No-carb carnivore cooking and diet tips?
March 10, 2009 9:08 PM   Subscribe

What are some cooking and diet tips for an ovo-lacto carnivore? (No, that wasn't a typo.)

After reading Good Calories, Bad Calories, I swiftly changed my entire dietary regimen over to a near-zero-carbohydrate diet. I still eat leafy greens — but other than that, I barely touch single-carb foods and refuse to eat anything with more than a single carb per serving. The bulk of my diet now consists of meat, eggs, and cheese, along with servings of spinach leaves here and there. While I've gotten creative with mixing ingredients into omelettes, I'd like to expand my culinary horizons a bit while staying within the boundaries of my chosen diet. Does anyone have any suggestions for doing so? (Examples: ingredients to try, useful cooking techniques, or recipe sources.)

Note: Please do not reply with either moral or major health concerns regarding my diet; that's not what I'm asking for. Minor health concerns, e.g., "you might want to take a Vitamin C supplement", are okay.
posted by korpios to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Are there any other veggies you eat, or is spinach literally the only one? I'm asking because I could think of suggestions with other green vegetables.
posted by fructose at 9:21 PM on March 10, 2009

Response by poster: fructose: Spinach is the one that seems to have the best combination of higher protein and lower carbs, but I'm generally open to leafy greens in general (as long as they don't become the bulk of my diet). I won't eat anything starchy or sugary.
posted by korpios at 9:25 PM on March 10, 2009

Dude, get some psyllium in you. That will keep things moving, and is essentially 0 with everything except for non-digestible fiber. If anyone else can elaborate, please feel free.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:40 PM on March 10, 2009

Spinach contains some chemicals thatmay inhibit the uptake of calcium. Consider chard/mustard/kale.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:08 PM on March 10, 2009

do you like asian food? some simple dishes from my childhood:
- lightly stir fry spinach with lots of minced garlic and a touch of pepper and salt
- half boiled eggs with soy sauce

as for other veggies, what about celery?
posted by skaye at 10:15 PM on March 10, 2009

It's late, so I'll leave it to you to hopefully find more legitimate information on this, but according to what Wikipedia says you should probably avoid having spinach at every meal:

Spinach also has a high calcium content. However, the oxalate content in spinach binds with calcium decreasing its absorption. [...] Oxalate is one of a number of factors that can contribute to gout and kidney stones. Equally or more notable factors contributing to calcium stones are: genetic tendency, high intake of animal protein, excess calcium intake, excess vitamin D, prolonged immobility, hyperparathyroidism, renal tubular acidosis, and excess dietary fiber.[5]

Obviously, this is from Wikipedia and should accordingly be taken with a grain of salt. But if it were my health I'd look into it a bit further. Kidney stones can't be any fun.

Either way you should for sure consult a nutritional professional and a doctor before you jump into such an incredibly restrictive diet.
posted by you're a kitty! at 10:17 PM on March 10, 2009

Have you incorporated some coconut into your diet? Both the oil and the meat (which you can buy grated, frozen) are yum and full of healthy fats.
Ideas for food:
A spinach salad with a warm bacon dressing topped with a poached egg
Deviled eggs
Ceviche -- I made a great one recently with swordfish following this basic recipe.
Rack of lamb -- I used this recipe very successfully, using a sugar substitute in place of the brown sugar, but I'm sure it would be fine if you left it out entirely.
Avocados eaten with a squeeze of lime -- lots of good fats there.
Crab legs with drawn butter
posted by peacheater at 10:19 PM on March 10, 2009

(Not so) Minor health concerns:

You might want to eat enough carbohydrate calories to keep your big hungry brain fed - which only uses glucose.

When it can't get it, it'll start scavenging. And, assuming that you're a Homo sapiens, you don't want that big ass hungry brain of yours scavenging for energy.

If you find that your breath is starting to smell really bad, or smelling like acetone or other solvents. Eat some fucking carbs the week before.
posted by porpoise at 10:35 PM on March 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

Stir-fried vegetables of all kinds - eg shredded cabbage, broccoli florets, celery, onion, with or without condiments.

Steamed vegetables, dress them with lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil.

Salads: coleslaw, cos lettuce, diced celery/capsicum/cucumber. Greek salad, boost the protein with feta cheese.

Once you get away from root vegetables, most veges have few calories by weight, and you can and should eat a lot of them. Mediterranean and Asian cuisines abound in vegetable recipes - just don't put them on the rice/pasta they would normally go with.

