The History of All-Meat Diets

Igloo licensedWe are taught that meat is an unhealthy, artery-clogging, fattening, cholesterol-raising, heart-attack inducing, constipating, tumor-producing food that should be avoided like the plague, and that a plant-based diet is the holy grail of health.

 

 

To the best of my knowledge, the world has yet to produce a civilization which has eaten a vegan diet from childhood through death, whereas there are numerous examples throughout recorded history of people from a variety of cultural, ethnic and geographical backgrounds who have lived on all-meat diets for decades, lifetimes, generations.  What exactly did these carnivorous cultures eat, and how healthy or unhealthy were they?

To my mind, examples of real people eating nearly 100% meat diets for long periods of time gives us much more powerful information about meat and health than conventional scientific studies conducted over short periods of time in which one group of people eats a little more meat or a few extra servings of vegetables than another group of people.

Meet the Meat Mongers

  • The Inuit of the Canadian Arctic thrived on fish, seal, walrus and whale meat.
  • The Chukotka of the Russian Arctic lived on caribou meat, marine animals and fish.
  • The Masai, Samburu, and Rendille warriors of East Africa survived on diets consisting primarily of milk and meat.
  • The steppe nomads of Mongolia ate mostly meat and dairy products.
  • The Sioux of South Dakota enjoyed a diet of buffalo meat.
  • The Brazilian Gauchos nourished themselves with beef.

Dangerously Unbalanced?

How many servings of fruits and vegetables did most Arctic peoples eat most days of the year?  Zero.  How much fiber is there in a seal, or a fish, or an Arctic bird?  None whatsoever. Physician Samuel Hutton, who treated Eskimos in the Canadian province of Labrador at the turn of the 20th century, wrote:

“I wonder are the Eskimos unique among the nations in their disregard of vegetable foods?  I sometimes saw them getting young willow shoots and one or two other little bits of green, and eating them as a relish to their meat; but they make absolutely no attempt to till what soil there is, and they do not even make the most of the plants that grow.  During the short weeks of summer the vegetation springs up in a perfectly marvelous manner… Surely among this wild scramble of plant life there must be some things that are good to eat!  I know that there are plenty of dandelion leaves, and I have tasted worse things in my time, but the people never touch them…” [Hutton SK 1912]

By all accounts, these people ate little to no plant foods for most of the year (summertime was an exception):

“But though gardening is entirely foreign to the Eskimo nature, they do not entirely scorn the good things of the earth…In most years the scrubby bushes that crawl upon the ground are loaded with succulent berries—a truly marvelous provision—and the people gather them not only by the handfuls and bucketfuls, but by barrelfuls.” [Hutton SK 1912]

Their diets were therefore extremely low in fiber most of the time, and very high in animal protein and animal fat.  These traditional ways of eating would terrify the USDA, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, not to mention the Harvard School of Public Health, which remains a staunchly anti-meat, anti-saturated fat, anti-cholesterol institution.

How in the world did these uninformed fringe types manage to get all their vitamins and minerals without the heaping helpings of colorful fruits, vegetables, and whole grains without which we are told we shall surely perish?  Weren’t they cancer-riddled, heart-clenching, constipated, fat slobs who died young from scary deficiency diseases like rickets and scurvy?

Let’s look at the two groups of people for whom we have the most medical information available to see if we can begin to answer some of these very important questions. What follows is not meant to be a complete review; I am working on a book about food and health that will include a comprehensive chapter full of fun facts about meaty menus from around the world.  I wrote this article because I was excited to share some of the fascinating things I am learning as I research the book.

A Tale of Two Cities

Well, cities is a bit of a stretch…in fact neither of these groups of people were city folk, but that is where the similarities end.  The only thing these people had in common was that they ate few if any plant foods.

You could not ask for two more different cultures than the Arctic “Eskimos” and the East African herdsmen:

  • North Pole vs. Equator
  • Asian vs. African
  • Non-dairy vs. Dairy
  • Surf vs. Turf :)

Arctic peoples studied were living in the northernmost “circumpolar” parts of Alaska, Canada, Russia and Greenland.  The diets of most Arctic people began changing in the late 1800’s as trade routes began providing access to European foods including sugar, flour, and dairy products, but prior to that their diet consisted primarily of animal protein and fat for most of the year.

Arctic map

East African herdsmen (Masai, Samburu and Rendille peoples) studied hailed from what are now Kenya and Tanzania, along the African equator. By tradition, males in these tribes ate only animal foods (meat and dairy products) from age 14 until at least age 28, when they completed their warrior years.  

Kenya and Tanzania

These unique groups of people were the subjects of intense medical investigation several decades ago, and there have been numerous scientific articles written about their diet and health.

Meat and Heart Disease

More than 40 years ago, the remote region of Point Hope, Alaska (where a mostly-meat diet was still being consumed due to its isolated location) was the subject of a research study published in 1972:

“The Point Hope inhabitants represent one of the few remnants of the Eskimo whale, sea, and walrus hunting cultures in the world…Average total daily caloric intake was approximately 3,000 kcal [calories] per person, ranging from 2,300 to 4,500 kcal. Approximately 50% of the calories were derived from fat and 30 to 35% from protein. Carbohydrate accounted for only 15 to 20% of their calories, largely in the form of glycogen [animal starch] from the meat they consumed. Grain products were scarce and although sucrose was not unknown, the average adult ingested less than 3 g/day, primarily for sweetening tea or coffee.”  [Ho KJ et al 1972]

Researchers found that the incidence of heart disease among Point Hope residents was ten times lower than in the general Caucasian population of the United States.  Not only that—their triglyceride levels (levels of fat in the bloodstream) averaged 85 mg/dL, whereas the average U.S. triglyceride levels at that time averaged over 100 mg/dL.

[To read more about why carbohydrates are not necessary in the diet and how carbohydrates cause the body to produce extra fat, please see my carbohydrates page.]

Lest you think that these Alaskans were special–that their triglyceride levels were low because of genetic differences, or because they had become adapted over centuries to their meaty diet, and that it wasn’t fair to compare their triglyceride levels to those of mainland Americans–you may want to think twice.

