The carnivore diet offer the idea that animal based foods are not bad for us, but are rather the keystone of a healthy diet. Many people have had success optimizing their health by consuming only animal products, but there is still debate within the community about certain foods.
Dairy, for one thing, is an animal product, yet many members of the carnivore diet have to avoid it (myself included.)
For me, dairy of any kind triggers my eczema, not to mention I just don’t feel good. Despite the fact dairy is carnivore, we find that many people just aren’t compatible with it due to autoimmune sensitivities.
Honey has come to occupy a similar space in the carnivore diet, but for the opposite reasons. People avoid dairy because of how they react to it, but it is clearly an animal food. Honey is avoided less as a result of sensitivity and more because of its associations. People conflate honey with processed sugar and consider it an unhealthy carbohydrate source, despite compelling evidence that they do not behave the same way in our biology.
Others condemn honey for being too close to being a plant food. Even though it is produced by bees, they argue that it is too similar to the plant nectar bees make it from. Yet at the same time, nutritional vegans won’t eat honey because to them, it’s an animal food. In a rare scenario, animal-only diet ideology and plant-only diet ideology are avoiding the same food. I’m here to say ideology is the problem in both cases.
I think one of the biggest mistakes in nutrition is to have dogmatic views of food. At the end of the day, I set out to find the optimal human diet, not to dogmatically preach the carnivore diet. I do believe that animal foods are the keystone of human nutrition, and should be the center of any healthy diet, but I also believe that carbs can have a beneficial role in human biology and I’ve seen firsthand how hunter gatherers prize certain non-carnivore foods like honey when they are available.
Is Honey Carnivore? I think so. Bees make it and vegans won’t eat it, but that’s not really what’s important. Is it good for humans to eat? For many, I think the answer is yes. When I stayed with the Hadza in Tanzania, one of the last remaining hunter gatherer tribes in the world, I watched them carve into a large beehive and happily lick honey off the knife. As I watched honey ooze out of this tree-based beehive, I couldn’t help but wonder “is it really possible this is bad for humans?”
If we focus too much on questions like “is Honey Carnivore?” We can become dogmatic and miss out on a food that has great utility. We shouldn’t be trying to defend any one dietary ideology. We should be trying to discover the optimal human diet, and my journey to do so has led me to include honey and even some low-toxin plant foods in my day-to-day nutrition.
My Journey to Optimal Human Nutrition (so far…)
Before I get into the weeds about honey and carbs, I want to share my journey with Carnivore. This is just to remind people why so many of us came to animal based nutrition in the first place. Carnivore can offer incredible benefits, but we should always be testing and wondering what is the optimal diet for us.
I’ve had eczema for much of my life, and tried many solutions for it including diet. While working as an intern, I did a raw whole-food vegan diet. Despite the fact I looked like a skeleton, dogma kept me on the diet. I didn’t feel good and my farts were so terrible my coworkers avoided taking the elevator with me (and I don’t blame them!) but I had drank the vegan koolaid and convinced myself I was healthy. After half a year of gnawing uncooked raw sweet potato, my aching joints, and disappearing muscle mass brought me back to meat. I eventually adopted a Paleo diet and felt better, put on some weight and lost the death farts, but I still had eczema.
Some years later, while finishing out medical school, the carnivore diet arrived on the scene. I was skeptical, but then I heard Dr. Jordan Peterson discuss the success of a “steak and water” diet for his and his daughters autoimmune and psychological conditions.
Jordan’s daughter MiKhaila had juvenile rheumatoid arthritis since she was too young to speak, leading to an ankle replacement and a hip replacement by the time she reached her twenties. Mikhaila began experimenting with diet, and by process of elimination ended up on a diet of steak and water. The result? MiKhaila’s arthritis went into complete remission. Jordan was able to stop taking antidepressants for the first time in years when he too adopted this no plant lifestyle.
As a medical student and someone who believes in the link between diet and health, I was intrigued. I began a carnivore diet, and started learning about our anthropology.