"as long as they don't become the bulk of my diet"

They can become the bulk of your diet by volume and weight without becoming more than 50% of your calorie intake. And they should be if you want a somewhat normal intake of vitamins, minerals and fibre. Insufficient fibre from fruit and veg is associated with colon cancer and other ailments. If you're following some kind of paleo/Atkins/whatever lo-carb regime, check your sources, and I think you'll find you are supposed to eat lots and lots of vegetables. When I go through a low carb phase, which I do from time to time, I try to make sure that 2/3 of my plate is vegetables.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:51 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

No matter what book you read, ketosis is a toxic state for your body to be in. You may not want to hear this (an aversion to hearing good advice is hardly unique on AskMe), but future readers of this question would be well advised to eat carbs - not all carbs are created equal - if they want to stay healthy.
posted by Dasein at 12:26 AM on March 11, 2009

I'm on the same page with you about Gary Taube's book, but I think his book is just the tip of the iceberg and you may want to think about your goals. A lot of what he writes about references paleolithic humans and what we, as a species, evolved to eat. He tries to show that the establishment's demonization of animal fat is wrong and that our bodies are evolved to digest and utilize animal fat properly, given that we have been eating it for a very very long time. Grains? No so long and they can wreck some havoc on our bodily systems that haven't adapted to the myriad of toxins present in them.

Dasein...have you heard of eskimos? Far-north peoples, before most of them modernized their diets to include crap, ate almost all meat, and most of them were much healthier than modern people. But just because the ketogenic diet is better than most diets floating around these days and shows that animal fats aren't bad...well, it's still not the optimal diet. Humans started living in the far north pretty late in our evolutionary history. It's not a terrible diet, for example the eskimos have really really low cancer rates, but they do have high rates of bone loss. Most of our evolutionary history took place in the jungle, where the highest number of calories probably still came from animal fat, but in % of bulk, most was plant material.

Don't forget, the title of the book isn't bad carbs, it's good carbs too. Spinach may not be as bad as grains, but it's still a modern plant bred by humans and consuming too much of it may subject you to large amounts of toxins. If you still want a ketogenic diet, I suggest delving further into the peoples who have perfected them in the far north. Make Prayers for the Raven, for example, is about the Koyukon. Despite the fact that they are in the arctic circle, they eat a wide variety of plants, but also don't forget to eat a wide variety of animals and their parts. The arctic explorers that Taubes references who proved that the arctic diet could provide all nutrients initially failed until they realized they had to eat everything...livers, hearts, etc. The Koyukon and other arctic peoples also often consume the stomach contents of the animal, which provides plant foods.

But if you decide to look at the more paleolithic diet, there are lots of sites and research. (has some recipes, eats a very very high fat diet)
Paleolithic people in the jungle would have utilized thousands of plants. Hit up the local farmer's market or check out a book on wild plants. I get sorrel, purslane, and dandelion greens free from the wild. Just make sure the area you gather from isn't sprayed. I get watercress, arugula, mache, and others from the farmer's market and specialty grocery store. Also, don't forget common herbs count as greens. Throw some basil leaves in your salad.

What about nuts? Coconut? I often cook meat in coconut milk with spices, chopped greens, and some peppers...and it's amazing and really really high in fat. South East Asian cooking in general is easily adapted to low-carb.

Remember also that dairy might not make you fat by itself (look at the Masai...), but humans have only eaten for a very short time and evidence for its toxicity to the human body could fill entire books. Fermentation removes some of those toxins, so I'd suggest eating the most fermented dairy you can find (hard cheeses) if you chose to eat dairy at all.

When I lost all the weight I wanted I reevaluated some of my goals and I do consume a small amount of tubers, fruits (med-carb veggies like peppers are really fruits), and wild grains that hunter-gatherers would have also consumed. I haven't gained anything back and my diet is a lot tastier.
posted by melissam at 1:07 AM on March 11, 2009 [3 favorites]

Take a multivitamin.
posted by kldickson at 5:29 AM on March 11, 2009

Also, you need carbohydrates. Your brain metabolizes glucose. Try foods with a low glycemic index.
posted by kldickson at 5:30 AM on March 11, 2009

You might want to eat enough carbohydrate calories to keep your big hungry brain fed - which only uses glucose.

Nope. The brain does not need carbs. The brain needs glucose. Once you've depleted your body's store of glycogen, your liver begins to manufacture glucose from fat and protein. In fact, everyone's body probably does this when s/he sleeps over eight or nine hours (thus entering a fasting state). Amazing, no?

Anywho. Korpios, I've been eating LC for two years now, and I'm a big fan of Taubes. That said, I don't think he, or even the majority of low-carb eaters, would recommend you only eat spinach. There are plenty of other very low-carb (VLC) veggies for you to explore, and spinach alone doesn't give you what you need. If you're coming at this from a more paleo perspective -- that is, you want to eat as closely as possible to the way folks ate before agriculture -- then variety in terms of your veggies is particularly important. If you simply want to keep things VLC, don't forget broccoli, cauliflower, and mushrooms, for starters.