A much more recent study conducted in remote areas of southwestern Alaska compared native people who reported eating the highest percentage of traditional animal foods to native people who reported eating the lowest percentage of traditional animal foods.  Native Alaskans following a more traditional diet were eating much more animal protein and animal fat, yet had triglyceride levels on average 25 points lower than their more Westernized neighbors. [Bersamin 2007]

Even as recently as the 1980’s, only 3.5% of all deaths in Greenland Eskimos were due to heart disease, despite a life span of more than 60 years.

Now, some Arctic peoples did have some cholesterol buildup in their arteries, but this was apparently mild and primarily seen in those who were eating a mixture of modern and traditional foods:

 “The rarity of ischaemic heart disease has been repeatedly noted, with due allowance for the life-expectancy of Eskimos.  Rabinowitch, discussing the contention of others that arteriosclerosis was rare in Eskimos, stated that this was not the case in those he examined in the eastern Arctic of Canada where contact with white man had altered the diet, but in the most northerly parts there was no evidence of arteriosclerosis; total cholesterol in serum was low. 18 necropsies by Gottman between 1956 and 1958, and by Arthaud between 1959 and 1968, on Alaskan Eskimos partly on European diets, showed that atherosclerosis was mild and not a major cause of death.” [Lancet 1983]

Meanwhile, back in Africa…

As for our pastoral African nomad friends, heart attacks were essentially unknown among Masai males, despite living well into their 60’s.  Researchers examined 600 living Masai men, more than half of whom were over 40 years old, and found that only one of them had ever had a heart attack.  In fact, researchers went so far as to collect and examine the hearts of 50 Masai who had dropped dead, and found no evidence of a heart attack in a single one.  Just as with Eskimos, they did find “fatty streaks” and some cholesterol deposits inside of their arteries, but not enough to cause any blockages.

It was estimated that these men obtained 66% of their daily calories from pure animal fat, eating about 300 grams of fat and 600 milligrams of cholesterol per day.  Americans are advised to keep fat intake to 20 to 35% of calories and to keep cholesterol intake below 300 mg per day, therefore these men were eating twice as much cholesterol and 2 to 3 times as much fat as we are told to eat.

Meat and Blood Pressure

Once upon a time, there was a group of Inuit from Greenland who had been raised on a diet high in meat, fish, and animal fat, and very low in fruits, vegetables, and dairy products.  In the 1980’s and 1990’s, some of them immigrated south to Denmark, and in the process, turned their diets upside-down. They started eating the way Danish people ate—adding lots more plant foods and dairy products to their menus, and eating fewer animal foods.  This is the advice we are given by public health officials if we want to improve our health. So, did these transplanted Greenlanders become healthier?  Researchers discovered that the Inuit who had moved to Denmark and changed their diets had blood pressures ten points higher than those who had stayed behind in Greenland. This was despite the fact that they weighed less, smoked less, drank less, and got the same amount of exercise as their Greenland brothers and sisters.

Unfortunately the researchers did not ask about junk food intake, so we don’t know if the Inuit were also eating more refined carbohydrates, salt, and chemicals after relocating to Denmark, although that would be a safe bet.  My point is that simply eating less meat and eating more fruits and vegetables, which is what we are told we should do to be healthier, did not improve or protect their health–at least not when it came to blood pressure.

While back in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro…

Blood pressures among the Masai of East Africa averaged 120/80 in males ranging in age from 14 to over 55; only 1% of Masai men had high blood pressure. Among the Samburu, as well, blood pressures were excellent, averaging 112/76, with systolic (upper) blood pressure values tending to rise only a few points after the age of 60.

Meat and Obesity

The problem of overweight and obesity did not exist among the Masai, Samburu, or Rendille people.  The average Masai male measured approximately 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighed 134 pounds. The average Samburu man was equally as tall and weighed 126 pounds. The typical Rendille man weighed only 121 pounds. Weights within all of these groups of people remained stable throughout their lifetimes.

Out of Africa…

I just adore these passages written in 1936 by noted Canadian anthropologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson:

“…Eskimos, when still on their native meats, are never corpulent – at least I have seen none. They may be well fleshed. Some especially women, are notably heavier in middle age than when young. But they are not corpulent in our sense.

When you see Eskimos in their native garments you do get the impression of fat round faces on fat round bodies, but the roundness of face is a racial peculiarity and the rest of the effect is produced by loose and puffy garments. See them stripped and you do not find the abdominal protuberances and folds which are numerous at Coney Island beaches and so persuasive in arguments against nudism.

There is no racial immunity among Eskimos to corpulence. You prove that by how quickly they get fat and how fat they grow on European diets.”

I can relate…ich bin ein Eskimo…

Unanswered Questions

If meat, saturated fat and cholesterol are supposed to cause heart disease, and if colorful, fiber-rich fruits and vegetables are supposed to protect us from heart disease, why didn’t these people, who were eating MUCH more meat and FAR less plant food than most of us ever will, suffer from heart disease and all of the health problems we associate with heart disease risk, such as high blood pressure, obesity, and high triglycerides?

This post was not designed to provide an airtight argument for meat and health, but I do hope that it has at least prompted those of you who remain skeptical about meat to rethink what you’ve been led to believe. If you’ve got a hankerin’ for more information about meat and health, take a look at my meat page. There’s so much more to say about this topic–what about Cancer?  Vitamin C? Calcium?  Bone density? Constipation? Overall health?  What did Arctic and East African carnivores die of, then, if not from the things we like to die of?

And what about cholesterol levels in carnivorous cultures?  It turns out that cholesterol is the most complicated topic of all…as usual…but ask a silly question…In the meantime, if you are worried that eating a high-cholesterol diet will give you high cholesterol, you may want to read my cholesterol page to see why this is not possible.

Are there other questions about meat and health that you’d like to see addressed in the future?

Coming soon to my Food and Health Blog:

Hypothyroidism–including reverse T3, foods that interfere with thyroid function, and how ketogenic diets affect thyroid function.

Apolipoprotein B and “VAP” cholesterol testing

Homocysteine

To be notified of new blog posts as they become available, click here ↓

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REFERENCES

Among the Eskimos of Labrador: a record of five years’ close intercourse with the Eskimo tribes of Labrador.  Samuel King Hutton. Publisher Seeley, Service & co., limited, 1912

Berezovikova IP and Mamleeva FR. Traditional foods in the diet of Chukotka natives.  International Journal of Circumpolar Health 2001; 60: 138-142.

