thymus still contains plenty of vitamin C even after cooking.

      If anyone reading is interested, here is a summary of how you can prepare them (fwiw):
      I use sweet breads as appetizers rather than as a main meal and prepare them, more or less, as I would scallops. However, they should be par-boiled for about 10 minutes first. Then, when cool enough to handle, remove some of the membrane, but I would caution if you go too far with this you'll be left with nothing. And then, slice them into scallop sized pieces and fry in butter. Add a little salt and chopped garlic if you wish, and there you are. By the way, don't worry about the concept of "membrane". Sweet breads don't at all have a bad mouth feel and are, in fact, very tender and soft, despite whatever membrane there might be. Again, they're something like scallops.

      Cheers, all.

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    7. I have tried thymus. I think the comparison to scallops is a good one. I liked it well enough. I'd like to get more organs for the price point if nothing else.

      Best,
      Amber

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    8. I am new to a Ketogenic diet and finding your blog is so very helpful and reassuring. I have come to realize that Salicylates (present in most all plant foodstuff) are a huge problem for me and are one of the main causes of chronic migraines for me personally. Thus, I am wanting to eliminate them as much as possible. Even the main sources of plant_based fats (coconut oil, olive oil, and avocado) are extremely high in salicylates. No wonder I felt like crap on a vegan diet! Anyways, I just wanted to share that I am making bone broth an essential part of my diet because of the minerals it provides. Dr. Cate Shanahan with her book Deep Nutrition was my main inspiration for this. I am also including 4 Tbsp. wheatgrass juice powder by Green Foods Corp. for the magnesium, vitamin c, and other nutrients it provides. It is about the only green food I can eat and still feel good afterwards. It is also extremely low in carbohydrate (1.5 grams per Tbsp.). Thanks again for sharing your journey with us. I am off you read the rest of your blog posts now.

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    9. Just for the record, I have now read through all your posts. I cannot adequately express my deep appreciation for the time you have taken to share the details of your personal journey with this dietary approach. Thanks a million times!

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  5. Hi Amber, our son has an aggressive brain tumour so we tried the CRKD, I did it with him for moral support, he didn't stick to it and his tumour grew, for me a lot of health problems cleared up and I felt good, even at 600 kcal/day.

    "the more fish eaten, the lower the prevalence of serious clinical depression"

    "we suggest that 1,25(OH)(2)D(3) might influence personality traits, promoting extrovert and open behavior."

    from my notes.

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    1. Hi, m1. I'm so, so sorry about your son's tumour. ❤

      If he is still surviving, I would urge you to have him try a non-calorie-restricted KD. It's much more sustainable, and we believe the CR is not even necessary. We have one friend who had a very advanced brain tumour who started eating only meat with no CR, and the cancer disappeared. He is still well -- it's been about 2 years.

      Thank you for the notes.

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  6. Amber, this a long time after-the-fact -- i hope you'll see it! :-) there's a wonderful old book about diet called "Strong Medicine" available online at http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015003228171;skin=mobile#page/ii/mode/2up -- despite the fact the style is VERY dated, it's interesting reading.

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    1. Ah, Blake Donaldson — I've never had opportunity to read that. Thank you so much, Tess!

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  7. Amber - when meat is raised properly as it would be in the wild it has plenty of vitamin C. Whale blubber is a good example of an animal product that "still" contains Vitamin C.

    Vitamin C has a very short half-life. If the meat you eat is commercial feed stock it may be a good idea to add 2 or 3,000mg of Vitamin C in daily doses.

    Steve

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    1. Hi, Steve.

      Vitamin C is sensitive to heat and light, so the prevailing wisdom is to cook to medium or less. I think a supplement is fine, though, if someone is concerned about it.

      I have never heard of the amount of vitamin C depending on how the meat is raised, and I don't understand how it could matter. I assume the amount is dependent on the animal's own production of vitamin C. Presuming it is healthy, wouldn't that be in a bounded range?

      Sadly, I've never had access to blubber. Chicken liver is a good source that I can buy around here, though.

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  8. Sorry - forgot to mention that almost all animals produce their own Vitamin C. Goats for example produce between 10,000 and 17,000mg per day. Humans have everything in place except an enzyme required to complete the process. Must have been lost along the way so Vitamin C has to come in our diet. Feed lots and commercial farming produce little to no Vitamin C. -S-

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    1. The primate family has branched in two in terms of vitamin C synthesis. Half of us (in a manner of speaking) can make vitamin C, the other half can't. None of the great apes can--not the simians (we're simians) or tarsiers generally. Whatever happened that the ability was lost, it happened a long time ago.

