The carnivore diet has gained popularity in recent years, with proponents claiming various health benefits. However, some individuals may experience negative symptoms such as feeling wired, tired, and having difficulty sleeping. In this blog post, I’ll share my personal experience and theory on why this happens to some people. I’ll also provide some ideas for successfully navigating the carnivore diet.
While I’m not a medical professional, I hope this information sparks a discussion and helps shed light on the potential role of glutamate in these symptoms. Please comment with any ideas, corrections or insights that you have.
My Personal Experience
Curiosity led me to test the carnivore diet during the initial Covid-19 lock-downs. Social gatherings were limited, sparing me the awkward conversations about my unique dietary experiment of consuming only animal foods.
However, soon after starting the diet, I encountered unexpected negative effects. Nervousness, anxiety, and a constant state of being wired replaced the calm I had hoped for. Sleep became elusive, leaving me tired and wired upon waking, reminiscent of the over stimulation caused by excessive caffeine intake. As weeks went by, the situation worsened, ultimately leading me to halt the experiment after three weeks.
Because my diet primarily consisted of grass-fed beef, tallow, eggs, and some dairy—a fairly standard carnivore diet—I embarked on researching potential explanations for these symptoms. This quest brought me to the intriguing glutamate theory, and I discovered that many others had similar experiences on the carnivore diet.
The Glutamate/GABA Balance
The theory I am considering revolves around the balance of glutamate and GABA, important neurotransmitters in the brain. Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter, while GABA is calming.
After reexamining my genetic SNPs, I discovered significant polymorphisms in the GAD1 genes, responsible for converting glutamate to GABA. I suspect individuals with these polymorphisms may struggle more with the carnivore diet due to the higher glutamate levels in many of the foods which are commonly consumed.
An imbalance with high glutamate and low GABA has been associated with various problems, including sleep disturbances, increased blood glucose levels due to elevated cortisol, psychiatric disorders like anxiety and OCD, migraines, diabetes, and neurological conditions.
If you want to know if you have any GAD1 SNPs, consider checking using tools like the Nutrahacker complete mutation report.
Examining Glutamate Content In Foods
To further investigate, I took some time to compile a list of common carnivore and non-carnivore foods and their glutamic acid (glutamate) content per 100 calories. Not surprisingly, many of the foods I was consuming on the carnivore diet were high in glutamic acid. Interestingly, many of the carnivore foods anecdotally recommended to alleviate the wired/tired problem, such as fat, eggs, butter, and cream, had lower glutamic acid content. Incorporating more of these foods moderately improved my symptoms. Meats like fish, turkey, shrimp, beef, and poultry tended to be higher in glutamic acid.
I find it interesting to consider the staple diets of various cultures before the advent of Western processed foods. It appears to me that even cultures whose diets were closest to the modern carnivore diet consumed foods that could offset the intake of high-glutamate foods. Take, for instance, the Inuit; although their diet predominantly consisted of animal foods, they consumed a significant amount of animal fats, which are much lower in glutamate compared to muscle meat. This may have helped balanced their consumption of high glutamate foods. Another example to consider is the Maasai. While their diet was predominantly meat-based, it also included a substantial amount of milk, which has significantly lower glutamate levels.
I will include the charts of glutamic acid in foods at the end of this post. However, it’s important to note that some publicly available databases may have slight disagreements, making the information not entirely precise. Nevertheless, the charts should provide a good idea of the types of foods that have the highest glutamic acid content.
The Impact of Free Glutamate
It’s important to understand the concept of “free glutamate.” Glutamic acid converts into free glutamate, which is easily absorbed and can act as an excitatory neurotransmitter. Cooking and aging increase free glutamate levels. Slow cooking, in particular, seems to be problematic, but even aged, uncooked meat can have high levels of free glutamate. Aging beef enhances flavor and tenderness but unfortunately increases free glutamate. Additionally, if you thaw meat in the fridge before cooking, it further elevates free glutamate levels. Notably, higher fat content in meat leads to lower glutamate levels, as fat is almost devoid of glutamate. This might explain why some people report feeling better on higher-fat cuts of conventional, grain-fed meat.