Biss K et al.  Some unique biologic characteristics of the Masai of East Africa.  New England Journal of Medicine 1971; 284: 694-699.

Eisma D. Agriculture on the Mongolian Steppe.  The Silk Road 2012; 10: 123–135.

DuBois EF. The control of protein in the diet. Journal of the American Dietetic AssocIation 1928; 4: 53-76.

Health Conditions and Disease Incidence among the Eskimos of Labrador. Hutton SK.  Publisher Wessex Press, London, 1925.

Adventures in Diet. Stefansson V. Harper’s Monthly Magazine. 1936. Chicago: Institute of American Meatpackers.

McClellan WS and DuBois EF.  Prolonged meat diets with a study of kidney function and ketosis.  Journal of Biological Chemistry 1930:  651-668.

Bjerregaard P et al.  Low incidence of cardiovascular disease among the Inuit–what is the evidence?  Atherosclerosis 2003; 166: 351-357.

Ho KJ et al. Alaskan Arctic Eskimo: responses to a customary high fat diet. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1972; 25: 737-745.

[No authors listed].  Eskimo Diets and Diseases.  Lancet 1983; 8334 (321): 1139-1141.

Bang HO et al. The composition of the Eskimo food in north western Greenland.  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1980; 33: 2657-2661.

Mann GV et al.  Atherosclerosis in the Masai.  American Journal of Epidemiology 1972; 95 (1): 26-37.

Mann GV et al.  Physical fitness and immunity to heart-disease in Masai. Lancet 1965; 2(7426):1308-10.

Shaper AG. Cardiovascular studies in the Samburu tribe of Northern Kenya. American Heart Journal 1962; 63:437-42.

Bjerregaard P et al. Higher blood pressure among Inuit migrants in Denmark than among the Inuit in Greenland. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 2002; 56:279–284.

Bersamin A et al.  Westernizing diets influence fat intake, red blood cell fatty acid composition, and health in remote Alaskan native communities in the Center for Alaska Native Health Study. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 2008;108:266-273.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  • Charles Grashow

    http://www.westonaprice.org/blogs/cmasterjohn/2011/09/13/the-masai-part-ii-a-glimpse-of-the-masai-diet-at-the-turn-of-the-20th-century-a-land-of-milk-and-honey-bananas-from-afar/

    “The myth that the Masai eat nothing but milk, blood and meat is derived from the idealized diet of young warriors called moran, a diet that men only eat for 15 years of their life and that women never eat. Contrary to popular myth, women exist, and Masai women are just as Masai as Masai men. Indeed, it was the women who conducted most trade during that time, so ignoring the parts of the Masai diet obtained from foreign trade is particularly insulting to the memory of these women. Merker’s study, moreover, shows that even the supposed exclusivity of the warrior diet is a gross exaggeration and ignores their extensive use of herbs and tree barks, as well as the fact that necessity often drove them to consume honey, roots, tubers and fruit as sources of water and calories while on the march.”

    “Approximately every three to six days caravans of old women, accompanied by a few old men and laden with maize, bananas, batatas, etc., arrive in the Masai kraals. Then there begins an hours-long haggling and bargaining with the customary market-woman shouting. Each one tries to sell her goods as advantageously as possible, that is, exchange them for just the articles that she needs. Often the caravans come from a distance of four to five days march and then remain in the kraal for a couple of days before they set out for home.

    Yes, far from eating nothing but milk, blood, and meat at the turn of the twentieth century, Masai women were coming into the village with caravans full of bananas, corn, and sweet potatoes every three to six days!”

    “They cooked sweet potatoes (Ipomea batatas) in water with a little steppe salt, drained them, mashed them with a whisk, and stirred in fresh milk. They cooked unripe dried bananas (Musa paradisiaca) in water, drained them, and stirred in milk and butter. They cooked beans with salt, but corn without salt. They cooked yams (Discorea abyssinica) and taro in salted water, and cooked sorghum into a thick porridge and lightly salted it afterwards.”

    ” In sum, the Masai diet at the turn of the twentieth century was diverse, rich in both animal and plant foods.

    • http://diagnosisdiet.com/ Dr. Ede

      Hi Charles

      Thank you for the additional information regarding the Masai diet. I did not mean to imply that all Masai ate a mostly-meat diet (I specified that only a subset of them did), but i was led to believe based on the references I was aware of that the warrior class restricted themselves to a mostly-meat diet, so I appreciate the correction. I see from reading the information in Chris Masterjohn’s article that warriors regularly supplemented their diet with herbs and bark. These do not strike me as particularly nutritious “vegetables”, as we are accustomed to thinking of them, but yes, they were plant foods! As for the honey, fruits, and roots on the march, these are very interesting and important exceptions, and I will be sure to note these exceptions whenever referring to the Masai diet in the future.

  • http://www.facebook.com/georged.henderson George Henderson

    Both the Gauchos and the milk drinking nomads appear to have suffered from diseases that may have been in part due to diet, according to recent posts by Don Matez at Healthy Longevity (although a hard-riding life on horseback has its own consequences) . The Gauchos seem to have eaten only barbecued steak for much of the time. Theirs was not a traditional diet but an adaptation to their conditions of working with a food novel to the region, and they seem to have lacked the traditional customs or knowledge needed to make the best use of it. In the case of nomads, modern nomads such as reindeer herders (who perhaps rely less on milk than horse herding peoples do) seem to do OK. Their seasonal plant staple seems to be pine seeds.

    • http://diagnosisdiet.com/ Dr. Ede

      Hi George
      I haven’t yet come across any articles about the health of the Gauchos in my research, so I would be very interested in more information–would you be willing to provide a link to his post, or any references I can read?

      • http://www.facebook.com/georged.henderson George Henderson

        Don Matez mentions it here: http://healthylongevity.blogspot.co.nz/2012/11/traditional-diets-in-asia-pacific-and.html

        I googled gaucho cooking and it seemed to be nothing but barbecued steak, kebab style.
        Matez (a vegan apologist, former all-meat paleo turncoat, seems to have become one-eyed as a result of his diet, but I respect his scholarship in finding these references and arguing the minority view) quotes a 1908 paper by Williams which finds a high rate of cancer in Gauchos compared to the rest of S. America. However, riding in the saddle for for long hours does increase cancer risk – just ask Lance Armstrong. There are many other non-diet factors, such as variations in infectious diseases and parasites, to explain cancer differences in a place like 1908 South America.

