As a reader of my blog, you know that I’m currently following a carnivore diet and have been doing so for half a year now.
I already knew about the carnivore diet for much longer but I wasn’t keen on doing the switch. That’s because I have been following the keto diet before and have experienced and analyzed the long term negative health effects of it.
I could have called this entry “The Dark Side Of Ketosis” but I don’t want my blog to be all negative with “dark side” stuff so I decided to write a comparison of carnivore vs. keto.
And don’t get me wrong: the ketogenic diet can be amazing (aka The Light Side) and I’m not discarding it at all. I just want to give you a better understanding of it. I still love short term ketosis.
The reason why I didn’t give the carnivore diet a chance earlier was that I thought it was just a more restricted version of the keto diet with the same metabolic effects.
However, it turns out the metabolic effects of the carnivore diet are far away from the ketogenic diet. In reason #3 I will explain this in detail.
But first, let’s get started with some more obvious and better-known reasons why the carnivore diet is superior to the keto diet:
Reason #1: No anti-nutrients on the carnivore diet
A lot has already been written on the detrimental effects of anti-nutrients found in plants. Right now the spotlight is on oxalates and the resulting oxalate poisoning.
Oxalates are found in large quantities in many plant foods, such as spinach, cocoa, beets, nuts and seeds, rhubarb, swiss chard, raspberries, soy, buckwheat, potatoes, beans, and tea, just to name a few.
The foods in this list that have a low amount of carbohydrates are a staple in the ketogenic diet. Keto dieters frequently eat lots of greens, nuts and seeds, and berries, which are all high in oxalates.
The problem with oxalates is that they are very tough salt crystals that can accumulate everywhere in the body, especially in the soft tissues. Oxalate poisoning can lead to all kinds of health issues, most importantly kidney stones. [1, 2]
Many people who switched from the keto to the carnivore diet have reported severe oxalate detox symptoms where their entire skin and their joints became highly inflamed because their body released the stored oxalates all at once in an effort to clean up its tissues.
I would, therefore, recommend to slowly transition from keto to carnivore instead of going cold turkey. By gradually reducing oxalate-containing foods you make it easier for your body to transition.
Reason #2: Fewer cravings on the carnivore diet
Another advantage of the carnivore diet is that even though it’s more restricted in the food choices, it’s actually much easier to follow.
This is of course purely anecdotal but I have heard from many people that the carnivore diet eliminates cravings for sweets much more effectively than the ketogenic diet. What’s interesting is that whenever they would deviate from the carnivore diet, even if it’s with keto-friendly plant foods (greens, avocado, etc.) their cravings for sweets would go up.
I have made the same observation. Last Christmas was the first time in my life where I didn’t have a single Christmas cookie. And I didn’t have to use any discipline or willpower for that. I just happened to have zero cravings for sweets. Maintaining a 100% carnivore diet didn’t feel ascetic at all.
But not only sweets – all plant foods have become boring to me now. My taste has completely shifted to animal foods.
I remember 10 years ago when I was a raw vegan I would experience intense cravings for the durian fruit. The mere mentioning of the durian would make me salivate like a Pavlov’s dog.
I’ve eaten many different varieties: Monthong, Chanee, Kanyao, Gradoom – I couldn’t get enough of it!
Once I reintroduced animal products into my diet my obsession with durian went away. It was still a nice fruit to me but nothing special.
The same has now happened to me with all kinds of plant foods. For example, I used to really like avocados but now they just taste bland and don’t give me any culinary satisfaction anymore.
Having fewer cravings makes the carnivore diet much more enjoyable for me.
But now, let’s talk about the most important point of this article.
Reason #3: The carnivore diet does not require you to be in a constant state of ketosis
We’re not meant to be in ketosis long-term.
Short-term ketogenic phases are amazing for your metabolic health. But if you stay in ketosis for too long you can severely damage your metabolism.
In my first post on this blog, I explained that during very low carb phases the body goes into a state of physiological insulin resistance to preserve glucose for the brain. (Even though the brain can use ketone bodies, it always requires a low amount of glucose to function properly. The brain can NOT run 100% on ketones.)
So even though the physiological insulin resistance is reversible after reintroducing carbs, this always takes a few days. When you first eat carbs after a long period of carb abstinence you will usually experience symptoms of glucose intolerance, such as brain fog.
But what happens if you stay in ketosis for a very long time?
Many people who were on a long-term ketogenic diet for months or years have reported that they gained all the weight back and ended up weighing even more than at the beginning of their diet. The very same phenomenon has been replicated in rats who were put on a long-term ketogenic diet. 
At first, the rats lost weight, but later they gained it back. Moreover, the rats showed the following symptoms:
- Dyslipidemia (increased triglycerides)
- Increased inflammation ( IL-1ß, IL-6, monocyte chemotactic protein-1)
- Hepatic steatosis (fatty liver disease)
- Glucose intolerance
- Atrophy of pancreatic α-cells and β-cells
- Insulin resistance
These are all symptoms associated with metabolic syndrome.
A famous example of someone who is strictly following a continuous ketogenic diet for years is Jimmy Moore from Livin La Vida Low Carb.
And guess what? He went through the same transformation. In the beginning, he lost weight but he gained it all back later.
