Hunters Of Wild Game Can’t Remain In Ketosis

Below, I have another Duck Dodgers post for you, derived from a comment on a previous post. But first, you’ll recall a recent post; wherein, I made mention of Part 1 of a Catalyst episode on the gut microbiome: Australian Catalyst: Gut Reaction; It Signals The End of VLC and Ketogenic Diets For Everyone. Part 2 is now up and running. See what happens to the athlete’s insulin response after just a month on a high fiber diet.

In other news, Tom Naughton, who has always been the kind of guy who can change his mind (evident even in how his views changed during his making of [easyazon_link asin=”B00BJN7G9A” locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”fretheani-20″ add_to_cart=”default” cloaking=”default” localization=”default” popups=”default”]Fat Head[/easyazon_link]), has now solidly come over to the The Dark Side. See: Reactions To Arguments About Ketosis.

Alright, here’s Duck.


More nails in the coffin for those who think that it’s possible to stay ketogenic while consuming wild game.

From: Energy Source, Protein Metabolism, and Hunter-Gatherer Subsistence Strategies

Our concern is with periods of high lean meat (i.e., high protein) consumption, when carbohydrates and animal fat would have been scarce or unavailable to hunters and gatherers as sources of calories… …It should be pointed out, however, that the few minimum values that do exist for wild ungulate meat may nevertheless tend to underestimate somewhat the actual amount of fat available to hunter-gatherers in a carcass, because the values do not include subcutaneous and visceral fat deposits, fat in the bone marrow, and so forth. On the other hand, as will be discussed more fully below, many of these fat reserves may become largely or totally depleted during the winter and spring, bringing the available fat levels more in line with the values for meat alone… ……Second, hunter-gatherers may augment their supplies of storable fat through labor-intensive activities such as rendering bone grease. Preparation of bone grease involves smashing the bone, heavy limb elements as well as lighter vertebrae and ribs, and then boiling the small pieces of bone in water until the grease is extracted. Grease is skimmed off the water and placed in skin containers to harden. Among nomadic groups lacking pottery, the laborious boiling process is accomplished by heating rocks in a fire and transferring them to a perishable container such as a skin bag that contains the broken-up bones (see Binford 1978 for a description of grease rendering). Commonly, the rendered fat is mixed with an equal proportion of pulverized, jerked lean meat to make pemmican, an energy-rich food that can be stored for several years if kept dry (Stefansson 1956:179, 188).

Interestingly, the study points out how carbohydrate starved cultures would often trade fat or carbohydrates:

Trade for fat or carbohydrate with other populations provides another widely practiced alternative. For example, Nunamiut Eskimos who relied heavily on caribou for subsistence annually traded for fat and seaweed with coastal-dwelling Taremiut (Gubser 1965; Spencer 1959; Eidlitz 1969:50). The same situation obtained for inland Athabascan groups who traded skins, blankets, and tools to Eskimo and Northwest Coast populations in return for seal, whale, or oulachen oil (Olson 1936; Birket-Smith and de Laguna 1938; People of ‘Ksan 198089ff.; Kuhnlein et al. 1982).