There is a very small group of people who are proponents of zero carb diets. I'm not among them but they are passionate and enthusiastic folks, and they will probably have the best recipe tips for you. Find them, for instance, at a low carb forum (like this one, where they stick to a couple of threads and everyone else tries to ignore them, heh) and I'm sure they'll be glad to help you out.

Finally, someone above mentioned eskimos, and other indigenous groups that were primarily meat eaters. Keep in mind that if you eat this way, it is CRUCIAL that the majority of your diet -- like theirs -- comes from FAT, not protein. Fat is what greases your innards (so you don't have to take psyllium husks and other stuff). Fat is what will keep you healthy, because a VLC diet that includes more protein than fat actually will wreck your kidneys ere long. That's the secret LCers don't like to talk about for fear of icking out other people: low carb = moderate protein and high - very high fat. That's why our hair and skin looks to so pretty. :)
posted by artemisia at 6:57 AM on March 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: hal_c_on: Actually, the book I cited makes it pretty clear that fiber doesn't provide any benefits. And since I started this diet, my IBS has significantly improved. (Back when I tried fiber to help my IBS years ago, it often made it worse.)

you're a kitty!: Don't worry, I'm not having spinach with every meal; more like once a day, maximum. But I should branch out a bit more into other greens and other suitable veggies regardless.

peacheater and melissam: Coconut in particular looks like it might be a nice ingredient to start using.

melissam and artemisia: Thanks for the lengthy responses; you've given me a lot to chew on (pun intended). ^_^ As long as I'm satisfied that I am indeed consuming calories in the right ratio (high fat, moderate protein, low carbs), I should increase my consumption of non-refined/non-starchy veggies somewhat. I think I've been most afraid of accidentally failing to keep my carbs low (especially considering all of the ways carbs sneak into modern food), and the near-zero diet matches my "all or nothing" personality pretty well. I'm a lousy cook, and I need to fix that if I'm going to be doing this right. I'll definitely check out more of the low-carb resources, and I'll probably transition to a LC (vs. VLC) diet (but still getting most of my calories from animal fat) as I learn more. I should probably find local butchers and markets around here (Chicago); the meat in particular that tends to come from supermarkets often has the craziest ingredients mixed in (e.g., "corn syrup solids" ... ugh).

porpoise, Dasein, and kldickson: Thanks for violating the one rule I laid out at the end of my post. These are exactly the arguments I anticipated, and Taubes (the author of the book I cited) explicitly knocks them down. My brain is fine. ;-) (And I do take both a multi-vitamin and a Vitamin C supplement, daily.)
posted by korpios at 8:07 AM on March 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

A friend's sister studies the diet of gorillas in the wild and she found that up to 90% of what they eat is dark green leaves which are high in protein. The rest is fruit, bugs, bark and dirt. Some eat more fruit, some eat less.

Kale and mustard greens are delicious in stir fries, high in nutrients and low in carbs. Calaloo is a delicious dish that can be made with almost any dark green leafy greens. Everyone has their own recipe, but mine is super simple - 7 okra pods fried up with an onion, crab (fresh or canned), add a ton of greens, a can of coconut milk, salt, stevia if you want it sweeter, spices to taste (curry works, mustard seed is nice) and lime juice if you want it a little brighter.
posted by abirae at 8:17 AM on March 11, 2009

Kimchi is also a delicious way to eat cabbage. Mushrooms are high in nutrients and low in carbs. Both can be thrown in a stir fry with minimal prep and maximally delicious results.

Sea vegetables like hijiki are high in minerals and extremely low in carbs but require more prep work. .
posted by abirae at 8:21 AM on March 11, 2009

Response by poster: abirae: I need to break out the wok. ^_^ As for stevia, I've already (happily) discovered it; I usually use it to sweeten my tea.
posted by korpios at 8:40 AM on March 11, 2009

melissam, there was quite a lot of research into why Eskimos are healthy eating mostly meat. research suggests that eating the meat raw is crucial.

kopios, do try and include more veggies into your diet. i was on the anabolic diet for three months or so last year - the list of "allowed" veggies included more than just leafy greens, and eating other veggies and fruits on the off days was very important. you can look here for suggestions. for another perspective - check out the Paleo Diet. Cordain focuses on eating as close as we to cavemen. low-fat high quality meat, plenty of fish, and "primitive" veggies.
posted by ye#ara at 8:56 AM on March 11, 2009

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