What is the Zero Carb Diet?

Zero Carb Dieting

What if we told you that your perfect picture of health is only one clean choice away? And if we told you thousands of people have already made this choice and seen unbelievably great results? Simply put, this could be your reality, too!

No more carbs. Yes, you read that right. No carbs.

The Zero Carb diet is one that has been slowly gaining momentum in the past century and has grown into a significant community in the past ten years. The best part about this community? Most are seeing results like they’ve never seen before with other diets.

In fact, the vast majority of people don’t experience any negative issues related to their diet whatsoever. All because they choose to cut out carbs.

 What does a Zero Carb diet look like?

Long story short: meat.

In fact, a zero carb diet could actually be described, for the majority of people, as a meat only diet. In most cases, there is an emphasis on the meat being on the more fatty side, for a few different reasons, the main two being:

  • Fats contain calories to provide you with nourishment as well as make you feel full.
  • Fats carry essential nutrients in the form of fatty acids, which are vital for the upkeep of normal bodily functions.

However, if weight loss is a priority then dieters can achieve this by choosing leaner cuts of meat for the majority of the time, until they reach their goal weight.

Can I eat vegetables on a zero carb diet?

When it comes to eating vegetables or ‘non-animal’ foods, some are stricter than others… Many ‘purists’ refuse to eat plants at all, others choose to allow plants into their diet in the form of spices and seasonings, and then there are others who may choose to eat the occasional ‘garnish of vegetation’ – such as a a side of spinach, or a few stems of asparagus or purple-sprouting broccoli.

How strict you want to be comes down to personal choice, but most will agree that sticking to a daily limit of fewer than 5-10g of ‘incidental’ carbohydrate is unlikely to have any negative effects in terms of how this way of eating works.

What are the main zero carb foods to eat?

 Beef

Beef is truly the cornerstone of this diet.

A human can survive entirely off of beef – ground beef, steaks, brisket, burgers… the options are vast!

Many zero carbers trust the content of beef to provide them their sustenance. Beef is naturally full of quality fats and proteins that will fuel your body and keep you feeling satisfied.

Zero carb groups are full of pictures of giant steaks, cooked to perfection (by cooked, I mean rare!)

A firm favorite for a zero carb dieter is a delicious steak, cooked as rare as possible – if that doesn’t sound good, then I don’t know what does…

This points back in time to what early humans would eat. Red meat cooked over an open fire doesn’t exactly have the chance to cook thoroughly, otherwise it would burn on the outside, so would end up being mostly eaten raw.

Those who stick with this diet for the long term usually find they only really need to eat one or two well-seasoned, rarely cooked steaks a day to sustain them – which usually equates to 1-2lb of meat.

Fish and Seafood

Fish is the second most important meat for this diet. Again, all it takes is a glance towards early man to realize what should be most important to a modern human’s diet, and fish was another major part of our ancestral menu.

Fish is chock full of taurine (an essential amino acid) and, more importantly, DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid vital for brain growth). The DHA that is present in fish provides one of the primary substances necessary for creating a big, strong brain and is found most abundantly in seafood. So, if you wanted to create a big brain in an early human, you probably wanted to feed him fish. This makes it another delicious, and common-sense option to include in your zero carb diet.

Shellfish also get a thumbs up. They are, of course, made of meat like other animals. Admittedly, there are trace amounts of carbohydrates in shellfish – but that’s okay. Nobody is asking for perfection here (well, some do but that’s their choice…)

The miniscule amount of carbohydrates that you can find in shellfish won’t make your body start to crave bread, pasta, or sugar again – nor are they likely to wreak havoc with your hormones, so you are in the clear.

Accordingly, most sane zero carb dieters believe in seafood being a perfectly acceptable source of nutrition. Some people however, report that they do not feel properly full after eating a ton of fish, compared with how they do with beef. This could be to do with the leanness of the protein. Certainly, fish can be cooked with butter to add fats to it and give the meat the calorie count needed to fuel your flame. But, even so, many state that fish doesn’t quite sustain them like a big, hearty steak does.

