Are human beings carnivores? It's a debate that's been going on for decades. Some argue that we're anatomically herbivores because of our herbivore ancestors, while others suggest we are natural carnivores because of our modern anatomy. Unfortunately, the reality is somewhat of a grey area..
Humans Are Opportunivores
What makes humans special is that they aren't carnivores, herbivores or omnivores. They're opportunivores?
If you think that sounds made up, that's because it is. I made it up just now because I think it's the best way to describe what humans evolved to eat. Of course we can eat plants, it's obvious we should be eating meat too. But it isn't what we should eat that's defined us and made us so successful. It's what we can eat.
Unlike most other animals, humans can not only survive at either end of the spectrum, we can actually function pretty well!
Makes sense when you think about it. Our ancestors didn't have grocery stores or restaurants selling every food under the sun. Instead, hunter-gatherers had to search for the best source of nutrients. At first, this was clearly plants. We evolved from herbivores. That's why we have herbivore features.
But something changed and we switched to meat. Our brains got real hungry, which caused our guts to shrink (see expensive tissue hypotheses) and we spent a huge portion of our most recent evolution as animal based and maybe even hyper carnivore.
This is why the carnivore diet is highly effective and popular. Today, we'll talk more about the idea of humans as carnivores and why a carnivore diet could be the ideal elimination diet for anyone looking to fix health issues, lose weight, and feel better about themselves.
What Is A Carnivore?
On a fundamental level, we know that carnivores are animals that eat other animals. They live on an animal-based diet, which goes against everything vegans stand for. If you look around, you'll find numerous animals in nature following this diet.
What most people don't know is that there are three classifications of carnivores:
But What About Gorillas? They're so strong!
This is probably the most common argument against an animal based diet. Gorillas are huge, they're strong, muscular and they're on a plant based diet!
But are they?!
While gorillas do eat plants almost exclusively, they actually turn three quarters of that plant matter into fat.
You see, that huge stomach you see on a gorilla is not fat. Their stomach is filled with the tools the gorilla needs to extract nutrients from plants. Specifically, the cecum, where they turn fiber into fat and protein!
Gorillas are on a high fat, high protein diet!
Why Humans Need Animal Foods
Essential nutrients are exciting things to discuss. When we talk about essential nutrients, many assume we're discussing nutrients that are generally important to our diets. This is partially true, but an essential nutrient has a precise classification.
Fundamentally, these nutrients cannot be produced by our bodies. We can create different nutrients - like various vitamins - through the human body's natural internal processes. Then, you have some nutrients that we simply cannot make. We must get them from outside sources - like the foods we ingest.
Things get interesting when you look at the sources of our essential nutrients. All of them can be found in animal-based food sources.
We rely on our brains to survive and live healthy lives. One of the reasons humans are the most evolved species is because of our brains. We can think and do things that no other animal can do.
Consequently, we need a diet that focuses on "brain food". An essential nutrient required to help the brain function is DHA. It is one of the primary omega-3 fatty acids and is only found in animal-based food sources - such as tuna, salmon, and other types of fish.
DHA helps the frontal cortex function and provides us with our intelligence. It also aids with the following:
66% of our brain is made up of fat, which is why it relies on fatty acids so much. 20% of that fat content is DHA! If you don't eat a range of animal products, you won't receive this essential nutrient unless you start taking supplements. Our ancestors weren't popping pills or taking gross omega-3 oils centuries ago.
2. Vitamin A
Vitamin A is one of the essential vitamins in the human body. Vitamin A regulates hundreds of genes and stem cell differentiation. It boosts the immune system and keeps your tissues healthy.
You can technically get vitamin A in plant-based diets. However, it is only available in its provitamin A carotenoid form. This is 21x less bioavailable than its other form, retinol. In essence, that means your body consumes 21x less vitamin A when you get it from plant-based sources.
Instead, you can get retinol from beef liver and eggs, making it easier for your body to absorb and use.
3. B Vitamins
Our bodies need a long list of B vitamins to convert fuel to energy and create red blood cells. Why is this important? Because it carries oxygen to our brain and aids in overall brain health.
There are many other uses for these vitamins in the body; the best way to get them is through animal products. In fact, estimates suggest that vegans are more likely to suffer from B-vitamin deficiency - particularly B12. Studies show deficiency rates as high as 62% among some vegan groups.
Again, beef liver is a fantastic source of this nutrient, but it can be found in many other red meats.
4. Vitamin K2
Vitamin K2 is critical as it regulates calcium in the bone and brain. If you're deficient in this vitamin, your bones struggle to grow strong and healthy.
Some studies have also linked a vitamin K2 deficiency to an increased risk of Alzheimer's. The primary sources of this vitamin include chicken, eggs, beef liver, and eels.
Choline plays a vital role in maintaining focus and our ability to learn. It keeps cell membranes strong, and many people with a deficiency of this nutrient struggle to concentrate and see a cognitive decline.
We can produce minute amounts of choline, but not enough to sustain optimal brain health. Again, our old friends, beef liver and egg yolk, are the best source of this particular nutrient.
Your body needs a long line of minerals to keep it healthy. Three essential ones that we can't produce are:
All three of these minerals play critical roles in the body. Unless you're taking supplements, eating animal-based products is the primary way to get these minerals. Red meat tends to be the best comprehensive source.
Why The Carnivore Diet Makes Sense For Humans
Despite being able to survive on anything for at least some time, humans thrive on an animal based diet. The more you look at carnivore, the more it makes sense.
We don't necessarily need plants or other non-animal-based foods in our diets. In fact, the only reason we're omnivores is by circumstance. Our ancestors ate what they needed to survive. Some humans didn't have access to animals or were often the prey rather than the predator in some situations. This forced them to eat anything to survive, including plants.
Looking at the essential nutrients, you can see that they are available in animal foods. At the same time, many are unavailable in plant-based products. You can eat a diet solely consisting of animal products and be completely healthy - if not healthier than you already are.
You see, there are some health benefits linked to a carnivore diet for humans:
In summary, humans are opportinivores that can thrive on a carnivore diet. We choose to eat both plant-based and animal-based products. However, given the option, your body can survive and enjoy many health benefits when opting for a solely animal-based approach to nutrition.
Indeed, compared to other elimination diets - like veganism - the carnivore diet is the most optimal. It cuts out things the body doesn't necessarily need, meaning you fuel yourself with essential nutrients daily.
There's still much to learn, so check out our blog for more news on the carnivore diet and human nutrition.
Carnivore Diet Recipes & Meal Plans
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