The study goes on to conclude…

In this paper we have focused on alternative strategies open to hunter-gatherers to cope with nutritional deficiencies which occur seasonally in environments where ungulate meat forms the principal available resource in late winter and spring. In environments where alternative, fattier species such as beaver, raccoon, or migratory waterfowl are normally available in the spring, heavy reliance on lean ungulate meat and its associated nutritional problems might nevertheless occur periodically during “bad” years in which the number of smaller game animals is significantly depressed. It is also possible that such reliance may occur chronically in areas of the subarctic where caribou constitute the primary, year-round subsistence resource (cf. Burch 1972). Thus, while the emphasis of our discussion has been on the consequences of recurrent, winter – spring reliance on ungulate meat, the susceptibility of populations to the deficiencies discussed above actually ranges over a continuum from periodic to seasonal to chronic, depending on the frequency with which lean ungulate meat constitutes a major part of the hunter-gatherer diet. In addition, these same arguments may be extended to situations in which climatic, environmental, demographic, or other changes lead to long-term reductions in available energy. Under such conditions, selection may favor a permanent shift in the subsistence strategies of hunters and gatherers toward greater emphasis on carbohydrate resources. The apparent increase in reliance on plant foods in many parts of the world following the end of the Pleistocene might profitably be explored from this perspective. The greater protein-sparing capacity of carbohydrate under conditions of marginal calorie or protein intake may also help to explain why hunter-gatherers in the early Holocene began to invest time and energy cultivating plants, despite the meager returns many of these cultigens would have provided in their early stages of domestication. Similarly, a long-term increase in the availability of carbohydrates, due, for example, to the introduction of a cultivated plant species, may alter the importance to hunter-gatherers of animal fat, and may lead to permanent changes in the animal species they procure, the parts they select during butchering and processing, the importance of marrow production and grease rendering, and the season of the year they hunt or trap. The inadequacies of a lean-meat diet and the noninterchangeability of fat and carbohydrate clearly open a number of interesting avenues of research that remain to be explored in detail.

As we can see, game meat is just too lean to support ketosis. The idea that you can stay in ketosis from eating wild game, when food is scarce, isn’t supported by the scientific literature. And for those who are still not convinced, here’s a study showing how little fat can be extracted from reindeer/caribou.

From: Body growth and carcass composition of lean reindeer (Rangifer tarandus tarandus L.) from birth to sexual maturity

Body growth and carcass composition were measured in lean reindeer during the juvenile growth period between birth and 3 years of age. Mean carcass weight in these lean reindeer was 56 ± 4% of body weight and the deposition of body muscle and bone mass was linearly correlated with body weight after the 1st month of age. The weight of the brain relative to body weight and carcass weight declined, while the relative changes in heart, liver, kidneys, parotid glands, and tissues of the gastrointestinal tract were small after the neonatal period. The extractable fat content in carcasses increased from 4.4 to 11.4% of wet weight or approximately 100g fat at birth and 3.5 kg fat in adult reindeer. Fat-free dry matter represented a constant percentage (18–20%) of wet carcass weight independent of body weight after the neonatal period, while a significant inverse relationship between carcass fat and body water was found.


‘Aint science a bitch? The bottom line: there is simply too little fat available in the wild to be in a constant state of ketosis. It requires modern processing to have enough fat at fingertips at all times, 24/7. Everybody has to eat something, so deficiencies are going to be made up by lean protein and/or carbohydrate but most certainly both most of the time.

All this other stuff is Mother Goose Fantasy. Chronic ketosis simply has no basis in any population of earthlings anyone knows about. ketosis is likely beneficial episodically, i.e., during an intermittent fast, just as we’re metabolically designed by means of evolution.

By the way, does this story sound familiar? If you’re a woman and hit some of the LC/VLC forums, it sure should because these sorts of health problems are epidemic.

Mari says:
August 27, 2014 at 10:18

Hi, I am very new to the idea of RS, but I have been eating VLC for almost 4 years. I lost 80 pounds, but gained back 50, even though I have remained LC for the majority of that time. I have tried many different methods to add carbs back in to my diet, but I can’t seem to get past the 30 grams a day mark. Any time I do, about 30 to 45 minutes after I eat, my heart rate shoots up from my normal 75 bpm to over 100, all while seated. I do not check my blood sugar. I have read some info about incorporating RS into my diet to help my gut bacteria and to possibly allow me to tolerate more carbs in my diet. I already try to incorporate homemade kefir and fermented vegetables in my daily diet, but I now realize eating VLC doesn’t really give the probiotics in the kefir and vegetables much to eat. I would love to use potato starch in my diet, but I have Hashimotos disease and I am supposed to stay away from night shades, so I’m not sure if it’s a good idea to eat that. I did buy a jar of Now Foods Nutraflora FOS, thinking it was equivalent to the RS in potato starch, but reading most of the comments here, I realize that it is not. What I would like to know is if the nutraflora will help, or if I should try something else? I would love to be able to not have to eat VLC anymore. I am constantly exhausted, freezing cold and now the only way I can drop any weight is by staying under 1700 calories, in addition to staying under 30 carbs. When I told my endocrinologist about my problems with weight loss, he just prescribed me an appetite suppressant, which is the only way I can stay under 1700 calories. You all seem extremely educated in this realm, so I turn to you for some advice. Thank you :)