However, personal preference should guide you towards your favorite meats, and fish would be a great choice on this diet, whether you choose to eat it frequently* or not.

*WARNING: Fish have, unfortunately, been poisoned by human activities and can contain problematic levels of mercury. When you eat fish that contains mercury, you absorb the mercury yourself. The FDA and EPA both recommend not eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish because they all contain high levels of mercury. For some other types of seafood, it is recommended that you only eat two average meals of these proteins each week, since they still contain lower levels of mercury. So, while fish is a lovely part of a zero carb diet, you must eat with caution – always check the source of your food, read labels, and do your research if you are uncertain or concerned about this.

Chicken

Chicken is something of a difficult meat for some zero carb dieters. Because the diet generally calls for high amounts of fat to cover for the calories a person needs, chicken isn’t always a great choice.

Chicken is, compared to other meats, a very lean choice that became popular for that exact reason. But when fat is a highly desired macronutrient, chicken can be problematic. To piggyback on this, some zero carbers report that their body ‘doesn’t really like’ chicken – with claims ranging from feelings of sluggishness, bloating, and nausea, among other complaints.

Once again, this comes down to personal choice – if you like chicken, then eat chicken! If you’re trying to lose some body fat then choosing lean chicken some of the time is a no-brainer. And if you’re not trying to lose weight… then fill your boots with that delicious chicken skin and those fattier, darker cuts of meat until you feel satisfied and full!

And remember – if you think that eating chicken makes you feel bad, just cut it out of your diet for a while to see if things improve, and adjust your choices from there.

Pork

Pork has a somewhat questionable reputation among zero carb dieters. There have been (small) studies that have shown how different preparations of pork may be detrimental to your health.

There have been anecdotal reports of Pork consumption increasing blood sugar levels a fair amount in those who eat it, even if they are non-diabetic. This is an odd effect for a meat to have on the body, and although mostly anecdotal, if you are worried about your blood sugar in any way, this should definitely be taken seriously.

As mentioned earlier, different preparations of the meat have been reported to have different effects. Some people find that pork, in any form, doesn’t bother them at all. Some notice that non-marinated or uncured versions of the same product spikes their blood sugar levels while the alternative preparations do not.

Altogether, this evidence for pork being harmful to the body is mostly anecdotal. The best thing to do is to try pork for yourself and see if it is right for you.

If you find you are feeling, tired, inflamed, or experiencing higher than average blood sugars, see if removing pork fixes your issues.

Eggs and Dairy

Eggs, while not a meat, are a delicious and nutritious addition to a zero carb diet. Surprisingly, eggs are not completely carbohydrate free. They contain small amounts of carbohydrate that the would-have-been chicken needed to grow.

However, these tiny amounts of carbs are harmless and shouldn’t cause the majority of people any issues (egg allergies excluded!) and your body isn’t likely to start craving other carby things because of them. So, eggs get a definite green light.

In fact, eggs are an awesome option on this diet; they are high in protein and good fats, versatile, and fast and easy to prepare.

Dairy products

Let’s start with the obvious one – Milk. This contains carbs, and unless you’re just using a tiny splash of it, the amounts can add up fast, so this generally makes it a no-go if you want to keep your carbs as close to zero as possible.

Onto cheese – cheese is made of milk, therefore cheese also has carbs in it, although it contains far fewer than milk. This creates a bit of an argument among zero carbers.

A self-proclaimed ‘purist’ would probably abstain from cheese entirely – it has carbs so they’re not eating it. However, hard cheeses contain only fractions of grams of carbohydrates, similar to eggs, making them okay in the minds of other zero carb dieters.

This is another case where you must decide for yourself – if cheese is right for you in small amounts, or if you would like to remove it from your diet, along with all other non-meat foods. This choice could also be influenced by your goals and any allergies, too.

Beverages

There are a few categories of beverages that are left to your own judgement. A true zero carb ‘purist’ tends to stick to water and only water. However, there are zero carb dieters out there that still keep their options open!

