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Good morning from beautiful La Grande, Oregon. My name is Justin Montgomery and I’m the CEO and founder of Gamin Lifestyles. It’s a gorgeous summer morning here in god’s country. A breeze is blowing up from the east and clouds are scudding across the sky. The mountains are green and somebody’s cow is lowing up the hill. My dog Bailey is at my feet chewing on her bone. Every now and then a squirrel barks and she jumps up to see if she can chase it. Life is pretty great!
This is the introductory episode of Karnivore Kings, a channel dedicated to all things carnivore. I’ve been eating carnivore since January 1, 2023, so five months as of today. Prior to that I was eating a keto diet, i.e. vegetables and proteins, which I started in October of 2022. Before THAT, I was 320lbs and miserable. I drank too much, ate whatever I wanted, and lived a sedentary lifestyle. When I say I was miserable, I mean that. Physically I had high blood pressure, asthma, sleep apnea, acid reflux and I was well on my way to diabetes. My cardiologist had me on diltiazem, losartin, and atorvastatin because my blood pressure averaged 160/90. I couldn’t walk up the stairs without losing my breath and my mental health was atrocious. I was depressed and suffered from regular anxiety attacks. To cope, I was finishing a fifth of whiskey every other day and chasing it with tequila. I wasn’t slowly deleting myself – I was actively doing it everyday.
Today, eight months later, I weigh in at 234 lbs, down 86! I’m off all medications. My blood pressure averages 117/70. My bloodwork is stellar – no sign of diabetes. Heck, even my testosterone levels are that of a 17-year old. I can sprint up and down stairs, walk across town and back, lift weights, and do pullups and pushups again. Sometimes I even out-exercise Bailey and she is a pit-bull/lab mix with a high motor. My mental health has gotten so much better. I haven’t had an anxiety attack in four months, and I actually look forward to getting out of bed each day.
I feel great! Yet, weight-loss, physical fitness, mental-fitness, all of those things are markers of health, they shouldn’t be the point, the point should be to feel good. The pursuit of pleasure that comes from physical health has been undermined in our modern society. From Sidgwick to Niechtze the paradox of hedonism has infected our pursuit of feeling good during and through exercise and eating optimally for our health goals. There is a previling myth that we have to suffer the pain of calorie deficits, the dissatisfaction from eating fruits or vegetables, and the torture of repetitive and excessive exercise to get “healthy.”
NONE OF THAT CONSTITUTES HEALTH!
In fact, all of those practices aren’t just unhealthy, they are anti-healthy!
But I am going off on a tangent. That is my problem, all of these things tie together and I want to write about all the things. But, this essay is titled “Unlocking the Carnivore Diet: Carbs vs. Ketones” and so I should get to the point. I credit a large part of the rapid changes on my health journey to eating for ketosis. I want to talk about this tool that I used to change my life, and why it works. There is a lot of misleading and inaccurate information out in the world about eating strictly animal protein, low to no carbohydrates, and saturated animal fats. The fundamental truth – and I do not use this phrase lightly – is that most human bodies are designed to eat animal proteins and saturated fats. We can argue intelligent vs evolutionary design until we are blue in the face. Whether humans came from god, aliens or random chance is not the point of this essay. The point of this essay is to describe, at a high-level, how the human body uses carbohydrates or ketones for energy, and why you can thrive eating only meat.
The idea for this video came from a conversation I had with a friend of mine. He is in phenomenal shape and is a high-level athlete, but readily admitted to not knowing a lot about the nutrition aspect of health. He was super interested in carbs vs ketones and so am I, which is why I want to cover the subject. I also want to stress that I am not a doctor, medical or otherwise. My undergraduate is in English with a writing minor. I have an MBA that was heavily focused on finance, and I hold a certification in digital marketing analytics from MIT’s Sloan School of Management. Currently, I oversee the marketing, communications and public relations for a university. I am not giving medical advice, but I can help you on your carnivore journey because I’ve been down the same path. Don’t take everything I say as the gospel truth, every body is different.
So let’s get to the point.
My interest in the ways human bodies process glucose or fat into energy came after watching “Insulin vs. Ketones – The Battle for Brown Fat,” by Benjamin Bikman Ph.D. It is a recording of his presentation at Low Carb Down Under. Bikman is an associate professor at Brigham Young University, and his research focus is to elucidate the molecular mechanisms that mediate the disruption that causes and accompanies metabolic disorders, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and dementia.
When it comes to how the body metabolizes food, he knows what he is talking about.