    • http://diagnosisdiet.com/ Dr. Ede

      I hope I did not come across as saying that an all-meat diet is the ideal diet for everyone, or that the Masai, or Gauchos, or Eskimos did not have health problems. We don’t have enough information to know these things with any certainty. However, the following information comes from articles by Mann eta al: Among
      the Masai, the majority of deaths were due to combat-related injuries,
      infectious diseases, and accidents. The most common medical
      problems were malaria, sexually-transmitted diseases, skin infections,
      insect-related skin conditions, and infection with parasites such as
      worms. 3% of Masai were found to
      have abdominal masses, which may or may not have been cancerous. Rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis were
      unknown among the Masai.

  • Des

    Hi Dr. Ede, interesting article! So research shows that only one man died of a heart attack amongst 600: why did this one person die from a heart attack at all? I thought heart attacks were caused by inflammation. Ideally, research should show nobody in these cultures dying from diseases..

    • http://diagnosisdiet.com/ Dr. Ede

      Hi Des
      I have no way of knowing why one of them died of a heart attack, of course; we can only speculate. I do not know if an all-meat diet is 100% protective against heart disease; I don’t think anyone knows if that is true. Because the evidence linking mostly-meat diets with reduced risk for heart disease is epidemiological, we can’t even be 100% certain that diet was the reason their risk was lower, although it does seem that something about a diet very high in meat and very low in processed foods, refined carbs, and even low in plants, seems to have reduced risk for heart disease in both of these groups of people. If that is true, we don’t know what exactly it was about these diets that may have reduced their risk–was it the presence of certain kinds of fats, the presence of animal protein, the near absence of sugar, the low plant content? Also, the Masai only ate an all-meat or mostly-meat diet for a specific period of time. Prior to the age of 14 and in later adulthood, they ate many other foods in addition to animal foods. The Masai also ate dairy products, which can raise insulin levels.

    • Johannah Bushman

      You are questioning 1 in 600? Maybe this person was born with a heart defect or had an infection somewhere causing inflamation (i.e bad tooth) and the heart attack had nothing to do with diet. Or even if it did, I like those odds.

  • Melissa

    Calling these all-meat diets is a little bit of an misnomer. Even the very far north cultures here ate plants, even during times of the year that would surprise you. Steffanson was definitely not an anthropologist and was known to stretch the truth, so I rely more heavily on ethnographies written by anthropologists.

    Steffanson-based meat-only diets were fashionable for a time in the paleo community a few years ago and I brought up ethnographies that showed Arctic people eating a much wider variety than what the contemporary dieters who claimed to emulate were eating. It’s hard for me to link to these people because a lot of them (like Danny Roddy) did suffer health problems and no longer eat all-meat diets, but diets with much great variety or high-carb diets. Even the far northern tribes ate things like lichens found fermented in animal stomachs, mazru which are little roots stolen from mice dens, seabird intestines that contained a variety of plant matter, seaweed, and a much larger variety of animals in general. Also medicinals are often not classified as food in ethnographies, but lead to intake of plant matter.

    I would call their diets animal-based rather than all-meat, especially since a lot of the time seafood dominates arctic diets. In general it’s pretty hard to get a good picture of how healthy they were since most studies were done after the diet had been fairly Westernized, but there are a few arctic mummies that have been written about that were not in great condition (Horus study for example). It’s hard to say much about that since their lives were so strenuous.

    It’s hard to take much from legends, but the Inuit had a god called Matshishkapeu, who was said to cause constipation, but constipation can be triggered by famine conditions which based on the mummies and skeletal remains, arctic peoples faced a lot more than tropical foragers.

    There has also been a far bit of work recently on genetic variations in arctic people, particularly adaptations to cold and diet. William Leonard’s team’s studies of Siberians have shown that their elevated metabolic rates are pretty much independent of diet and are probably genetic.

    Chris Masterjohn has written extensively on the variety in Masaai diets.

    http://www.westonaprice.org/blogs/cmasterjohn/2011/09/13/the-masai-part-ii-a-glimpse-of-the-masai-diet-at-the-turn-of-the-20th-century-a-land-of-milk-and-honey-bananas-from-afar/

    • http://diagnosisdiet.com/ Dr. Ede

      I did try to make it clear in my article that Arctic peoples ate some plant foods, but as far as I can tell, as Rose points out more eloquently than I have, these were not a major source of calories or nutrients in the way that we are told they should be. I doubt that the Inuit of the mid-1800′s were filling half of every plate with fruits and veggies, as is the current recommendation. I addressed the Masai diet issue with Charles below. I apologize for occasionally using the term “all-meat” in the article, as it seems this has come across as provocative or misleading, which was not my intention.

      • Melissa

        Food isn’t just about nutrients or calories though. Other components of the diet play important roles in things like modulating gut flora even if they aren’t a major source of calories or nutrients. And on a marginal diet like the Inuit’s, marginal sources of nutrients are important enough that they were willing to eat uncleaned animal innards, which is even something I have trouble stomaching (hehe) though I sometimes eat whole fish that contain such things.

        I think zero carb can be quite therapeutic as it was for me, but I was able to feel a lot better and broaden my diet when I started thinking about plants less as an important “food” like you are rightfully questioning and more as medicinals. Particularly when I was having episodes of fatigue after eating all meat meals, something that started alarmingly after I had been doing well on that diet. A glass of red wine, green tea, marinating the meat in wine (if I want to avoid the booz :) ), a small accompaniment of seaweed salad, etc. have solved that problem for me. Also when I started eating more offal and seafood.

        • http://www.facebook.com/georged.henderson George Henderson

          Some great points here Melissa: “mazru which are little roots stolen from mice dens”. I saw this on TV and it explains how early man could have “gathered” starch conveniently, also nuts, grains, depending on the species they exploited. Thievery is in human DNA for a reason.

          “I started thinking about plants less as an important “food” like you are rightfully questioning and more as medicinals”. Yes indeed. The Inuit supplementing with willow can be seem as a specific targeting of salicylates, and they also used spruce leaves for scurvy and gathered berries in season. In the Andaman islanders diet, the gathered plant food is seem as an “antidote” to the pains caused the big feasts of pork and honey (though this may have an element of projection by the anthropologists).