She’s been referred to this recent post on Chris Kresser’s blog: Is a Low-Carb Diet Ruining Your Health?

May saner minds prevail.

Since Covid killed my Cabo San Lucas vacation-rental business in 2021, this is my day job. I can't do it without you. Memberships are $10 monthly, $20 quarterly, or $65 annually. Two premium coffees per month. Every membership helps finance this work I do, and if you like what I do, please chip in. No grandiose pitches.


  1. Regina on August 28, 2014 at 19:46

    This George Carlin clip made me think of you and Tatertot:


  2. Bob on August 28, 2014 at 15:26

    Short answer for Mari: Grok harder. /sarcasm

  3. Hello on August 28, 2014 at 15:48

    Speaking of ketosis, I just saw some footage of Jimmy Moore AHS14 – wow! How heavy is he now?

    • Bob on August 28, 2014 at 16:08

      Heavy enough to start going after bread company as a distraction.

    • rob on August 28, 2014 at 16:44

      And he’s barely forty, seems cold to say but I would be surprised if he makes it to 55 he’s already put his heart through a lot and for men to have lots of fat around the middle and be sedentary is very dangerous. I’ve known a number of guys who died in late 40’s and 50’s of massive heart attacks. People can through around pseudoscientific jargon as much as they want if you look like shit you aren’t healthy and eventually you will wind up spending lots of time in doctors offices, there are far more entertaining ways to slowly kill yourself.

    • Richard Nikoley on August 28, 2014 at 17:11

      I hate to reign down on Jimmy.

      He has, after all, given so very much via his podcasts over the years.

      I began watching that Keto & Cancer Panel and I had to click it off. I’ll leave folks to speculate.

      I am simply not seeing the results of Keto in any respect, widespread. And it makes sense. It’s completely unnatural.

      Neither do I worry about it. The world is coming around. Jimmy’s book doesn’t even really need to be challenged. Sad, really.

      I wish him well.

    • Gina on August 28, 2014 at 22:47

      Wow. The cojones it must take for that guy to appear in public and dole out diet advice.

      I admit to schadenfreude when it comes to Jimmy Moore, but his complete lack of any sense of irony is irritating. He’s wildly popular in vegan circles as a representative low carb specimen. If he didn’t exist it would be necessary to invent him.

  4. Harriet on August 28, 2014 at 16:35

    Comment to Mari. I decided that when what I was doing wasn’t working (LC and gradually increasing weight along with AI disease) I had to do something else. Resistant starch, specifically potato starch, improves so many things that I put up with the minor issues associated with it. Adding potatoes back into my diet wasn’t a problem despite being years without them. Keep searching. I’ve found some possible answers after getting my gut biome tested and have some advice about how to improve it. I’m working on it now.

  5. tatertot on August 28, 2014 at 17:05

    Winds of change are definitely blowing. Much credit to FTA.

    The Inuit probably had the most access to the fattiest of all animals, ie. walrus, seal, whales. They also used lots of oil for heating their huts and oil lamps. Even Steffanson accounts had them eating lots of fish and caribou. Fat was valued, but not strictly as a food item.

    Good job, again, by Duck Dodgers!

  6. Gemma on August 29, 2014 at 00:22


    I’m glad my “perpetuum mobile” comment over there at Fat Head made you laugh.

    The other one didn’t get it, unfortunately.