Alcohol is a very common beverage that zero carb dieters discuss, so let’s start with that. For the super-strict zero carbers out there, alcohol is usually a no-go. Alcohol isn’t water, they say, and a they are staunch in their belief that a ‘true’ zero carb diet is just meat and water.

Still, others believe that alcohol is perfectly fine on your diet, as long as you choose zero carb options. Pure spirits like vodka, tequila, whiskey, and brandy almost all have zero carbs and could allow you to, by the numbers, keep yourself as close to that magic zero as possible.

The alcoholic beverages that really need to be avoided are those that are sweetened with sugar, or that contain naturally higher levels of carbs – think cocktails and beer!

Some wines contain minimal carbs, too, so these could be included on occasion, should you choose to do so – dry white/red wines and brut (or drier) Champagnes are the way to go if you do choose to drink the odd glass.

So, while alcohol is not a ‘true’ part of the diet, it isn’t necessarily ruled out completely – again, coming down to personal choice and how ‘totalitarian’ you want to be about it.

Coffee and tea are two other drinks that new zero carbers often ask about.

The short answer is: How does your body react? Luckily, for those that love them, they both contain no carbs. However, we must remember that for some, this way of eating is less about avoiding carbs, per se, and more about avoiding anything that is non-meat based.

Some people’s bodies are sensitive to all plant foods, immediately ruling out tea and coffee. But, if you find that tea/coffee agrees with you, you can drink it without sugar, and you’re not that precious about it coming from a plant, then by all means drink it!

Just be aware of any potential ill effects you might see due to the salicylates that are in coffee beans (as with any plant based product) – and stop drinking it if need be.

Starting out on a zero carb diet

In order to settle in to your ‘new diet’, it’s often recommend to start off with a strict diet of beef and water for 30 days.

This serves two purposes.

First, your body needs time to clear itself out of carbohydrates as well as adjust itself to your new eating style. You may find that your body doesn’t particularly ‘agree’ with you for a few weeks but, after your body accepts its new normal, you’ll most likely feel better than you ever did before.

Secondly, after 30 days of just beef and water, you can try other zero carb foods and find out how they affect your body. Since you now know what your body feels like on just beef and water, you can see how you feel after eating something else and decide if it is a good or bad addition to your diet.

Zero carb dieting is one part science and one part personal preference. Accordingly, not everyone’s diet is the same because of differences in reactions to different types of meat.

As mentioned before in the above sections, some people react poorly to chicken and pork, and some have no issues whatsoever. However, among the zero carb community, it is rare to see reports of bad responses to beef and fish, leading to these to protein sources being the primary options for the diet. Usually, beef gets chosen over fish, for a whole host of possible reasons, but mostly due to personal choice and concerns about mercury, so the process of elimination leads the majority of zero carb dieters to depend on beef consumption pretty unanimously.

After your recommend ‘intro’ of 30 days of beef, things become a bit more flexible. Fish, chicken, pork, turkey, game meats… and more. Some people choose to continue on just water, others go on to add different beverages on a discretionary basis, as mentioned earlier, some alcoholic drinks, coffees, and teas don’t contain carbohydrates, or if they do, they are minimal.

Again, this is a decision you must make for yourself upon finding whether or not these things agree with your body or not.

 What about micronutrients on a zero carb diet?

A common concern about the zero carb diet is that your body isn’t getting the micronutrients that it once was. However, it turns out that your body can run perfectly fine on a diet solely made of meat. The logic of zero carb dieting states that early man’s diet consisted nearly entirely of meat – so why should our diet today be any different?

Of course, our ancestors could also pick berries or plant products for consumption but the ingestion of these products was far less frequent than you would think. In fact, cutting out plants actually prevents you from ingesting salicylates, a substance that can irritate your body, which we will talk about in a moment.

Here we explore some of the more common concerns that come up regarding micronutrients in the zero carb diet.