          Restricting plant foods is an effective way to cull dysbiotic bacteria fed by the SAD, but there comes a time when it is more beneficial to cultivate the surviving good species by re-introducing the plants they like.

  • Charles Grashow

    http://www.pinniped.net/leonardara2005.pdf

    “elevated metabolic rates of indigenous Siberians also have important physiological consequences for health. Siberian groups have relatively low total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels, despite consuming diets that are high in energy and animal foods. Serum lipid levels are lowest in the groups that continue live more traditional lifestyles as hunters or herders. With acculturation, reductions in daily activity and energy expenditure and the shift to a Western diet contribute to increases in serum lipid levels and cardiovascular disease risk. However, it appears that the elevated rates of basal metabolism among indigenous Siberians may play a role in protecting against more dramatic increases in serum lipid levels with the initial changes in diet and lifestyle associated with urbanization.”

  • RoseNunezSmith

    While I appreciate the academic caution of some of the arguments posted in the comments here — one shouldn’t rely on a single source (say, Stefansson), nor make overly broad statements about a “culture” (in either direction) — most of the arguments strike me as being driven by the urge to nit-pick the main thesis, which is that a mostly or possibly even all-animal-foods diet is a perfectly good choice for a human being.

    Surely the berries of the Arctic, or the bark of the Kenya bush, are not so incredibly nutritionally powerful that minute amounts of them are the equivalent of the West’s “five a day” fruit-and-vegetable recommendation, but that is the implication of the protest.

    As a long-time ZCer, I’m biased, of course. After dropping most plant matter, my health improved spectacularly, and it remains stellar nearly four years in. But even when faced with a modern person with modern lab results, some people still struggle to accept the plain facts. I’ve been told that the herbs and spices on my meat are “nutritional powerhouses” that are probably responsible for my health, rather than the dropping of fruits and vegetables. The fear of an all- or mostly-meat diet is a strange thing, prompting otherwise smart people to make silly claims.

    • Charles Grashow

      Have you had blood work done? I’m curious as to what effect your ZC all meat diet has on your lipids?

      As for me I tried a VLC/ZC diet and felt like crap on it – I had to add back fruits, starch to feel normal

      • RoseNunezSmith

        Charles, I had blood work done in the summer of 2011, after a year and a half of ZC eating, and my triglycerides were 32. Total cholesterol 180; HDL 56.6, LDL 117. I don’t have my cholesterol numbers handy from back when I was obese, prior to eating ZC, but they were apparently “bad” enough that they caused my life insurance premiums to go way up. (“Bad” in quotes because so many people these days are questioning the utility of cholesterol numbers.)

        I also just had labs done two weeks ago in conjunction with a gynecological visit, and I haven’t seen the results in detail, but the follow-up phone call with the doctor’s office yielded the word “fabulous,” so I assume the lipids are still looking good. I should have real numbers next week when I visit in person.

        Regarding feeling like crap eating VLC/ZC — I didn’t experience that until I tried a hardcore ketogenic diet a la our hostess’s recent attempt. I restricted protein to under 80g/day (which is hard when all you eat is meat), and tried to get fat at over 80% of my caloric intake (also very hard when all you eat is meat). I used a lot of cream, and gained some weight, and felt horrible. I don’t know exactly what mechanism caused the horribleness — was I just now adapting to ketosis? Was I not eating enough? Is cream the spawn of Satan? (Well, “yes” to that last question, at least for me.)

        So quite possibly you and I suffer from going through keto-adaptation at different dietary intake levels. I was *shocked* at how restrictively I had to eat to get a blood ketone reading above trace, whereas the Jimmy Moores of the world seem to get ketones just through moderate protein and carb restriction. Anyway, that’s one possible explanation for the crappy experiences.

        And I know of people who didn’t experience miracles on ZC, but the only ones I know of who fared poorly did — pardon me — weird-ass versions of it in which they only ate a handful of pemmican every day, or they had severe issues going into ZC which simply didn’t clear up.

    • http://diagnosisdiet.com/ Dr. Ede

      Hi Rose
      You have found a way to say what I have not been able to express as well. As you know, I, too, have found that removing most plant foods from my diet restored my health, which is why I spend so much time trying to get to the bottom of these issues. Based on everything I’ve learned so far, in 5+ years of study, I cannot find any evidence supporting the necessity of plant foods in the human diet. That is not to say that some may feel better when they eat them, or that some may be better adapted to them or tolerate them without any difficulty. I would not say that everyone should eat an all-meat diet, because I don’t know enough to say such a thing. I would, however, say that it is probably a safe and reasonable diet for anyone to try, and therefore completely agree with you that it is a “perfectly good choice for a human being.”

      • RoseNunezSmith

        Dr. Ede, I know of many more stories like yours and mine than I do Charles Grashow’s, or Danny Roddy’s (who was mentioned somewhere in the comments). But that might be survivor bias at work — those who don’t do well simply drop off without announcing it to the world, so don’t leave much of a trace.

        Still, it’s clear enough that at least some humans do very well on an all-meat diet, and that’s a *truly* all-meat diet, no parenthetical, footnoted additions of bark, berries, or gut contents. I share your qualms about recommending an all-meat diet to everyone, for a number of reasons, but none of them arising from a fear that meat will kill them, lol.

        It would be great to find someone willing to study long-term modern ZCers. If vegans can pop up regularly in nutritional studies (and veganism *is* quite extreme and unusual in human history), why not ZCers?

        And when I indulge my most grandiose fantasies about ZC, I really wish someone would study the remission rates of XLC/ZCers with regard to the various ailments most of us arrived with (and most of us did arrive with serious ailments — not too many people swim against the overwhelming current of nutritional “wisdom” because they’re feeling just grand). I’d bet, all other things being equal, XLC/ZCers’ current health equals that of the healthiest standard-Western-diet-eaters’, and furthermore, I’d bet it far outstrips the health of anyone continuing to eat a standard Western diet who’s ever had any of the maladies we’ve suffered from. Maybe someday we’ll know.

