Don't Try the Liver King Diet, Nutritionists Say

Nutrition experts warn against eating the ancestral diet promoted by the Liver King, as it eliminates some nutrient-dense foods crucial for human health.

Brian Johnson, a bodybuilder better known as the Liver King, has caught the internet's attention for his videos depicting "ancestral living," which includes nine tenets: sleep, eat, move, shield, connect, cold, sun, fight, and bond.

While no one would argue about the importance of quality sleep, regular physical activity, and creating bonds with loved ones, as promoted by the Liver King, his diet has stirred controversy, primarily for including raw organ meat.

The Liver King recommends starting the diet by eliminating processed foods, seed oils, and liquid calories. This should be followed by the introduction of whole foods, especially liver, bone marrow, heart, bone broth, and raw pastured eggs.

"You'll be surprised by how much energy, vitality, and primal purpose you regain," the Liver King website claims.

A typical Johnson's meal includes 16 oz of full-fat, cooked red meat, two to three ounces of raw meat, such as bull testicles or heart, one avocado, olive oil, and sea salt.

However, Johnson's bulky muscles — which are easy to spot in his shirtless videos — may come not only from protein foods. In 2022, he confessed to taking anabolic steroids, something he denied numerous times in the past.

What are the risks of the ancestral diet?

Debbie Fetter, an assistant professor of teaching at the Department of Nutrition at UC Davis, says the interpretation of the ancestral diet that focuses on animal-based foods, such as meats, seafood, and organ meats, is essentially the carnivore diet. It excludes nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and dairy.

Plant-based diets — not necessarily vegan or vegetarian — are associated with numerous health benefits. They can help lower body mass index, blood pressure, blood glucose, and cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of multiple chronic diseases and improving the management of existing ones.

Because this diet is so restrictive, you can put yourself at risk for developing a nutrient deficiency. Meats don't contain every nutrient you need, so it's important to have a varied dietary pattern.

Fetter

Shivam Joshi, M.D., an adjunct assistant professor at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, says the main risks of the ancestral diet are derived from the overemphasis on animal protein. This type of diet increases the intake of saturated fat, natural trans fat, and cholesterol, all of which raise the risk of cardiovascular disease.

"High amounts of animal protein have a large body of scientific literature, from observational studies to randomized, controlled trials, showing an increase in many other diseases from hypertension to dementia to kidney stones," he adds.

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Liver King Dinner!

♬ original sound - LIVER KING ⚔️ ANCESTRAL CEO ⚔️

Fetter says the big draw of the ancestral diet is that it is being marketed as an unprocessed dietary pattern.

"Just because a food is processed doesn't necessarily mean it's not healthy, but it is true that many processed items are not the most nutrient-dense options and contain nutrients we're advised to limit, such as salt, added sugar, saturated fat," she explains.

Research suggests that the high consumption of ultra-processed foods, such as packaged snacks, processed meat, and sweetened beverages, may cause dire health consequences. A large 19-year study found that people who consumed the most ultra-processed foods had a 31% higher mortality rate compared to those who ate the least of these products.

Ultra-processed foods have also been linked to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and dementia.

Fetter says the ancestral diet lacks fiber, which is commonly found in plant foods. People who don't eat sufficient fiber are at a higher risk of developing conditions like colon cancer, hemorrhoids, chronic constipation, and diverticula.

Shivam Joshi quote

Does the ancestral diet have any benefits?

With the ancestral diet being extremely restrictive, the potential benefits are scarce.

According to Joshi, one of them is eliminating processed and ultra-processed foods, which are unhealthy because they are high in calories and low in healthful nutrients.

Fetter says meat generally isn't known as a major allergen or cause of food sensitivity. Therefore, the diet may act as an elimination diet that can remove an underlying food allergy or sensitivity.

Moreover, meat is a good source of iron and vitamin B12, which certain populations can be at increased risk of deficiency, and is a source of high-quality protein.

However, there is no high-quality research that supports following an animal-only diet for health benefits.

Fetter

The dangers of eating raw meat

Joshi says raw consumption of animal protein puts people at risk for many food-borne diseases.

For instance, some germs commonly found in meat include Salmonella and E. coli. Infections with these pathogens are usually not life-threatening but can be dangerous for pregnant women, young children, and older adults.

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Liver King dinner!

♬ original sound - LIVER KING ⚔️ ANCESTRAL CEO ⚔️

Yersinia — another bacterium detected in raw meat — causes the infection called yersiniosis, responsible for about 640 hospitalizations and 35 deaths in the United States every year.

Unpasteurized raw eggs may also contain Salmonella, and in the wake of the bird flu spreading in humans, experts say vulnerable populations should be more careful when consuming undercooked eggs.

So, is the Liver King diet good for you?

Fetter says the ancestral diet eliminates so many foods it can potentially trigger an unhealthy relationship with food. It can also make it hard to eat in social settings or do activities involving food, such as attending a potluck or eating at a restaurant.

Moreover, meat is less sustainable to produce, as many livestock come with a high greenhouse gas price.

Joshi says the ancestral diet overlooks a large body of nutritional science emphasizing the consumption of a diet based on plant foods. It also neglects the ancestral contributions of women who likely gathered large quantities of plant foods.

He tells Healthnews, "The ancestral diet is another fad-diet in the wake of the paleo diet that wraps machismo and pseudoscience together into a hyperpalatable ideology."


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