Not only did my eczema disappear, but I also learned about humanity’s remarkable connection to animal foods. I read the first hand accounts by explorers like Viljamur Stefansson and Weston A. Price, as they subsisted on animal based diets with the Inuit and other hunter gather tribes, and I found compelling evidence that humans have long consumed as much meat as top apex predators.
Based on anthropologic evidence, current hunter gatherers, accounts of the diets of our ancestors, and the interventional studies available, I helped develop the nose-to-tail carnivore diet. This diet differed from the steak-and-water diet of many carnivores in a few key ways.
For one thing, I saw that the whole animal was prized by our ancestors. Organs were and are considered divine (as described by Weston A. Price, the liver was too holy to be touched by human hands in one tribe.) Fat, sinews, bones and cartilage were all consumed. We evolved eating the whole animal, and when you see the incredible nutrient profiles of organs, fat, and collagenous tissues, we can begin to understand why. I recommend 3oz of fresh organs daily, alongside 1g of protein per your target body weight from red meat, and 1g of animal fat per gram of protein. In my private practice, I’ve directly observed the incredible powers of organs for my clients, alongside lab improvements in blood markers. This is why I created Heart and Soil, to provide carnivores and non carnivores alike with the benefits of organ meats in the form of easy-to-take desiccated organ supplements.
Plant Toxicity Spectrum
The next principle I focused on is that plant foods exist on a toxicity spectrum, and this is why many of them are not necessary for humans to eat. Plants can’t run away from the things that eat them, so to combat being over-eaten by animals, they resort to chemical warfare. Most parts of plants contain known defense chemicals that will even make a cow sick if they over eat the same plant. Seeds and other reproductive components like nuts and legumes tend to contain the most plant toxins (ever wonder why you have to soak, boil, and cook beans for hours to make them edible?) then roots, stems, and leaves contain medium levels, and fruit contains the least toxins.
Herbivorous animals have large digestive systems which are much more alkaline than that of humans. This digestive system allows them to consume large amounts of low nutrient, high toxin plants. Their complex digestive systems filter out the defense chemicals in plants and extract the less bioavailable nutrients. Humans don’t have this ability. Our digestive system is small, much smaller than those of our primate relatives and ancestors. Our digestive tract is also acidic like a carnivores. When it comes to plants, I believe humans are better off avoiding the higher toxin parts and leaving those to the herbivores.
Fruit is an interesting case, because it is the one part of a plant that actually relies on predation. This part of a plant is designed to be eaten so that the creature eating it will transport the plant’s seeds to a new location. In the first edition of my book, The Carnivore Code, I describe a diet that allows for fruit and other low toxin plants as a “Carnivore-ish” diet. I’ve since evolved this diet to what I call Animal Based, which I’ll discuss in more detail later.
Still, the main purpose of low toxin plants in my eyes was for variety and to help someone transition to a “varsity” carnivore diet, where they would eat organs and meat for their protein and nutrients, and would eat animal fat for their caloric needs.
I myself ate this “varsity” carnivore diet for close to 2 years, and had great results for most of that time period. My eczema stayed dormant, I had great mental acuity, and I was very fit. Still, despite upping my salt intake, I began having issues related to electrolyte imbalances. Even in sunny San Diego, I had cold hands and feet. Then I started having heart palpitations. Sometimes they’d get so bad they’d wake me up at night, and I couldn’t help but admit “this is not optimal.”
I decided to reintroduce some carbohydrate to my diet. I tested the lowest toxin carbohydrates like white rice, squash, some sweet fruit, and, you guessed it, honey. Interestingly enough, I was sensitive to some foods that I consider low in plant toxins. Many of my clients and readers do well with squash, but it made my stomach feel strange and my eczema reappeared. It was simple carbs like Honey that I thrived on.
I felt great consuming 100g of honey a day, my cold extremities and palpitations went away, and a continuous blood glucose monitor revealed stable blood sugar all day long. After two years of strict carnivore, I was thriving on some simple carbohydrates, the same types of food demonized by much of the keto and carnivore community alike.
Honey Isn’t The Same As Sugar
One of the great fallacies I see over and over in nutrition is reductionist thinking when it comes to food. I’ve seen members of the keto community conflate real, complex whole foods like honey with processed sugar and coca cola, but studies on artificial foods don’t paint the same picture as whole foods found in nature.
