Beth Lipton, Co-Author of Carnivore-ish, Explains the Benefits of a Meat-Centric Plate (and Shares Three Delicious Recipes)
This week, we were lucky enough to speak with Beth Lipton, co-author of the new book Carnivore-ish: 125 Protein-Rich Recipes to Boost Your Health and Build Muscle, about the benefits of a meat-centric approach to eating. Here, she shares with us her experience discovering a diet that goes against the grain of current health trends, offers her insights on the health benefits of eating meat, and explains the best way to incorporate a carnivore-ish perspective into our diets.
What drew you to exploring a carnivore (and eventually carnivore-ish) diet?
It started with paleo, and evolved from there. Once I went paleo, I gave up all legumes and most grains except white rice (which I don’t eat often, but enjoy when I go out for sushi or make a curry at home — it’s delicious, and food is meant to be enjoyed). I just felt so much better eating mostly grain-free, and this approach cured literally decades of stomach issues. I’m not strict about it (I’ll occasionally eat a piece of gluten-free bread) but I find that I feel better overall without grains in my diet. When I started out, about 75% of my plate was vegetables, and the rest was animal protein, but I found that over time, the more I emphasized animal protein, the better I felt, the stronger I felt, and the easier it was to put on muscle.
So if all that added animal protein was helping you feel so much better, what makes the carnivore-ish approach better than a fully carnivore diet right for you, do you think?
I prefer a carnivore-ish plan over a strict carnivore diet because I like having more variety. I really like vegetables, fruit, coffee, and chocolate — I think the carnivore approach is appropriate for some people, but not for me. That’s why carnivore-ish (where the center of the plate is animal protein and the rest is other foods) is the optimal diet for me. I don’t claim it’s the optimal diet for everyone, but I think everyone should try it — you might be surprised by how you feel. It certainly goes against the current narrative about eating mostly plants, so it takes some courage to try it, but I think it’s worth trying.
Is there a new ratio that works for you, in terms of your vegetable-to-meat intake?
So earlier, I said that my ratio when I started out was 75% vegetables and 25% animal protein, but these days, the ratio is a lot more variable. And that’s part of what the book Carnivore-ish is all about — discovering what works for you, with the idea that animal protein is at the center of the plate, but the ratio is variable. There are days where I eat a lot of animal protein and little else, and there are other days where I eat a lot more vegetables and the animal protein plays a smaller role, and there are days when it’s a mix. So it’s not a diet, and it’s not a prescriptive approach.
We’ve all been led to believe that eating lots of red meat is bad for you. What are the arguments against this?
We don’t have any good studies that show red meat is bad for you. Most of the studies that say that red meat is bad for you are epidemiological studies; they’re basically questionnaires. So they’re not very scientific. They’ll ask people questions like “How many peaches did you eat last summer?” — a line of questioning that isn’t going to yield great data. So these are very inaccurate studies that don’t take into account other factors. For instance, are you eating a grass-fed steak with a salad, or are you eating a Big Mac? Because those two things are very different. So those epidemiological studies tend not to take very important factors like these into account. There have been studies that did take these factors into account. For instance, a really high-quality U.K.-based study involved following people who shop at health food stores, about half of which were vegetarian. The study found that both the vegetarians and omnivores lived longer than the general population. (Ed note: This study involved 11,000 subjects and lasted 17 years. The study’s findings were primarily that daily consumption of fresh fruit was associated with a lower risk of heart disease, whether or not they were vegetarian.)
So people will say “there are thousands of studies that say red meat is bad,” but if those studies are not scientifically sound, it doesn’t matter how many there are. The fact is, human beings evolved eating meat. That’s not my opinion; that’s a fact. Our bodies are designed to eat meat — the way our jaws are constructed, the length and structure of our guts, the enzymes we produce, etc. However, whether or not you choose to eat meat is a personal choice — I would never tell someone that they can’t be healthy as a vegetarian. But the idea that we lived for millions of years eating meat and then just discovered in the last fifty that eating meat is bad for you? That isn’t even logical.
We’ve seen a huge rise in plant protein sources like pea powder in recent years. What do you think is the benefit to animal protein compared to plant protein?