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    2. @Dana, that is interesting. I had not come across this before ...thanks.
      @Steve, I looked at the Nutritiondata website, which is from USDA data, and checked some of the typical animal parts that contain Vitamin C, such as Heart and Thymus (Sweet Breads ...a favourite of mine) and I would assume that all the meat used for accumulating this data comes from standard factory/feedlot animals. Perhaps the quantity of C produced by naturally raised animals is greater and/or they may have more in their organs, but I have not encountered reliable reference for this. In either case, I rather lean toward the position that if we do not have a high glucose diet (sugary and farinaceous) our need for Vitamin C is greatly reduced, so feedlot animals, if that's all there is available, would be better than nothing. (Factory farming and, in particular, soil depletion are still huge issues, of course.)

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  10. I know this is an old entry, but if you still haven't read Not by Bread Alone, the expanded (and re-titled) version is available here:

    http://highsteaks.com/the-fat-of-the-land-not-by-bread-alone-vilhjalmur-stefansson.pdf

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    1. It's been even longer still, but would like to say that next time you find an out of print book you'd like to read, that most libraries, especially university libraries will have them. You can generally get them via inter-library loan to your local library at little or no cost.

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  11. Excellent post, glad a found your blog, Michelle www.ketocureme.com

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  12. Dear Amber, i've been having so many probs with veg (i.e. oral allergy and anaphylaxis) it's been driving me insane, and because i also have problems with yeast / dairy, even a ketogenic high fat diet would've been hard / impossible to maintain ...but a nice woman at http://www.ketogenic-diet-resource.com told me about your blog, and now i've had a read i can face going shopping tomorrow!
Thank you for sharing / caring! Best wishes, jackie


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    1. Hi, Jackie. I hope this helps you. Please let me know. I love Ellen's work.

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  13. Hi Amber, how long did you stick to your diet before you noticed a remission in your mood difficulties? I am doing keto for treatment-resistant depression and it seemed to be helping quite a bit til I drank some whiskey the other night...bam, back on the floor again. I'm in my 5th week of the diet right now.

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    1. Well, I had been on a garden variety low carb diet for a while already, so that could be part of it, but it was less than three weeks.

      I would stay away from drugs for sure until you are stable, and even then tread carefully.

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    2. But you say it was already helping you, too, before the whiskey, right?

      I have had alcohol since I started, but in the first few years I didn't drink at all, except one occasion a year. Even now I am very careful with it.

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  14. https://www.drrons.com
    Dr. Ron's ultra pure has grass fed, freeze dried, raw glands available. They're pricey but amazing.

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  15. Hey amber,

    What about minerals and vitamins? Do take supplements or does your body run good without them?

    Also, it is hard for me to see how no fiber in your diet is healthy, you know, living my whole life eating carbohydrates tends to do this. Isnt fiber nessesary for your body?

    Betsy G.

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    1. The book Fiber Menace by Konstantin Monastyrsky will challenge every thing you think you know about the benefits of fiber.

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  16. I am starting tomorrow will give you a feedback

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  17. Hello, I am 16 years old and I never (almost never) eat vegetables nor fruits, simply because I don't like them, I've been eating like this my whole life and I'm perfectly healthy, I never go to the doctor and I recently took a blood exam to see if everything was alright and everything was perfect, I could almost say I am healthier than average in all aspects (mental and physical), soo yeah just wanted to share.

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  18. Hello, I had a gastric bypass 16 years ago and I want to know if it is still possible to be zero carb? I have been on & off Low Carb, LCHF, for the past 5 years and I feel much better the less carbs I eat. People talk about eating 1 or 2 meals a day and that sounds great but I'm not sure it is possible for me the way my digestion works now and the size of my stomach. (Although it has stretched out quite a bit in the past 16 years compares to when I first had the surgery and could only eat a few ounces of food at a time. Now I can eat a normal sized meal. The gastric bypass has left me with a very impaired ability to absorb Iron, B12 & Sodium... many years ago I tried the whole vegan thing for a year then vegetarian for another 2 years but I was always anemic.(4.5 blood count) when I went low carb my Iron went up, My Dr said Gluten blocks the absorption of iron so I knew low carb was the way to go, but its been kind of a yo-yo thing for me. I want to go Zero Carb. (I started ZC yesterday)Can you give me any ideas or suggestions? Is small meals throughout ok, is so called grazing ok?

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  19. Yes, I would think that eating whatever size meal is comfortable for you is the way to go, and just eat more frequently if necessary. You might want to join us in the zero carb Facebook group Principia Carnivora where you meet and talk to many others doing this diet.

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