 Vitamin C

One of the most common concerns raised is about Vitamin C consumption. Surely, you can’t get the proper amount of Vitamin C from just meat?!

Fortunately, the diet actually addresses this concern via adaptation from the body. It turns out that you do not need as much Vitamin C on this diet because your body is bypassing the process that utilizes Vitamin C.

Vitamin C is normally required in order to turn substances called hydroxyls into the amino acids lysine and proline – two extremely important building blocks for your body. However, since you are eating so much meat, which contains the lysine and proline that you want, you are jumping right over the need for so much Vitamin C.

To even further lessen the concerns about this vitamin, it turns out that Vitamin C absorption is actually hindered when you consume carbs.

Vitamin C and glucose actually compete with each other because they both depend on insulin to be transported. Glucose is heavily favored in the contest, so Vitamin C loses out, meaning your body doesn’t even absorb all of the Vitamin C that you eat on a standard diet!

Since you aren’t eating carbs anymore, your body no longer has those levels of glucose competing with the Vitamin C. Because of this, you are more efficiently using the Vitamin C that actually does end up in your body. This means you end up compensating for the drop in ingestion of Vitamin C by using the Vitamin C that you do get, far more efficiently.

Salicylates

Salicylate is a derivative of salicylic acid, which is found naturally in plants. It is used in medicine, manufacturing, chemistry, and as a food preservative. To show why this substance could be detrimental to your body, we will point to salicylate’s use in medicine.

It is most commonly used for getting the top layer of skin off a patient. Because of these acidic properties, some people find that they are allergic to the substance. Salicylate sensitivity can prevent itself in a number of ways including stomach pain, itchy skin, hives, rashes, asthma, headaches, fatigue, diarrhea, and memory loss. And this list isn’t even exhaustive of the symptoms of salicylate allergies.

If you suspect you might have an intolerance or allergy like this, you might want to consider getting tested, and/or removing plants from your diet altogether in order to avoid salicylates, and their negative effects, entirely!

The modern history of the zero carb diet

The history of this diet, in a modern sense, dates back to the 19th century, with the explorer and anthropologist, Viljhalmur Stefansson.

Stefansson planned an expedition that required him to live among the native Inuit tribes that live in the Artic regions of Greenland, Canada, and Alaska.

He observed that the Inuit diet consisted of nothing but meat and fish for six to nine months of the year. Because he was living with the Inuit, this became his diet, as well. Stefansson and his colleagues noticed that not only did they see no hindrances occur with this new diet but that, surprisingly, they felt far better than before.

Medical experts questioned this and Stefansson challenged them by allowing himself and a fellow explorer, Karsten Anderson, to continue the diet under closed laboratory conditions. However, the two explorers were not allowed to eat high fat cuts of meat like they insisted on, and the medical scientists concluded that the diet was not sustainable. This was, of course, a flawed study since Stefansson acknowledged that he needed far more fat than he and his colleague were getting from the cuts of meat provided to them for the purposes of the study.

Stefansson and Anderson embarked on another trip to visit the Inuit people a few years later. They were given a year’s worth of usual food but chose to forego the supplies and live off the land, following the blueprint of an average Inuit diet. The project extended to four years, during which time the two men only ate the fish they could catch and meat they could kill.

Upon returning home, they then spent a year under observation of physicians at Bellevue Hospital in New York beginning in 1928 and spilling over into 1929. The supervisors of the experiment were considered one of the most qualified panels in medical history.

Stefansson and Anderson were allowed to eat the cuts of meat that they wanted, leading to an 80% fat and 20% protein diet by calorie count. The scientists decisively concluded in their findings that absolutely no detrimental health issues could be found in either of the subjects that could be related to their diets. Interestingly, their most pressing concern that the anthropologists would not be consuming enough Vitamin C turned out to be a non-issue.

 Zero carb testimonials

The great physical and mental effects are further confirmed by those who commit to the diet. Testimonials on the internet are too easy to find – referring to zero carb dieting as a life changing choice that changed dieter’s lives for the better.