  7. Duck Dodgers on August 29, 2014 at 12:22

    More evidence of very low fat yields from wild game:

    From: Gazelle bone marrow yields and Epipalaeolithic carcass exploitation strategies in the southern Levant (Free Download)

    We found extensive variation in marrow fat content among individual gazelles. Animals with the highest marrow yields were killed in the spring while animals killed in the early autumn had lower fat contents. Nevertheless, our results suggest that gazelle marrow provided a reliable, albeit small fat resource for prehistoric foragers in all seasons…

    ..Despite the relatively low marrow yield from a single gazelle carcass, the fragmentation of the Epipalaeolithic assemblages indicates that humans routinely opened gazelle long bones for marrow.

    Be sure to take a peek at the charts and figures in the PDF showing the caloric tallies of marrow fat. There’s no doubt that every part of the animal was relished, but it’s not difficult to see that wild game is too lean to get the majority of one’s calories from fat.

  8. Duck Dodgers on August 29, 2014 at 21:08

    As I continue to investigate the literature, I want to present all the evidence.

    I found a study that is a bit more relevant to what prehistoric African hominids did with scavenged marrow. This study mentions one or two technical exceptions to the notion I’ve presented about most wild game being too lean to support long term ketosis. But, I still think it still falls short for realistically sustaining ketosis over the long term.

    I’m sure we are all familiar with the notion that early humans/hominds scavenged carcasses left from obligate carnivores, rather than being skilled hunters early on. Skilled hunting likely came much later in our evolution.

    From: Variability in long bone marrow yields of East African ungulates and its zooarchaeological implications by T. Cregg Madrigal

    Larger mammal long bones and the marrow they contain may be critical forunderstanding the subsistence strategies of prehistoric hominids. Long bone fragmentsdominate most zooarchaeological assemblages. Because these long bones once contained a calorie·dense resource, their fragmentation reflects, at least in part, the acquisition of energy by hominids wielding pounding tools. Hominids might be expected to have focused consumption on marrow from the bones providing the highest caloric yields. This proposition can be explored fully only if the magnitude and basis of variability in long bone marrow yields is understood. In this paper, we report gross yields of long bone marrow for East African ungulate individuals…

    …Our results indicate that Bed I Olduvai hominids were preferentially breaking those larger mammal long bones that provided the greatest gross energy gain. In neglecting many lower-yielding bones, hominids were not maximizing energy gain from marrow exploitation, nor were they operating in an extremely energy-limited mode (D. Metcalfe,pers. comm; contra Blumenschine, 1991). Rather, the amount of food energy available to the hominids who broke marrow bones at the sites seems to have been adequate, whether the energy was derived from animal or plant foods.

    The high femur fat levels of individuals that provided the best models of long bone abundances at the two sites suggest that hominids had access to animals that had suffered little nutritional stress. Hominids do not seem to have been exploiting marrow bones from animals that died of malnutrition, such as is most likely to occur at the height of the long dry season (see also Speth, 1989).

    Our evidence that hominids were able to select high-yielding bones is inconsistent with their characterization as marginal scavengers who had access only to the low-yielding parts abandoned by bone crunching carnivores (see. e.g.Binford, 1981). Rather, the selectivity is consistent with passive scavenging opportunities from abandoned lion, leopard, and machairodont kills (Blumenschine, 1987;Cavallo & Blumenschine, 1989; Marean, 1989), with confrontational scavenging (e.g. Bunn, 1986), and with hunting. However, access to fully-fleshed carcasses is not required to explain the relative abundance of long bones at the sites. Long bone abundances correlate negatively but insignificantly to flesh yields (Blumenschine, 1991). Exploitation of passive scavenging opportunities that targeted high yielding marrow bones is all that is required to explain longbone abundances at the sites.

