Carnivore Diet: The Flat Earth Theory of Nutrition Science

Henk Kleynhans
6 min readOct 25, 2023

When my son was about 8 years old, he once came to me and told me that the earth was flat. My first thought was that I really should restrict his YouTube access, but my second thought was that this was a teaching opportunity. Not to simply tell him that the earth is approximately spherical, and how we know that this is true; but much more importantly: “How To Spot Nonsense”

And when it comes to nonsense, few fields are as full of nonsense as diet and nutrition. With nutrition, we all have a stake, every time we raise our forks. 1 out of every 2 people reading this will die from heart disease or cancer. Both of which can largely be avoided by what we put in our mouths.

Besides for deaths (mortality), we are faced with an ever increasing disease burden (morbidity). People are getting sick. And wherever there are sick people, you’ll find those who are looking to profit from it.
Believing the earth is flat doesn’t have too much of an impact to those around you, but believing nutrition woo-woo is a whole other matter.

Which brings me to the latest diet fad: The Carnivore Diet. In this diet, you can eat “only foods that either walked, swam, or flew”. No fruits, vegetables, grains, pulses or anything that has carbohydrates in it.

I’m not going to bother debunking the diet, for the same reason I won’t spend time debunking ‘wood milk’, or flat earthers… that work has already been done.

What I’m interested in is the tactics of fad diet ‘influencers’ — the YouTube and Podcast stars and authors who are part of the $71 billion weight-loss industry. It can broadly be summarized into a 1–2–3 play rulebook:

  1. Facts Don’t Matter
  2. Avoid Sound Logic
  3. Attack the Messenger, not the Message

An old friend and one of the smartest people I know suggested I watch a talk by Anthony Chaffee, titled: “The Corruption of Our Nutritional and Medical Guidelines” — Chaffee’s core argument is that there’s a ‘vegan agenda’ being driven by Seventh Day Adventists who control the world’s biggest food companies, who in turn exert undue influence on organisations such as the Dietetics Association of Australia and Harvard University.

This is, of course, something that is not entirely impossible. Industry lobbyists do indeed exert influence on governmental and non-governmental organisations. In fact, the USDA was forced in 2001 to reveal that 6 of the 11 members of their “dietary guidelines committee” members had ties to the meat, dairy and egg industries.

However, I believe claims such as Chaffee’s need actual evidence. Instead, Chaffee simply plays the 1–2–3 game:

1. Facts Don’t Matter

Chaffee makes several false claims that can be resolved quite quickly with a bit of Googling, for example that Coca-Cola spends 11 times more on nutrition research than the NIH (they don’t).

One of the most pervasive claims that Chaffee repeats is that the Inuit are, or at least were, more healthy, despite living on an exclusive animal diet.

In fact, the opposite is true:

Claims that Eskimos were free of heart (artery) disease are untrue. A thorough review of the evidence concludes that “Eskimos have a similar prevalence of CAD (coronary artery disease) as non-Eskimo populations, they have excessive mortality due to cerebrovascular strokes, their overall mortality is twice as high as that of non-Eskimo populations, and their life expectancy is approximately 10 years shorter than the Danish population.”

Mummified remains of Eskimos dating back 2,000 years have shown extensive hardening of the arteries throughout their brains, hearts and limbs; as a direct consequence of following a carnivorous diet of birds, caribou, seals, walrus, polar bears, whales, and fish. The June 1987 issue of National Geographic magazine carried an article about two Eskimo women, one in her twenties and the other in her forties, frozen for five centuries in a tomb of ice. When discovered and medically examined they both showed signs of severe osteoporosis and also suffered extensive atherosclerosis, “probably the result of a heavy diet of whale and seal blubber.”

Protein, and especially animal protein, consumed in excess of our needs places serious burdens on the body. The liver and kidneys work hard to process the excess protein and excrete its byproducts along with the urine. As a result of this extra work, Eskimos have been reported to have an enlarged liver while living on meat, and to produce larger than average volumes of urine in order to excrete the byproducts of protein metabolism. The bones also play a role in managing excess animal protein (acidic by nature) by neutralizing large amounts of dietary acids. In this process bone structure and bone mineral content are lost through the kidney system, depleting the bones into a condition called osteoporosis

I had to stop counting the amount of claims that he made that were just pure nonsense, and I didn’t have the assistance of Hillary Clinton’s Fact Checking team on hand. But I asked ChatGPT which summarized the video succinctly:

“The video contains a mixture of facts, opinions, and misinformation. Some of the claims are supported by scientific evidence and reputable sources, while others are based on cherry-picked data, anecdotal evidence, or conspiracy theories. The video also presents a biased and one-sided view of the issues, without acknowledging the limitations or controversies of its own sources. Therefore, the video should not be taken as a reliable or objective source of information. Instead, it should be viewed with caution and skepticism, and verified with other independent and credible sources.”

2. Avoid Sound Logic

The basis of logic is this:

Premise -> Deduction/Induction -> Conclusion

If the premise is that “All Gronks are green” and “Fred is a Gronk”, then the logical deduction is that “Fred is Green”. If you deduce that “Fred is NOT green”, then you are wrong. Not as a matter of opinion, but as a matter of fact.

Credit: @pactiss

Chaffee, however, has no qualms confidently making deductions that are not supported by his own, often spurious, premises.

For example, at around the 33 minute mark, Chaffee says:

Look at those plants growing outside! You can’t make a salad out of that tree! It would make you sick! (Premise)

THEREFORE

Spinach is toxic! (Conclusion)

Or:

People are suffering more from disease today

BECAUSE

They are eating more plants and less meat on the advice of people like Walter Willet.

There’s only one problem with that… and that is that per capita meat consumption has increased significantly over the last 50 years.

Attack the Messenger, not the Message

Where George Soros is the target of tinfoil hat wearing antisemites and Paul Offit raises the ire of anti-vaxxers, the primary target for the carnivore diet industry is a man named Walter Willett. Chaffee happily joins the ruck:

“So Walter Willett is the top nutritional researcher at Harvard. He’s extremely influential, extremely well regarded. He’s been on panels with Sanitarium, with these food companies, with Lifestyle Medicine, okay? So… I don’t know if he’s a Seventh Day Adventist, but he’s working with them and he’s pushing their agenda!” (around min 38)

If Chaffee has successfully made you doubt Willet (whether you think he’s a Seventh Day Adventist or not), the beauty about science is that you can read the papers yourself. You can read all the articles on Harvard’s Nutrition Source and double-check the references they provide. And if you wish to, you can even raise funds and do it yourself. If you can remain objective, you will come to the same conclusion as Harvard and the world’s leading nutrition bodies did when they recommended the Healthy Eating Plate:

Unfortunately, spreading simple, science-backed dietary advice won’t sell books or go viral on Youtube! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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Henk Kleynhans

Built Wi-Fi networks in Africa, lobbied governments on spectrum reform, connected the Dalai Lama to Desmond Tutu. Head of Product (Insurance)