Many people on the internet think that Jimmy isn’t sincere and doesn’t follow a ketogenic diet. I don’t think that at all. I think he is following the ketogenic diet to a T since he’s showing the same metabolic dysfunction symptoms associated with long-term ketosis.
Jimmy is also known for eating huge amounts of butter, which is not an optimal fat source, as I explained in my post The Dark Side Of Saturated Fat. Such large quantities of palmitic acid which aren’t balanced out with enough oleic acid will (not can but will) destroy your metabolism in the long run.
But sadly, nobody wants to admit this and the keto community has become just as much of an echo chamber as the vegan community.
Can you see the parallels between keto and veganism? First, people become healthy because they deactivate the Randle Cycle. But later, they ruin their health from either nutrient deficiencies (vegan) or metabolic dysfunction (long-term keto). And finally, both communities create their own echo chambers where they don’t allow any criticism of their holy diet.
Many people have left the ketogenic diet and its community and claim that it has ruined their health. Many of them are now following a high-carb vegan diet and don’t want anything to do with ketosis.
This is sad because they have just moved to the opposite extreme because it’s helping them temporarily. But in the long run they will most likely reach yet another dead end.
If there only were more free-flowing dialogue instead of echo chambers – we could make so much more progress! But I digress.
The big fat lie about the Inuit
Let’s take a look at another important piece in the puzzle of understanding the ketogenic diet: The Inuit.
Not only are we not made for long-term ketosis. The Inuit are also NOT in ketosis. This study , which was done almost 100 years ago in 1928 shows that Inuit show the same blood glucose reaction as someone who is NOT in ketosis.
In the study, the scientists performed three tests on the three individuals of the Inuit:
Test #1: The glucose tolerance test: In this test, the Inuit had to drink water with dissolved glucose in it to determine their blood glucose reaction. If they were in ketosis, they would also show physiological insulin resistance and thus glucose intolerance.
However, this was not the case. The Inuit had a blood glucose curve that was identical to people who eat carbs frequently. If the Inuit were really in ketosis they wouldn’t tolerate glucose at all because ketone bodies suppress the uptake of glucose.
Test #2: The fasting test: The scientists did a ketone test of the Inuit’s urine which showed no ketone bodies.
After that, the Inuit were told to fast for 82 hours. After one day of fasting the Inuit suddenly had ketones in their urine.
And they also entered a state of physiological insulin resistance which was shown in a second glucose tolerance test. The blood glucose curve was now elevated for much longer (hyperglycemia).
After the fast, the Inuit had also developed glycosuria (glucose in the urine), which means they didn’t tolerate the glucose anymore.
So all in all: Before the fast, the Inuit tolerated glucose just fine and were not in ketosis. Then they entered ketosis and developed physiological insulin resistance to preserve glucose for the brain and, therefore, showed all signs of glucose intolerance.
Test #3: The respiratory quotient (RQ) test: The RQ shows if you’re primarily a carb-burner, a fat-burner, or both.
If you’re only burning carbs your RQ would be around 1.0.
If you’re only burning fat your RQ would be lower, around 0.7.
People who burn both carbs and fat for energy have an RQ of around 0.85.
And guess what? The Inuit started with an RQ of roughly 0.85 which then dropped to around 0.6 or lower during their fast. A breastfeeding mother who also participated in the fast had an initial RQ of 0.813 which dropped to 0.454 at the end of the fast.
This clearly shows yet again that the Inuit were not in ketosis at the beginning of the test. They only entered ketosis during their fast, which is exactly what we would expect. The nursing mother went even further into ketosis during the fast because her body had to preserve glucose not only for her brain but also to produce milk (milk contains lactose) for her baby.
And now comes the most interesting part of the paper. Let’s just quote it:
“According to his analysis the metabolism of the foodstuffs contained in the Eskimo dietary would not be expected to cause ketosis, because the calculated antiketogenic effect of the large protein ingestion was somewhat more than enough to offset the ketogenic effect of fat plus protein.”
In other words: glyconeogenesis from large amounts of protein!
There you have it, folks.
This explains why the carnivore diet is superior to the ketogenic diet. On the ketogenic diet, you’re required to stay in ketosis and monitor your protein intake to make sure you’re not kicking yourself out of ketosis due to gluconeogenesis.
On the carnivore diet, on the other hand, your only rule to follow is: “Eat meat until you’re full.”
On the carnivore diet it doesn’t matter how much protein you eat or if you’re in ketosis or not. You just provide your body with the fuel and then your body randomly moves in and out of ketosis.
Dropping out of ketosis from time to time on the carnivore diet isn’t just okay, it’s actually the desired outcome.
And guess what! You can even do carb backloading on a zero-carb carnivore diet by just eating lots of protein.
You have to kick yourself out of ketosis from time to time.
Chronic states are never healthy. Your body wants dynamic changes.
Your body needs phases of carb burning, and phases of fat burning, as much as it needs sleep and wakefulness, exertion and recovery, hot and cold, light and darkness.
Keep this in mind at all times. Life is all about movement and temporary states. Chronic states will always become unhealthy in the end.
BONUS reason 4: The carnivore diet is less complicated
Not much explanation required here. On the carnivore diet, you can just put a steak in the pan, eat it, and be happy. I love it! Life can be so simple.
Share this with your keto friends and let me know about your own experiences in the comments.