Glycine is often recommended to balance the consumption of muscle meats which are high in Methionine. However, from my research and personal experience, glycine may exacerbate the effects of a high glutamate/GABA imbalance. If your glutamate/GABA ratio is already high, glycine might intensify the excitatory effects of glutamate. Some argue that this excitotoxicity also leads to brain cell death. Foods high in glycine include muscle meats, while fat, butter, cream, and dairy tend to be lower in glycine content.
Ideas for Balancing Glutamate Levels
- Mind Your Diet: Consume more low glutamic acid foods and less high glutamic acid foods. For more information, refer to the charts provided at the bottom of this post.
- Cooking and Aging: Reduce your intake of slow-cooked and aged meats. Opt for rare-cooked meats since cooking and aging can raise free glutamate levels. Inquire with your butcher about the duration of meat aging before butchering and their aging methods.
- Exercise: Engaging in regular physical activity may help reduce glutamate levels in the brain.
- Eat More Fat: Incorporate healthy saturated animal fats into your diet, as they have lower glutamic acid levels.
- Front-load Glutamate Consumption: Consume glutamate-rich foods earlier in the day rather than towards evening. This may help you avoid the overstimulating effects of glutamate when it’s time to sleep.
- Prompt Meat Cooking: Minimize the time meat spends in the fridge before cooking to avoid increasing free glutamate levels.
- Moderate Bone Broth Consumption: Avoid long-simmered bone broth, which may contain higher glutamate levels.
- Exercise Caution with Supplements: If you are prone to high glutamate levels, avoid those containing glycine, such as Magnesium Glycinate, TMG (Tri-Methylglycine), Betaine, Collagen, or any supplements bound to glycine (Check for glycinate, bisglycinate, trimethylglycine, etc., on the bottle).
I found my experiment with the carnivore diet to be very interesting and insightful since it helped me to learn a lot about myself and glutamate. While I don’t plan to adopt the carnivore diet, I firmly believe that animal protein is a cornerstone of a healthy diet, offering nutrient density, excellent bioavailability, low toxin content, and easy digestibility.
While I don’t claim to have all the answers, I hope sharing my experiences as a grass-fed beef farmer and nutrition enthusiast sparks a discussion. The potential impact of glutamate on individuals following the carnivore diet is an important topic to consider. Remember, I’m not a medical expert, so it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional before making any significant dietary changes. If you’ve had similar experiences or have insights to share, I welcome your feedback. Let’s engage in this discussion to promote better health and well-being for all.
Carnivore Foods – Glutamic Acid High to Low (grams per 100 calories)*
|Glutamic Acid grams per 100 calories
|Turkey – Light Meat
|Turkey – Dark Meat
|Beef – Chuck
|Beef – Top Sirloin
|Bison – Ground
|Cheese – Parmesan
|Duck – Leg
|Ground Beef 90/10
|Beef – Ribeye
|Beef – Tbone
|Cheese – Mozzarella
|Ground Beef 70/30
|Cheese – Colby
|Cheese – Cheddar
|Lamb – Leg
|Heavy Whipping Cream
|Pork Fat – Leaf
Non-Carnivore Foods – Glutamic Acid High to Low (grams per 100 calories)*
|Glutamic Acid per 100 calories
|Soybeans – Green Raw
|Broccoli – Boiled
|Mushrooms – White Raw
|Spaghetti – Noodles
|Wheat Flour – White
|Almonds – Dry Roasted
|Pretzels – Hard
|White Bread – Commercial
|Peanuts – Dry Roasted
|Cashews – Raw
|Corn – Sweet Canned
|Potato – Baked
|Cinnamon Toast Crunch
|Ice Cream – Vanilla
*These charts should be taken with a few grains of salt. I used the data I could find in publicly available databases and not all databases agreed. However, I think a clear picture is presented of the types of foods which are higher in glutamic acid.