A 21st Century Stone Age Diet
In November 2019, I began a nutritional experiment to address lingering IBS and SIBO symptomology: a Paleolithic ketogenic diet (commonly known as The Carnivore Diet) which offers a new take on evolution-based eating. To become carnivore, I eliminated vegetables, nuts, coconut oil and almost all other plant source foods from my diet, and began eating animal foods almost exclusively.
The theory driving this experiment was based on the fact that plant foods contain fiber, starch and sugar, the three classes of nutrients which feed gut bacteria, drive microbial fermentation and produce intestinal gas. My hypothesis was that eliminating plants would eliminate the gas. At two months in, the results are impressive: less bloating and IBS distress than I've experienced in, roughly, the past decade at least! (Amazing, right?)
My first 30 days were strict: meat, fish and eggs, a little dairy (butter, heavy cream, raw sheep cheese), water, coffee and unsweetened tea. During month two, I added in a bit of plant matter once or twice a week—green beans, spinach, a few berries. Currently, I find myself in a natural transition from “full” to “high” carnivore—or, as I like to call it, a High Carnivore ‘Stone Age’ Diet. This is where I am leaning, both as an IBS sufferer and as a holistic clinical nutritionist. The approach seems to work, and I'm starting to suggest it to clients dealing with chronic IBS and SIBO who feel inclined to give carnivore a try.
As many readers here know, my lifelong obsession with evolution-based nutrition is what got me into natural foods in the first place, way back in my teens, drawing me to adopt vegetarian and raw food diets, but I see the whole "raw vegan" thing quite differently now. True, our species did originally evolve from frugivorous apes and plant-eating hominids. But we became human on a meat-based diet. This process is explained beautifully in Walter L. Voegtlin’s 1975 classic The Stone Age Diet, and I can’t help but wonder how my own diet would have evolved if it were that book which turned me on to eating natural foods, rather than the writings of Viktoras Kulvinskas and Arnold Ehret!
At any rate, my Stone Age version of High Carnivore incorporates foods from not one, but two Stone Ages. It also allows room for such modern wonders as coffee or the occasional dark chocolate indulgence—because here we are in 2020, and these things exist to be enjoyed. They can give us pleasure when the body is in a robust state. But if the body becomes swollen and inflamed, we are wise to eliminate them and drop back to baseline: fatty meat only.
Wait a minute, let’s back up here—“TWO Stone Ages,” you ask? Yes, indeed! You might not hear about it often, but Paleo isn’t the only Stone Age in town. It’s just the oldest.
Our understanding of the nutritional habits of humans living in the Old Stone Age (or Paleolithic era) is behind the popular ‘Paleo Diet’. But there is a newer stone age—the Neolithic—also of meaningful nutritional significance.
The New Stone Age (or Neolithic era) began when our prehistoric, anatomically modern human ancestors began domesticating food animals. People became herders—initially of sheep and goats—sometime around 10,000 BC. This brilliant innovation provided a steady supply of meat, reducing our reliance on the vagaries of hunting.
With animal husbandry came breeding, an abundance of milk, and the incorporation of Neolithic dairy into the diet. Later, as soil-based agriculture developed, cereal grains were increasingly introduced—eventually displacing the animal foods to which we are metabolically suited, and changing the course of history. Overuse of grains, especially refined flours and highly processed grain products, has become a big problem (see the diabetes epidemic, for starters) but dairy—the right kind of dairy—is another story.
As noted above, the earliest domesticated food animals were goats and sheep. Our first dairy foods were, therefore, fresh raw milk and cultured raw milk products (sour cream, butter and cheese) from goats and sheep. (It’s easy to imagine how sour cream was invented, right? Leave your raw goat milk out for a day or two, and voila!)
Cultured milk products are not only more stable and portable than raw milk, they are absent the lactose or “milk sugar” associated with digestive distress. Naturally lactose-free, fermented dairy is low in FODMAPS (fermentable carbohydrates) and well tolerated by many people with IBS and SIBO. Goat and sheep milk is preferred because it forms a smaller, more digestible curd than cow milk and contains the A2 type beta-casein protein, associated with enhanced digestibility and decreased inflammation. (Human breast milk and buffalo milk also contains A2, while most cow milk has A1.) With the exception of individuals who must avoid all milk products due to allergy or intolerance, full fat Neolithic-type dairy—ideally of goat or sheep origin—may be liberally enjoyed on the High Carnivore Stone Age Diet.
Most vegetables may be included, too, but in FAR smaller proportion than animal meat and fat—no more than 10% by volume, as we can imagine Stone Age/Ice Age availability might dictate. Similarly, a small amount of fruit (choose low-FODMAP varieties for IBS) may be enjoyed, along with a drizzle of honey here and there.
However, on a High Carnivore Stone Age Diet animal food is the primary food—and in all likelihood, should be the sole food when symptoms such as bloating, irregularity or skin rashes develop, to say nothing of more serious conditions. An exclusive meat and fat diet is the perfect fuel for healing. Increasingly, we have the research to support this claim (see www.paleomedicina.com for studies) but you won't see it reported in the mainstream. At least not yet.
Recognizing the healing power of a high carnivore ketogenic diet calls for a paradigm shift of the greatest magnitude. We live in a cultural environment where the “healthy diet” narrative is controlled by the media, and as such, is being steadily veganized. Not to criticize the vegan option, which holds tremendous emotional appeal and is non-negotiable for many people. Having been vegan myself, I fully understand, respect, and support my vegan clients, friends and family with their choice. However, it may not be the best choice for many people, notably those suffering from blood sugar dysregulation, intractable digestive complaints, chronic inflammation and other health problems.
When we approach the topic logically and scientifically, it becomes quite clear that from an evolutionary perspective, relying on meat and fat for human health (with critical caveats, such as the need for land and seafood animals to be raised in their own natural environments, consuming their own ancestral diets, and with a carbon-negative footprint—as in pastured beef, for instance) makes tremendous biological and metabolic sense. Hence the return of the Stone Age Diet, a high carnivore approach to thriving in the 21st century.