        • http://diagnosisdiet.com/ Dr. Ede

          Hi Rose
          Very well said. I agree with you entirely. My fantasy study involves comparing vegans to pure carnivores–ideally taking a group of people who eat a “normal” diet and randomizing them into an all-plant arm and an all animal food arm. Ideally both groups would be studied for a year, but I think even 3 mos would be useful. We would not only follow the standard cardiovascular parameters like BP, lipids, blood sugar, etc, but also general overall health and well-being–sleep, pain, mood, digestion, energy, skin health, etc. An interventional study would be best, but as you describe, having a naturalistic study of people who already eat in these opposite ways would be a wonderful start! Maybe someday:)

  • RoseNunezSmith

    Charles (and Melissa by proxy), I’ve seen Jones’s book mentioned before in arguments against Stefansson. I can’t speak to Stefansson’s reliability (although in fairness it must be pointed out that neither can you speak to Jones’s), but I wonder how Jones’s experience in one relatively small region of the enormous inhabited Arctic can be construed to be representative of all or even most of the Arctic peoples.

    • http://www.facebook.com/georged.henderson George Henderson

      Stefanson lived with Inuit who were helping him on his exploration of extreme regions. They were at home in these regions because they could live without plants – given where Stefanson actually went, there is no reason to think he was lying*. This doesn’t mean that Inuit ate exactly the same way when not in these extreme regions, but it does argue familiarity with plant-free diets. The word Eskimo was the Algonquin word for carnivore, and the Algonquin were big meat eaters themselves.

      * Stefanson’s version of the restricted diet of the Canadian Lord wasn’t quite matched by the facts in that Lord’s biography. He seems to have missed the consumption of oats and focused on the milk and eggs.

  • Meghann

    Thank you for pulling together an interesting article. As examples to question current dogma — they are spot on. These are good questions. My experience with anthropological accounts leads me to severely question observational bias their analyses.

    I spent nearly 3 years in a country called Vanuatu, working in Agriculture. As a female foreigner, I spent a good deal of time working with ni-Vanuatu women. As with a large number of traditional-type societies, “women’s work” revolves around daily activities of fire tending, meal preparation, gardening, small animal tending, vegetable harvesting, fruit harvesting, medicinal plant harvesting. “Men’s work” was more focused on things like cash cropping, fishing from boats or canoes, and cultivation of ceremonial yams and kava.

    I had occasion to listen to a Massey Lecture by a respected anthropologist – he’d spent approx. 1.5 years in Vanuatu, spread over some 20 calendar years. As a male, he would NOT have spent time with the women, NOR was that his interest. He was researching historical aspects of cannibalism in that society. (A practice that has been absent for many, many, many decades).

    I spent almost 3 continuous years working and traveling in Vanuatu and the South Pacific. In listening to his lecture I found he completely mis-identified the staple foods in his photos, and by his comments he clearly had NO idea of the daily nutrition habits of these people. He knew nothing of the daily food gatherings by the women & children, or the seasonal gardenings EXCEPT for ceremonial yams and kava. He did not for example realize that fish and pork were NOT the only protein sources in the diet — women harvested many small animals, for example fruit bats, and gathered many large chestnut-like nuts.

    So when I read historical exerpts observing traditional practices, I am never sure of the whole story. How many northern explorers speak of traditional peoples feeding them vile-tasting “teas” from needles & barks to address ailments that are clearly vitamin deficiencies? How many anthropologists note these things? (Hint: NOT MANY!) I strongly suspect that those accounts did not pay any attention to what the women would have done with stomach contents and organ meats from the animals for example.

    People often make similar leaps of logic from wild to domestic animals. I hear countless assertions by urban folk about dogs being carnivores and should be fed nothing but raw meat: Nobody made kibble for wolves. While the kibble part is true, it wasn’t until Farley Mowatt started writing observational materials about the actual full season in a wolf diet that science realized wolves eat a LOT of small rodents WHOLE. There’s a huge source of fibre (ie fur) along with everything else that entails a mouse.

    In any case, I enjoyed reading the article. Thank you.

    • http://diagnosisdiet.com/ Dr. Ede

      Hi Meghann

      Your point is very well taken, and your perspective and valuable experiences are very interesting–thank you! Of course we only have the information we have, and it is full of holes and less than perfectly scientific, to say the least. And we have mainly epidemiological evidence about the health of these diets as compared to standard diets. I wish we could hop into a time capsule and explore these traditional diets ourselves! My only quibble is with the reference to fur as fiber—fur is not fiber–fiber is partially or completely indigestible carbohydrate matter which can be fermented, whereas fur is made of indigestible proteins . They may serve a similar purpose–i.e. indigestible bulk–but they have nothing else in common as far as I know.

    • http://www.facebook.com/shaen.cooper Shaen Cooper

      Many northern people would have made good use of the stomach contents of animals such as cariboo. Organ meats, brain, and marrow was the mainstay of the traditional diet. Modern people are very uncomfortable about these food sources but traditional people valued them.

      I am not at all surprised — sad maybe — that a respected “male” anthropologist studying the same people you spent time with, had a completely different experience and ignored the very important contribution of women to the household economy.

      My understanding is that women and children gathered about half, and sometimes all, the daily food that the family enjoyed. Men hunted which was very important, but many days the men came back from the hunt empty handed and rely on the gathering of the women and children to not go hungry.

  • Johannah Bushman

    If my food is devoid of nutrients that my body needs like vitamins and minerals, wouldn’t they also be ill with malnutrition? People who ate the whole animal must have consumed whatever vitamins and minerals the animal contained like all those fat soluble vitamins that are stored in the fat tissue. Animal foods are not just protein and fat!

  • Charles Grashow

    http://content.onlinejacc.org/article.aspx?articleid=1135650

    Optimal low-density lipoprotein is 50 to 70 mg/dl
    Lower is better and physiologically normal

    James H O’Keefe, Jr, MD; Loren Cordain, PhD; William H Harris, PhD; Richard M Moe, MD, PhD; Robert Vogel, MD

    “We live in a world very different from that for which we are genetically adapted. Profound changes in our environment began with the introduction of agriculture and animal husbandry 10,000 years ago, too recent on an evolutionary time scale for the human genome to adjust. As a result of this ever-worsening discordance between our ancient genetically determined biology and the nutritional, cultural, and activity patterns in modern populations, many of the so-called diseases of civilization, including atherosclerosis, have emerged. Evidence from hunter-gatherer populations while they were still following their indigenous lifestyles showed no evidence for atherosclerosis, even in individuals living into the seventh and eighth decades of life (15- 16). These populations had total cholesterol levels of 100 to 150 mg/dl with estimated LDL cholesterol levels of about 50 to 75 mg/dl. The LDL levels of healthy neonates are even today in the 30 to 70 mg/dl range. Healthy, wild, adult primates show LDL levels of approximately 40 to 80 mg/dl (17). In fact, modern humans are the only adult mammals, excluding some domesticated animals, with a mean LDL level over 80 mg/dl and a total cholesterol over 160 mg/dl (15- 16) (Figure 1). Thus, although an LDL level of 50 to 70 mg/dl seems excessively low by modern American standards, it is precisely the normal range for individuals living the lifestyle and eating the diet for which we are genetically adapted.”