In this clinical trial, natural honey was shown to reduce plasma glucose levels, c-reactive protein, homocysteine, and blood lipids in healthy, diabetic, and hyperlipidemia subjects in direct comparison with dextrose and sucrose. Honey is about 50 percent glucose and 50 percent fructose. Sucrose, like honey, is also made up of fructose and glucose, and the sucrose blend used in this trial was similar to honey in it’s ratios. This sucrose acted as an “artificial” honey for comparison.
In this trial, patients with hyperlipidemia (increased triglycerides,) the natural honey lowered their tryglicerides while the “artificial” honey increased tryglicerides. Natural honey also lowered LDL-C while the artificial honey increased it. In diabetic patients, honey caused a lower rise of plasma glucose than dextrose, which isn’t exactly a one to one comparison as dextrose us a glucose and processed differently by the body than sucrose, but it’s still something of note. Honey also reduced blood lipids, homocysteine and C-reactive proteins in normal and diabetic patients.
In short, honey had positive effects on normal and diabetic patients compared to sugar and fructose, and much milder negative effects in diabetic patients, despite the fact honey is largely made up of fructose and glucose.
This is why I bristle when members of the ketogenic community try to conflate raw organic honey with fructose, sucrose or glucose. I’ve heard direct comparisons between honey and coca cola many times and it’s not the same. Honey is a raw, complex food found in nature and it is not the same as coca cola in either animal models or human models.
Honey is high in nitric oxide metabolites, especially when it is raw and unfiltered. Nitric oxide metabolites deficiency may play a role in histamine responses and allergies, inflammation, and influence metabolic function. Honey’s nitric oxide metabolite content may be one of the reasons it behaves differently than pure sucrose when consumed, but this is overlooked when we assume foods found in nature are the same as eating pure sugar. .
When Are Carbs Beneficial?
I believe carbs have a role in human biology. I felt great on a carnivore diet with zero carbs for nearly 2 years, but I started dealing with major heart palpitations. Despite supplementing with salt, magnesium, and oral potassium, my palpitations got so bad they’d wake me in the middle of the night. As much as I loved the other benefits of strict carnivore, I knew this wasn’t right.
Including honey and low toxin plant carbs has helped me and many of my clients deal with issues like these as well as enjoy other benefits.
A big narrative these days is that carbohydrates are just plain bad, that they cause insulin resistance and cause diabetes, and that the only way to prevent or heal is to cut all carbs forever. I do not believe this is true. For one thing, modern hunter gatherers do not display signs of metabolic dysfunction even when they rely on high amounts of carbohydrate.
As I’ve discussed in my podcast, I believe the consumption of overprocessed foods, especially seed oils, is the primary driver of metabolic dysfunction much more than any whole food. If you are metabolically healthy, I don’t think carbohydrates are going to harm you just for being carbohydrates.
That’s the caveat though.
Because of processed foods, many people are metabolically broken. I don’t think these people are going to tolerate carbs until they fix their metabolic dysfunction, but if you are metabolically healthy, carbs can offer some major benefits to help you thrive.
One of the biggest advantages of carbohydrates is electrolyte management. Without carbs, it can be difficult to dial in your salt intake well enough to stave off electrolyte depletion in the long term. Palpitations like the ones I experienced are something I’ve observed in other keto and carnivore diet adherents who go too long without carbs, and these issues often resolve with the inclusion of honey or low toxin plants like fruit.
Carbohydrates can also help out with athletic performance. Carbs help replenish muscle glycogen, which may be why power athletes find it difficult to train in a state of ketosis. I do think it is perfectly possible to exercise without carbs, and I strength trained and did Jiu Jitsu often while on a no-carb carnivore diet, but I have to admit, I just felt better once I started eating honey.