    Even carcass acquisition strategies that are limited to marrow are far from marginal in terms of daily energy needs and predictability. Assuming the caloric requirement of an adult Homo habilis was approximately 2000 Kcal/day,* the 12 major marrowbones from a nutritionally unstressed wildebeest (ca. 3080 Kcal, Table 5) would provide over 1.5 person-days of total caloric requirements. A size 2 bovid would provide approximately 85% of daily caloric requirements, and a size I bovid about 25%. These yields may not be sufficient to sustain an active system of food sharing of the sort envisioned by Isaac (1978), but on an individual level, they could have provided a critical energy supplement. Further, this supplement may have been predictably located, as indicated by the availability of abandoned felid kills in modern savanna-woodlands (Blumenschine, 1987; Cavallo & Blumenschine, 1989). While our results cannot be used to infer the contribution of marrow to hominid energy budgets, the high gross yields we have documented in combination with thelow processing times of marrow bones (Blumenschine & Madrigal, in prep.) suggest that marrow may have been a preferred energy source. As such, marrow may have been a prime target of carcass processing by hominids despite its low contribution to total carcass yield.


    So, if you take the time to read through the study, we see that the only real “high fat” marrow came from an unstressed wildebeest. These wildebeest were a rare exception (see Figure 4). The next fattiest marrow came from Grant’s Gazelles and Impalas, which had almost half the Kcals of a wildebeest (the preferentially carried “long bones” of each single carcass able to provide 85% of daily caloric needs for an adult).

    Although, it’s important to make a distinction between “Grant’s Gazelles” and other gazelles. For instance, Figure 4 shows other gazelles, such as the Thomson’s gazelle, having a rather paltry amount of marrow. And this lines up with this study, that I cited in the comment above, says that gazelles only provided a “small fat resource for prehistoric foragers in all seasons”.

    The key point seems to be that in order for an adult hominid to stay ketogenic chronically, he would have to scavenge the bones of an unstressed wildebeest every 1.5 days of his life—or a single unstressed Grant’s Gazelle or Impala per day—and never share the marrow bones with anyone in his tribe or family.

    That seems extremely far fetched over the long term, especially when we consider that the animals were only “unstressed” when easily accessible sedges and tubers were more abundant.

    And virtually every other ungulate besides those few exceptions were far leaner, offering very little marrow yields (see Figure 4, again).

    So, that’s the most relevant study I could find to what Paleolithic ancestors did with their scavenged marrow bones. Given the prevalence of human AMY1 starch genes as well as the C4 isotopes found in most hominid fossils, it would appear that marrow fat was a highly preferential supplement that was regularly shared amongst families/tribes.

    A scavenging hominid would have had to be lucky to capture such high fat wildebeests every 1.5 days and extremely greedy (never sharing his regular kills) in order to stay in ketosis.

    Everything in moderation.

  9. Chris H on August 29, 2014 at 21:52

    LOL, so I followed the link in this post to the “Is A Low Carb Diet Ruining Your Health” on Kresser’s site and responded to your comment;

    “Transient ketosis ushers autophagy, and cleansing at the cellular level. This ought be well established. But VLC and Ketosis is about being chronic about it, or, too much is not enough.

    Ultimately, it’s probably about selling stuff.”

    By saying that the article being discussed read like nothing more than an advertisement to me as well with all of the “work with me” links throughout. I guess they have an issue with truth over there much like many other well known paleo/low carb sites as my comment was quickly deleted. Sorry, but I’m skeptical of any article in which the author is trying to sell me something whether I agree with them or not. In the newspaper business they call them advertorials, advertisements made to look like news. That’s why I appreciate this site, while you do have the Amazon links which I have found helpful at least your articles aren’t thinly veiled sales pitches.

    I’ve been low carb since May after I saw Fathead and I’ve lost 40lbs so far with at least 40 more to go. I just recently discovered your blog and others and have just upped my carb intake a bit along with RS and probiotics (all three recommended brands along with kefir and fermented veggies). It will be interesting to see if my weight loss increases, decreases or stops altogether. In any case I’m sold on the gut biome being critical for good health.

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