    Comment on this

    • http://diagnosisdiet.com/ Dr. Ede

      Hi Charles

      The LDL topic is an enormously complicated giant bag o’ worms that I will not even pretend to understand well enough to be able to address your comments. If I ever feel as if I have a handle on it, I will write about it. As for atherosclerosis, you may have heard about the new studies that were just publicized about ancient peoples, including hunter-gatherers, having atherosclerosis (not to be confused with clinical disease).

      Even if healthy, natural levels of LDL in free-living, ideally-fed humans and related animals are supposed to be very low, my current level of understanding, such as it is, suggest to me that the most important questions to be asked are:

      Does LDL even matter? As far as I can tell, LDL is the weakest link in the lipid profile – heart disease connection. Some with very low LDL’s may have heart attacks and some with very high LDL’s may not.

      Which kind of LDL are we talking about?

      Has exposure to the Western diet somehow permanently damaged not only our carbohydrate metabolism (which used to allow all of us to safely eat a high carbohydrate diet–i.e. Kitavans) but also our lipid metabolism, so that we can no longer properly process fat and cholesterol? That is to say, even IF low LDL is our physiological ideal, perhaps we can’t reach it easily once our metabolism is “broken.”

      Just some musings here, no answers…

  • A Pelinor

    Dr. Ede,

    Have you come across Owsley Stanley, I posted a comment

    Have you heard about Owsley Stanley ( The Grateful Dead ) , I came across
    him in the obits, “Stanley believed that the natural human diet is a totally
    carnivorous one, thus making it a no-carbohydrate diet, and that all vegetables
    are toxic”. He came to that decision after reading many books in 1959, I wonder
    what the books where? He died in 2011 as a result of car accident.

    I had a reply from
    Ash Simmonds:-

    I LOVE Owsley Stanley and have read
    and re-read everything he wrote, such a great character. On the odd occasion he
    was a little off base, but for the most part some of his insights were amazing.

    It’s not technically public yet as
    I’m still compiling and organising it, but you can find some of his stuff here:
    http://highsteaks.com/?s=carnivore

    His first awakening to the
    possibility that we can not only thrive on a carnivorous diet, but perhaps are
    meant to, was from the same source as mine – Vilhalmur Stefansson.

    http://highsteaks.com/carnivores-creed/owsley-the-bear-stanley/

    http://highsteaks.com/carnivores-creed/owsley-the-bear-stanley/bears-words-of-wisdom/

    Kind Regards,

    Paul Winter

    • http://diagnosisdiet.com/ Dr. Ede

      Dear Paul
      Fascinating–wow–no I had not come across Owsley Stanley’s philosophy or writings before–I have started reading them just now through your links. Thank you very much for pointing me towards them!

    • RoseNunezSmith

      Paul, it was Owsley Stanley’s epic thread at ALC forum that got me trying zero-carb in the first place, out of desperation after seemingly endless tweaks of VLC failed again and again. Nice that you’re compiling his writings (and I love the name of your site! :D )

      Here’s that ALC thread — over 4,000 posts, and I couldn’t stop until I’d read every one of them, lol: http://forum.lowcarber.org/showthread.php?t=287013

  • http://www.caloriesproper.com/ William Lagakos

    Hi Georgia,

    Great post, thanks. While I don’t personally discount the value of colorful berries & green veggies, they certainly aren’t necessarily for good health. I tend to think the intervention study on Stefansson & Andersen, regardless of what other articles on Stefansson have suggested, is particularly strong evidence (eg, http://caloriesproper.com/?p=2030). Scurvy can be experimentally induced in a matter of months – those two ate animal-based diets for a full year and showed absolutely no symptoms. That’s saying something, right? (ie, I’m referring to the intervention study that happened after Stefansson’s ‘Life with the Eskimos.’)

    all best,
    Bill

    • http://diagnosisdiet.com/ Dr. Ede

      Hi Bill

      YES! I love that study and it’s one of the pieces of information that convinced me several years ago that my crazy diet was safe:) I thought of including it in the post but then decided to limit the focus to heart disease.

  • MikeS

    Breaking new about meat and CVD from the NY Times. A must read:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/08/health/study-points-to-new-culprit-in-heart-disease.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

    Cleveland Clinic research suggest that the demon may not be fat, but a chemical formed in the gut upon eating meat. This (unamed) is coverveted by the liver in TMA0, which may be the culprit, they say.

    the timing of your topic couldn’t have been better.

    Mike

    • http://diagnosisdiet.com/ Dr. Ede

      Hi Mike

      Thanks for pointing out this article–I only wish it allowed for reader comments…

      I can see the abstract by clicking on the NYTimes link but I can’t locate the article on PubMed (?too new to be indexed yet?)

      • http://www.caloriesproper.com/ William Lagakos

        It’s published in Nature Medicine: Intestinal microbiota metabolism ofL-carnitine, a nutrient in red meat, promotes atherosclerosis
        http://www.nature.com/nm/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nm.3145.html

        • http://diagnosisdiet.com/ Dr. Ede

          Hi Bill
          Yes, thank you–that link brings me to the abstract, but without a subscription I can’t access the full article. I have a Harvard account that gives me access to most journal articles through PubMed, but the article is not yet posted on PubMed, so I’m hoping it will show up on PubMed soon…

  • Mostly Fat, Some Protein

    Without seeing the full study on effects of TMAO…what do you see as an MD as the biggest potential holes as this article is getting a lot of attention.

