No doubt you’ve heard about the Paleo Diet, which purports to mimic what our primitive ancestors ate: namely, lots and lots of animal foods. The name is a reference to the Paleolithic Period, or the Old Stone Age, that lasted up until about 12,000 years ago.
You know those drawings showing the evolution of man, a series of depictions that morph from a hunched-over ape dragging his knuckles on the ground to a modern Homo sapiens walking tall and talking on his cellphone?
The guy in the middle of that series, who’s even hairier than Robin Williams and is holding a sharp rock in his hand: That’s Paleo Man. And tens of thousands of years ago, he didn’t have a lot of dietary choices, just mastodon steaks and whatever leaves or berries were considered semi-edible.
To be sure, very few Stone Age folks were afflicted with the modern plagues of obesity, heart disease or the tragedy of restless leg syndrome, the tradeoff being real good odds of getting eaten by a saber tooth tiger or taking a spear in the ribs when one of your hunting party counterparts just didn’t have his fastball working that day.
That fact — the lack of disease, not the spear-in-the-ribs part — is why the Paleo Diet has achieved its niche in the pantheon of “Diets That Will Change Your Life.” Eat mostly animal foods, and your health problems will disappear, so goes its rationale.
Then there’s the “Keto Diet,” a regimen that involves inducing ketosis, which is actually a normal metabolic process that occurs when there isn’t enough readily available glucose needed for cellular metabolism. Ketosis is usually a short-term adjustment the body makes following an exhaustive exercise session — what I call “my morning routine” — during pregnancy or as a consequence of diabetic patients being unable to metabolize carbohydrates due to insulin insensitivity.
In a state of ketosis, instead of utilizing stored glycogen (which is converted into glucose in the bloodstream) for cellular energy, the body burns fat, producing ketones as a by-product. Since “burning fat” is practically a religious invocation for modern dieters, the Keto Diet — also relying on lots of animal protein — has generated plenty of media coverage, as well as legions of devotees.
From Surgery to Surreal
Now, a relatively new “diet” is gaining some traction, if not hordes of followers. It’s been referred to simply as The Carnivore Diet, and it’s easily explained, if perhaps not as easily embraced: Eat meat. Red meat. Nothing but red meat.
Oh, sure some outliers sneak in a serving of dairy or a couple eggs once in a while, but the pure Carnivore Diet is just meat, and nothing else.
Regularly referred to as a weight loss plan that’s the “craziest of all time” — or C.O.A.T. for short — the Carnivore Diet “loads up on greasy burgers and banishes kale,” as a profile on The Daily Meal website described it. “Proponents live by the motto: Eat meat, drink water. The fattier the cut of meat, the better.”
The Carnivore Diet was pioneered by Shawn Baker, a former orthopedic surgeon whose medical license was revoked in 2017. For those who’ve embraced his diet, however, they figure they’re not undergoing surgery, just getting nutritional advice from a guy in his 50s who not only thrives on nothing but beef but is in such great shape. In fact, he’s set world age-group records on an indoor rowing machine.
Of course, dietary gurus never work for free, and Baker charges $49 a month to “coach” his disciples on nutritional science. But consider this: Does it really take a whole lot of coaching to 1). Get a shopping cart; 2). Head to the meat case; and 3). Stock up on meat, while ignoring the stares of other people in the supermarket?
Baker claims to have more than 40,000 Instagram followers and plans to release a book about The Carnivore Diet next February.
And he does make a good point in a quote that appeared in The Daily Meal article, noting that, “It’s kind of sad walking around the [grocery] store and seeing so many people my age that are just literally deteriorating from a garbage diet of grain, processed carbs, vegetable oils and the illusion of protection by some vegetables. Meanwhile I’m thriving, getting stronger and faster and basically barely aging!”
Wow. Where do I mail in my $49?
Of course, a sample of one is considered neither scientifically nor statistically valid, so Baker’s results on his beef-for-breakfast-lunch-and-dinner diet are hardly demonstrative.
Even diehard adherents admit that a meat-centric diet can result in, among other issues, “extreme” constipation.
On a Reddit thread titled “Day 97,” one Baker believer confessed, “I am struggling with constipation, at times, too horrible to imagine. You cannot imagine how bad my constipation was. I was actually so frustrated that I was slamming my knees in a frustrated rage.”
Sorry, but that doesn’t sound like someone getting “stronger, faster and basically not aging!”
Look, I’m all for the inclusion of plenty of animal foods in one’s diet, but not to the total exclusion of everything else.
One thing that distinguishes us from Paleo Man is that their tools consisted of a sharpened stick or maybe a shard of flint. Our tools, such as the DeWalt FlexVolt 60V Cordless Leaf Blower with variable speed trigger and lightweight ergonomic design, come equipped with powerful lithium ion batteries that deliver up to four hours’ runtime.
The other is that they had only one choice: mammoth or mastodon meat. We have fruits, vegetables, dairy products and bakery goods — literally, everything from soup to nuts.
Ex-Dr. Baker’s proselytizing aside, we need to maintain that latter distinction.
Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.