In his presentation Bikman describes the two processes human bodies use for energy. While these processes provide energy to a body, they are antagonistic. What this means is that when your body recruits insulin to regulate carbohydrate consumption, ketone production from fat is reduced and vice versa. Now that isn’t to say that this is an either/or situation. The human body doesn’t usually work along binary lines. Your body will produce ketones from fat, even when you consume a carbohydrate rich diet, but that diet will severely restrict ketosis.
Alright, so let’s talk about what happens when you eat a carb-first diet vs a saturated fat-first diet.
Well, a lot of things happen. Our bodies are a combination of complex biochemical reactions that interact with each other, which in turn allows us to experience, ponder and interact with reality. They really are a miracle if you think about it.
The name carbohydrate comes from the fact that they are molecules made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. They can be classified into two categories, simple and complex.
Simple carbohydrates have one or two sugar molecules. These carbohydrates are easy for most us to convert into glucose, fructose and galactose which our bodies use for energy. Examples of foods that contain simple carbohydrates are milk products, fruit, table sugar, candies, etc.
Complex carbohydrates have two or more sugar molecules. These carbohydrates are not as easy for our bodies to convert into glucose, and so they take longer to break down. Fiber, starches and glycogen make up this category. Examples of foods that contain fiber, starches and some glycogen are beans, potatoes, cereal. All animal products contain glycogen because animals store glucose as glycogen in their tissues to use for energy.
Most people’s bodies will convert consumed carbohydrates into glucose, that is then broken down in a series of biochemical reactions that release energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Glucose is actually harmful to the body. Dr. Robert Cywes, an MD, PHD and assistant professor of pediatric and fetal surgery at Vanderbilt University speaks about how glucose damages the body in his video “How Sugar Kills You – Vascular Inflammation” Glucose in your bloodstream can damage the vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to your organs. High blood sugar can increase your risk for heart disease, heart attack, stroke and kidney disease. Carbohydrate consumption can also lead to insulin resistance and diabetes. Your body uses insulin to pull excess glucose from your blood and store it in your liver, muscles and fat cells. Your body needs to do this quickly, because again, glucose in the blood is dangerous. Anyone who has eaten a sugary snack has experienced this. You feel a sugar rush, followed by a crash, followed by a craving for sugar again. This is all caused by your body’s reaction to glucose levels in your blood. You are experiencing an energy spike as glucose floods your cells, followed by a crash as that glucose is either used or sequestered in muscles, liver or fat cells. The craving afterward is your body’s way of re-regulating your blood glucose level, because glucose is essential for certain functions in your body. It is so essential that your liver actually converts amino acids into glucose when carbohydrates levels are low. This process is called gluconeogenesis, and is the basis for the saying “there are no essential carbohydrates.” This statement is prevalent in the carnivore community, unfortunately it isn’t accurate. Dr. Cywes points this out repeatedly in several of his videos. Glucose is essential for blood cells, which don’t have a nucleus or mitochondria to process energy. Like Dr. Cywes points out, the statement should read “there are no essential consumed carbohydrates,” because your body will produce all the carbohydrates it needs from amino acids.
Learn more about carbohydrates in Dr. Cywes’ video “Facts About Carbohydrates: Insulin Supression.”
So if carbohydrates are processed into glucose, and glucose is harmful to the body, why can the human body use carbohydrates? That is a great question. It comes down to cost/benefit for the body. If you subscribe to the theory of evolution by natural selection, then the benefits gained by eating carbohydrates outweighed the cost associated with consuming them. We see this today in modern medicine. The benefits of antibiotics usually outweighs their side effects. If you are a creationist, then we were made this way, especially if you subscribe to the Judeo-Christian version of creation, god gave humans plants to eat in Genesis 1:29. It would be pretty messed up if we didn’t have the biologic mechanisms to process them.
Carbohydrates are tools the body uses to accomplish things. If we apply the evolutionary model and assume humans were hunter-gathers for much of our early existence, then carbs were only seasonally available, usually in the late summer or early fall in much of the world. Humans would have be incentivized to consume as many carbs as possible when they were available in order to stock up our fat reserves for a long winter. Humans also could have been incentivized to consume carbs as a way of increasing our ability to do work that required high energy expenditure over short periods like hunting or fighting. The biology maps well to these assumptions. Consuming carbs gives you a burst of energy allowing you to do more physical activity. It also forces your body to sequester glucose from your blood as fat, which it can then use at a future time when food is scarce. More so, there is no upper limit to the amount of carbs you can consume. I mean, most everyone has experienced the almost magical hunger that comes about ten minutes after eating a lot of rice. This maps, if human survival depended on the seasonal availability of carbohydrates. It would be in the best interest of our ancestors to eat as much available food as possible, the volume of our stomachs be damned.