    • http://diagnosisdiet.com/ Dr. Ede

      Hi MFSP (great handle)

      I would need to research TMAO itself–about which I currently know absolutely nothing–I would want to know how the experiment was conducted, what the theory is behind the experiment, what the vegan subjects in the study were (and especially were not) eating, etc…I have a hunch that the TMAO theory may be based on epidemiological associations as opposed to clinical studies in humans (I know they’ve done mouse studies). So many questions…once the study becomes available I’ll read all about it. There has to be something wrong with the theory, because we know that peoples who ate lots of meat had extremely low rates of cancer. Cancer has skyrocketed in the past century despite the fact that we are not eating any more meat than we used to.

  • Mostly Fat, Some Protein

    Thank you, Dr. Ede.

    I am so grateful for your work and reporting on an area of nutrition where much is needed. It has helped me look at my health more closely. I was a vegan/vegetarian for 5 years and instead of getting healthier, I got worse. After going ZC, I have had no sinus problems after decades of suffering and my prior sports injuries no longer bother me…wasn’t expecting that. Best of all, I haven’t been sick once since ZC where I would have been on antibiotics at least two times by now. Had someone told me that any of this was possible a year ago, I would have thought them out of their mind ;-) Keep up the great work!

    • http://diagnosisdiet.com/ Dr. Ede

      Hi MFSP
      What a fascinating story–no sinus problems, disappearance of musculoskeletal issues, overall improved resistance to infection–hard to argue with those results! Sounds like you figured this out long before I came along:) Congratulations!

  • MikeS

    Dr. Ede: I was happy to point this story out shortly after I saw it at the NYT site yesterday. I am Embarrassed by my poor typing skills (note to self: proofread). More relevantly, among the slew of stuff on the Web, this site…

    http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/349480/description/Molecule_in_meat_may_increase_heart_disease_risk_

    …has an excellent piece and a couple of links that are on PubMed. Most interesting was an earlier paper by R Koeth et al, including Hazen, speculating that metabolism of phosphatidylcholine promotes CVD:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21475195

    Is this the analog of the H pylori story? This is an Incredibly suggestive story, and there are lots of things to be answered.

    One interesting aspect is what role that fat might play in atherosclerosis? Gina Kolata, fat-phobic like all NYT reporters, led her story that TMOA amplifies the effects of fat. At a minimum that seems to be an overstatement. At worst, it may be wrong. I haven’t seen many other stories pitched that way.

    Maybe it’s possible that Campbell’s China study was on the mark. Maybe our intestinal biota (or those of animals we eat) has been changed by at least some of the industrialized processed foods we eat.

    At this point, it’s all speculation.

    Thanks again for an incredibly thoughful and informative blog You and your “contantes” (you know who I mean), have made Boston the medical/health blog capital of the U. S.

  • http://diagnosisdiet.com/ Dr. Ede

    Hi SS
    A brand new study was just published that found atherosclerosis in a variety of ancient peoples, from hunter-gatherers to Egyptians, so some degree of atherosclerosis seems to be normal regardless of diet, including the Eskimo diet (as mentioned above). This is very different from clinical disease, of course.

    • Someone, Somewhere

      Hi Dr. Ede,

      Yes, I saw that study as well. I don’t know that it *completely* invalidates the study I linked to, but it certainly does complicate matters.

      I suppose that someone would have to find a meaningful group of cadavers *without* atherosclerosis—and analyze their diets—in order to start making any firm conclusions.

  • http://www.facebook.com/shaen.cooper Shaen Cooper

    I just read your post on meat eaters. From the information I have read so called meat eaters actually ate more like +80% fat and the remainder in protein and some seasonal vegetable material, if any. It would be best to reverse the “standard” order and put fat before protein, otherwise modern people tend to overeat protein.

    • http://www.caloriesproper.com/ William Lagakos

      To the best of my knowledge, that’s true – when only lean meats were available, many became sick; they called it “rabbit starvation” and treated it by eating a lot of animal fat (pemmican?).

      • http://diagnosisdiet.com/ Dr. Ede

        Hi William
        Yes, that’s right! Some people misinterpret this to mean that eating too much protein can make you sick, when the problem is eating protein in the absence of fat.

    • http://diagnosisdiet.com/ Dr. Ede

      Hi Shaen–yes, I agree–we modern folk do tend to overeat protein–and just about everything else; ironically fat is the thing most of us eat the least of because we are taught to fear it.

  • Gregg Sheehan

    “so persuasive in arguments against nudism.” LOL!

  • dangrbitch

    I only eat meat, eggs, cheese, and sour cream. Occasionally I’ll have some chocolate and binge on donuts. I’ve never purchased a fruit or vegetable. I’m in perfect health, never run out of energy and have maintained pretty much world class athleticism at the age of 48. I look 30. I’ve studied this for many years and am convinced that while humans CAN eat a variety of diets. The optimum diet for humans is high fat, very low carb. Mostly fatty meats. That’s the best. You won’t ever get diabetes, coronary artery disease, cancer, all the major afflictions that are persistent today. Even in the u.s. Pathologists hardly ever used to see heart disease in the 19th century like they do now. It seems that ppls health was far better before we had all these experts and government agencies telling us what to eat.

    • http://diagnosisdiet.com/ Dr. Ede

      Thank you for telling your story here! I agree with you that a diet composed primarily of fatty meats is probably the healthiest diet in the world:)

  • Sarah

    I lived for many years in Kotzebue Alaska which is above the arctic circle on the coast of Alaska, not so far from Point Hope, actually. Most Eskimos I saw were not fat. You do need to take into account that the traditional Eskimo diet is not just about lots of meat and more fat and little carbohydrates. Actually, Eskimos do traditionally eat a lot of blueberries, cranberries, salmonberries, and some other berries. Eskimos do eat pretty much the whole animal and they eat a large variety of fish and animals. They eat meat frozen or dried or fermented. So, there is a lot more to their diet than macronutrients. I don’t have the link at the moment, but there is a site that details the Eskimo diet from around the area I used to live that shows all this.

    • http://diagnosisdiet.com/ Dr. Ede

      Hi Sarah
      Thank you for the first-hand information!

  • Debby

    Just wondering if you ever looked at the existence of high rates of osteoporosis among the Innuit of North America as compared to that of the average North American? I’ve read that that’s an issue for the northern peoples and at alarming rates.

  • Max Kors

    I’ve been eating solely meat and fatty foods and eggs for 14 years. I’ve never purchased a vile vegetable or fruit. No grains. I’m in perfect health. lipids, sugars, blood pressure. All excellent. I never feel bad either.

  • whatever

    This is bullshit diet and nonsense