You can absolutely get adequate protein from plants, but plant proteins are inferior to animal proteins in the sense that the vast majority of them are not complete proteins. What that means is that protein is made of about 20 amino acids. Nine of them are considered “essential” in that our bodies don’t produce them. All animal proteins have all nine of those essential amino acids. Most plant proteins do not, which means you need to mix them in order to get a complete protein. This is why there are some traditional foods that go together, like rice and beans, that make a complete protein. Now, you don’t have to eat a complete protein with every meal, but it certainly makes it easier if that work is kind of done for you.
I don’t believe in counting calories or anything like that, but if you have body composition goals, the caloric and carbohydrate load to get the same amount of protein is extremely high with plant-based protein. So for example, quinoa is a plant-based protein that’s actually a complete protein — it has all nine essential amino acids. In order to get, say, 25 grams of protein, you would need a 3-4oz piece of red meat, chicken, or fish. In order to get that same amount of protein from quinoa, you would need three or four cups of it — so I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to eat that much quinoa, and you’re also talking about at least triple the amount of calories. Also, there are zero carbs in a 4oz piece of steak, and about 120 grams of carbs in three cups of quinoa. So it’s just not very efficient — which is why a lot of people on plant-based diets often don’t get enough protein.
What mistakes do people usually make when going carnivore-ish?
It’s hard to make mistakes on a carnivore-ish diet. The biggest mistake would be trying to do it by the numbers instead of paying attention to what you need. I’m not speaking here about people who are dealing with disease: if you have diabetes or some other ailment that requires you to pay a lot of attention to your macros, then of course you’re not making a mistake — you have to do that for your health. But for most people, trying to match up your numbers, instead of listening to your body, is a problematic approach.
So if you find yourself thinking, “I want a bigger steak tonight,” or “I’m kind of in the mood for fish instead of chicken,” then pay attention to that, and to your hunger and satiety signals. Our bodies have a lot of wisdom, and if you pay attention you can learn a lot. Some days, all I really want is a burger patty and a piece of salmon, and I used to feel guilty about that. But now I realize that’s your body telling you that that’s what you need that day.
So aside from checking out Carnivore-ish — which is a great guide packed with recipes for this diet — what are your best tips for someone who is curious about exploring a carnivore-ish diet?
Take it slow! If you’re someone who is transitioning from a mostly plant-based diet where you don’t eat that much protein right now, I wouldn’t go “whole hog,” so to speak, into carnivore-ish, I would ease into it. So if you normally have an egg and a piece of toast for breakfast, I wouldn’t go straight to a breakfast of three eggs and two pieces of sausage. I would maybe move up to two or three eggs and do that for a little while until you get used to it, and then up the protein some more. I think we tend to jump with both feet into things — especially nutrition, which can be a real jolt to your system, and not in a good way.
I’d also suggest thinking of carnivore-ish not as a restriction on your diet, rather as an opportunity to discover all of the proteins that are available to you. There are more fish out there than salmon, more meat than beef, more poultry than chicken — explore options like duck and lamb. Not to mention organ meats! If cooking a new protein, like organ meats, for instance, feels intimidating, go to a restaurant. Order a tongue taco at a Mexican restaurant to see if you like it before you try to cook it yourself. Being carnivore-ish should mean really letting yourself experience all the different ways to enjoy protein: getting out there and enjoying a huge variety of food.
Beth and her co-author, Ashleigh VanHouten, have also been kind enough to share with us three recipes from their book, Carnivore-ish:
You may already love salmon and everything bagel seasoning together after years of bagel breakfasts with lox; why not put them together for a fun spin on lunch or dinner? Bonus: this delicious, family-pleasing meal is on the table in 20 minutes.
Ground beef, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions: there’s so much going on in this protein-forward salad, inspired by a certain famous fast-food burger, that you’ll never miss the sesame seed bun. Look for fermented pickles in the refrigerated section of the supermarket to get the gut health benefits.
This simple but flavorful dish may remind you of a healthier, less salty version of your favorite Mexican fast-food establishment’s burrito bowl. You can add rice or leave it low-carb, as here. Cauliflower rice also would work well. It wouldn’t be wrong to sprinkle it with some shredded cheddar or Jack cheese (or both).