Carbs can also aid with bulking. While many carnivore adherents do lose fat and have good muscle mass, significantly increasing muscle seems to be very difficult with zero carbs. Including some white rice, honey, or other low toxin carbohydrate sources (like fruit) can go a long way towards adding on muscle. I recommend eating 1 gram of protein from grass-finished ruminant animals per pound of your target body weight, then getting your energy from about 50 percent of your daily calories from grass-finished beef fat like suet or tallow, and the rest from healthy low toxin carbohydrates.
While monitoring my blood sugar with a cgm, I was consuming about 180 to 200 grams of protein in the form of mainly stew beef. Then I ate about 100 grams of beef suet fat and 100 to 200 grams of low toxin carbohydrates (mainly honey,) depending on hunger and activity level. My blood sugar stayed consistent throughout the day despite eating carbohydrates.
Honey is one of the most well tolerated carbohydrate sources I’ve found, and I recommend getting the darkest, local, raw organic honey you can find. Darker honey is higher in nitric oxide metabolites and more resistant to heat degradation. When it comes to other carbohydrates, I suggest sticking to the lowest toxin plant foods. These are going to be fruits (but not their seeds) primarily. Stick with organic to avoid exposure to pesticides and toxins like glyphosate. I’ve been enjoying papaya in Costa Rica and you might experiment with berries or non-sweet fruits like squash. I have also found that white rice works well for some, as can non-nightshade root vegetables like sweet potatoes.
In short, if you are using the carnivore diet to address pre-diabetes or diabetes, or you suspect metabolic dysfunction, then I don’t think you should include carbs in your diet. Focus on removing processed foods and seed oils, eating meat and fat from grass fed, ruminant animals, getting 3 oz of fresh organs a day, and including adequate salt in your diet from quality sources such as Redmond’s salt or maldon sea salt. As your metabolism improves consider introducing low-toxin carbs steadily. Engage in regular exercise, sauna, and cold exposure to benefit your metabolism alongside these rules.
If, however, you have good metabolic function, meaning you are not diabetic or prediabetic and don’t display significant body fat issues, low toxin carbs may help you thrive.
Animal Based Nutrition
As you can see, nutrition is more complex than a set of dogmatic rules. “Thou shalt eat only meat” and other restrictive idioms will always fall short of the complex truth that is being human. We can’t get caught up in questions like “is Honey Carnivore?” when we’re really trying to ask “is honey healthy for me?” The carnivore diet is a huge step in the right direction in my opinion, but even for those like myself who have benefited greatly, I do not think strict carnivore is the truest rendition of the optimal human diet.
With that said, I do think animal foods, consumed nose to tail to include organs fat and collagen, should be the centerpiece of any healthy diet.
Removing all carbohydrates can help miraculously for addressing metabolic dysfunction like diabetes and prediabetes, and cutting plant toxins has helped many including myself to address complex autoimmune reactions to food. With that said, I don’t think it is optimal for most humans to be zero carb all the time.
If you don’t have pre-existing metabolic dysfunction and you don’t feel like you’re thriving on carnivore, I do suggest trying honey and maybe some fruit or low toxin plants like sweet potato or white rice. I’ve seen many clients who were doing well on carnivore, but simply feel better with some carbohydrate. I also believe this is more accurate of what our ancestors would have eaten, as evidenced by modern hunter gatherers like the Hadza.
I highly recommend testing your diet with a continuous glucose monitor. This is a clear way to see how food is affecting your blood sugar from moment to moment.
With honey, go for raw, local, organic honey that is as dark as you can find it.
As a final note, while carbs may help many thrive on a carnivore diet, I think Organ meats will help everyone thrive. These foods were prized by our ancestors and contain powerful nutrients profiles and incredible peptides that can massively improve our health. For many, fresh, regeneratively raised organ meats are hard to find or unpalatable, and this is why I created Heart & Soil. Desiccated organs let you access hard to find organ meats as a supplement. I suggest starting with 1 to 2 capsules of our beef organs blend and then slowly working up to 6 capsules a day. Then add in other products like gut and digestion, skin hair and nails, or firestarter based on your goals and needs.
If you have questions about animal based diets, reach out to us at Heart and Soil or check out our resources.
Subscribe to future articles like this:
Thanks for subscribing. Please check your inbox to confirm.