We all understand that low-carb works well for managing type 1 diabetes, but how low can you go? Can you eat zero-carb (also known as carnivore) and still tame type 1? Many people now are trying a carnivore approach with amazing results, for issues such as arthritis, depression, and more. But, there’s scant anecdotes of carnivore for type 1 diabetes. Today I’ll use my example, having tried a relaxed carnivore approach for over half a year, to give the pros and cons concerning type 1 and how you can get started.
What I mean by “Relaxed” Carnivore
There are several ways to do a carnivore diet, and it’s worth making the distinction when it comes to how I’ve managed it. Some do a very strict approach where they consume nothing but meat, salt, and water. Others, such as I, follow it more loosely. I still enjoy spices, coffee, and even the occasional berries and vegetable here and there. But, in general, my meals consist entirely of animal products, thus I still consider it carnivore.
Pro #1: Carnivore is Simple
As far as taming type 1 goes, the best perk to this WOE is the simplicity of it. Your options are rather limited, so it is incredibly easy to keep things simple and consistent. Consistency is incredibly important for blood sugar control, and carnivore helps take that to the next level. I eat the same exact meal twice a day for up to a week at a time, and this has allowed me to fine-tune my bolus to near-perfection. And, surprisingly, I never get bored of it!
Con #1: Carnivore is Limited
While it is nice to keep things so consistent, some may find that lack of variety very daunting. Especially if you have diabetic children who get bored easily, eating nearly the same food every day can be a real challenge. Worse yet, many people experience heightened sensitivity to the vegetables they used to love once they cut them out for a long time. Fortunately, you can still be various on a carnivore diet. There is a whole array of animals out there, such as fish, chicken, pork, beef, eggs, etc. But carnivore can still be difficult for those of us accustomed to eating various mixed meals.
Pro #2: Improved Basal Sensitivity
For me, going carnivore was like going keto all over again. My basal needs dropped dramatically, and now I take less than half as much basal insulin as I did in my 2.5 years of keto. This means I save money on insulin. Plus, insulin sensitivity is a marker of good health, considering that insulin resistance is linked to many health disorders.
Con #2: Needing to Use More R (at least in my case)
Conversely, my R insulin needs actually went up. While I am no longer eating any carbs, I am eating far more protein in one sitting and thus need more insulin. Right now I’m eating half a pound of meat, twice a day. Consuming that much protein at once takes more R to correct. Not only do I need to dose more, but I also need to split that bolus in order to cover the longer rise from protein. Before, I could usually get away with 2 units or R per meal. Now, I take 2 units of R before I eat, and then another 2 units 2 hours later. This isn’t the case with everyone. I have heard from others who need far less basal AND bolus insulin since going carnivore, but that was not my experience.
Pro #3: Possibly Halts Beta-cell Death (in those who still have them)
There are quite a few examples of people who, going on a low-carb diet soon after diagnosis, are able to prolong their honeymoon phase and retain insulin-producing beta cells indefinitely. This is also true of several carnivore type 1’s. In fact, this approach could work better for prolonging honeymoon than keto! I have even heard from diabetics who were able to almost get off insulin entirely after following a high-fat and very strict carnivore approach dubbed the Paleolithic Ketogenic diet.
The theory behind this is that many foods, including vegetables and even dairy, contain chemicals that can irritate the lining of your gut and cause intestinal permeability. This leads to foreign material leaking from the gut into the body, causing an autoimmune response, which cascades to the autoimmune disorder that is Type 1. If you stop eating foods irritating the gut, you stop the leaking, and thus stop the autoimmune response. There is evidence to support this theory, and a few case studies concerning Type 1 Diabetes by the research group Paleomedicina. These studies show examples of newly-diagnosed diabetics trying their high-fat carnivore approach and getting off all exogenous insulin, as crazy as that sounds.
Con #3: More Research Needs to be Done
Unfortunately, there isn’t quite enough evidence for me to say this is the absolute truth. There are no strong experimental studies using the carnivore diet, and Paleomedicina has received criticism for their particular methods concerning type 1 diabetes. The jury is still out on this one, so it is a very experimental approach. That said, there is plenty of evidence for carnivore diets in general outside the field of nutrition, such as research in biochemistry, anatomy, and anthropology, to support that it is a healthy and safe approach.
How to Start Carnivore as a Type 1 Diabetic
As I mentioned previously, going carnivore might require you to change your basal/bolus regimen just like you did when going low-carb. You’ll need to closely monitor your blood sugar and change your basal needs appropriately. You may also need to take more R insulin for your meals and split your dose in order to cover the higher amount of protein. Some people get around this by eating many small meals throughout the day, but I find that inconvenient. Lastly, try not to rely heavily on lean meats such as chicken, as eating a large amount of protein without fat is bound to cause a spike. Stick to fattier meats, such as beef, fish, lamb, eggs, etc. And if you are doing an OMAD approach right now, consider splitting up your meals when you go carnivore.
So far, I have greatly enjoyed the relaxed carnivore approach. I have better blood sugars than in any of my previous years, and I actually spend less on food despite eating tons of meat! I also find myself more satiated throughout the day. If the regular low-carb approach is not working for you, or if you’re suffering from other issues that carnivore could help with, I’d definitely recommend giving it a try for a month. Low-carb or no-carb, if you know what you’re doing you can always tame your type 1!