But, this doesn’t mean we have to consume carbohydrates.
If our bodies are nothing else, they are survivalists. Humans can survive on only meat and animal fat. In fact, humans can thrive eating this way.
I’m not going to make the statement that humans are obligate carnivores. On it’s face, this statement is false. The definition of obligate being used is “restricted to a particular function or mode of life.” If humans were obligate carnivores, we would be restricted to eating meat, and this is observationally untrue. I mean, the nearly 8 billion people on the planet, most of whom consume carbohydrates daily, is great evidence that we aren’t restricted to eating meat. Oh, and then there is the biochemistry that allows us to survive on carbs. I would also argue against the statement, that eating carnivore is the “optimal human diet.” Optimal means “best or most favorable” which is subjective and usually situational. It is also a definitive statement, which is refuted by an example to the contrary. The optimal diet for a starving human is whatever food is available. A better way to say this is that eating only fatty meat can be the optimal way for people to achieve their health goals.
Words matter everybody.
But again, I digress. The biochemistry is irrefutable. It is a fundamental truth that humans can and do survive only on fatty meats. We do this through ketosis.
So what is ketosis?
Simply put, ketosis is a metabolic state that occurs when your body metabolizes fat for energy instead of glucose. Dr. Bikman explains this process in his video “What is Ketosis?” When insulin levels are low for a prolonged period of time, this signals our livers to start processing fat into ketones to use for energy. Remember when I said that this process is antagonistic? Insulin is an anabolic hormone, which means it builds things in your body, like fat. Ketosis is a catabolic process, which means it breaks things down in your body, namely fat. Remember that insulin regulates blood sugar, and blood sugar is primarily affected by carbohydrate consumption? Right, ketosis occurs when we limit or stop consuming carbohydrates. Eating only fatty meat is the ultimate ketosis inducing diet.
Not so simply put, the body produces acetone, acetoacetate, and beta-hydroxybutyrate molecules by breaking down fatty acids. Ketones then make 22 adenosine triphosphate, our body’s energy molecule.
Are ketones dangerous like glucose? At high levels, yes, ketones are dangerous. Ketoacidosis occurs when the body can’t regulate ketone production, or excrete them through the breath or urine. Diabetics are susceptible to this disorder.
So why ketosis?
Well, if we map the biology to the theory of evolution by natural selection like we did with carbs, it aligns with the assumed cost/benefit needs of hunter-gathers. Fatty meat is a nutritionally dense food. Fat especially packs a lot of energy into a small package. Human biology has adapted several physical tools to incentivize fatty meat consumption. Our brains know the smell of cooked meat means food. Cooked meat tastes good to most people. Our stomachs are extremely acidic to destroy parasites and bacteria prevalent in meat. Our livers make bile to breakdown fatty acids. Our gall bladders store that bile and are triggered to release it in the presence of fat in our digestive systems. Our pancreas produces enzymes to breakdown animal protein and fat. Finally, amino acids and fat are absorbed in the small intestine. Our bodies have devoted a lot of resources to digesting fatty meat because we get a lot out of meat. On top of protein and energy dense saturated fat, meat is an excellent source of various vitamins and minerals. These include vitamin B12, zinc, selenium, iron, niacin, and vitamin B6. There is evidence that early hunter-gatherers expended a lot of resources to hunting animals, so much so that it is theorized that they wiped out whole species.
So what does all this mean for you and your health journey?
It means you have the flexibility to eat different foods to achieve your health goals. I can’t stress this enough – every body is different. Your goals are unique to you. Personally, I have eaten strictly no carb/high fat for five months to see how it makes me feel. This comes after eating only meat and vegetables for three months. Prior to that, I was consuming a high-carb diet. For me, I saw the most weight loss in the first three months. But weight loss isn’t my measure for success, it is just a marker. Over the last five months, I’ve gained functional strength, lost visceral fat, lowered my blood pressure and corrected my sleep apnea. But again, those are just markers. Ultimately I feel great. I am doing the things I love again, like painting, writing, fishing, and exercising. That is my goal, to get my life back. Carnivore has helped me do that. And that will be the subject of my next essay and video – how I went about getting my life back.
You got this.