I once joined a friend on an all meat diet. He wanted to lose weight and I didn’t want to be eating french fries in front of him at our daily lunches (we worked together). Well, we both did lose weight, despite eating all the meat we wanted.
Little did I know that there was a big risk in this.
Now, to be fair, we also were eating things like salads and vegetables without a starch component (carrots…) and we were also not being fat limited, so cheese was in there too. These are likely the reason we never had a “Rabbit Poisoning” issue, also called “Protein Poisoning”.
If you are getting more than about 35% of your calories from protein, and not having much in the way of starches, fats, and vitamins, it is very easy to end up in a toxic state. Literally toxic. The liver starts flooding your blood with ammonia and other toxic byproducts of protein breakdown.
This matters for anyone planning a “Survival Diet”. IF you are thinking of living off a lot of stored jerky, along with the local rabbit, squirrel, or deer population, well, that’s not enough.
Rabbit starvation, also known as protein poisoning, is a dangerous health condition caused by the over-consumption of protein coupled with fat, carbohydrate, and micronutrient deprivation. The common name refers to the fact that this condition can be caused by a near-total subsistence on lean, wild game, such as rabbit. Unchecked, the disease can cause severe symptoms of malnutrition, and can lead to a fatal buildup of toxins in the bloodstream.
The discovery of rabbit starvation is linked to early health studies and observations of Native Americans. Tribes in Alaska and the polar region subsisted largely on game with a high amount of fat and carbohydrates, such as seals and whales, and rarely suffered from this form of malnutrition. By contrast, Native Americans stricken with this condition tended to come from forested areas where harsh winters resulted in a diet of primarily lean game. Rabbit starvation was first described by Arctic explorer Vilhjamur Stefansson in the late 19th century, but was also remarked upon by Charles Darwin in his journals.
So first thing to note is that having an all meat diet WITH FAT is not bad for you. Buy a gallon of Olive Oil or Coconut Oil to go with the jerky stash, OK?
This is unlikely to be an issue for anyone doing “the usual” 2 big bags of beans and rice for the basic “supply”, but it is still well worth knowing.
[…] Protein in the body is converted into glucose by the liver, and can be burned as energy. The liver, however, can only safely process a limited amount of protein at a time. If the body receives more protein than it can safely turn into glucose, the resulting strain on the liver and kidneys can cause an increasing buildup of ammonia and amino acids.
protein over-consumption also causes various symptoms of malnutrition, including fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, and constant hunger. These symptoms occur because the body is being deprived of necessary nutrition provided only by fat, carbohydrates, and micronutrients such as vitamins. Symptoms will occur regardless of how many calories a person experiencing rabbit starvation eats, since the body is limited in its ability to process energy and nutrition from protein. […]
The possibility of rabbit starvation leads many health experts to counsel against some protein-heavy diet regimes. Although the exact upper limit for safe protein consumption is not widely agreed upon, some authorities suggest that protein poisoning becomes a concern if protein comprises more than 35% of daily calorie intake.
There’s also a wiki on it:
Protein poisoning (also referred to colloquially as rabbit starvation, mal de caribou, or fat starvation) is a rare form of acute malnutrition thought to be caused by a near complete absence of fat in the diet.
So for “Survival Stores”, do NOT store things like “tuna in water” when you can get “tuna in oil”. You WANT those calories and you WANT that fat.
Excess protein is sometimes cited as the cause of this condition, however when meat and fat are consumed in the correct ratio, such as that found in pemmican (which is 50% fat by volume), the diet is considered nutritionally complete and can support humans for months or more. Other stressors, such as severe cold or a dry environment, may intensify symptoms or decrease time to onset. Symptoms include diarrhea, headache, fatigue, low blood pressure, slow heart rate, and a vague discomfort and hunger (very similar to a food craving) that can be satisfied only by the consumption of fat.
One wonders if the Zombie Brain Eating stereotype comes from some ancient event where fat starved folks suffering Rabbit Starvation (perhaps from canibalism) started craving all that fat in brain tissues…
Protein poisoning was first noted as a consequence of eating rabbit meat exclusively, hence the term, “rabbit starvation”. Rabbit meat is very lean; commercial rabbit meat has 50–100 g dissectable fat per 2 kg (live weight). Based on a carcass yield of 60%, rabbit meat is around 8.3% fat while beef and pork are 32% fat and lamb 28%.
So it may be as much a fat starvation as an over consumption of protein. Note that at 8.3% fat in the diet, you have fat starvation. We are a fat burner (horses and cows are hay burners) and we NEED fat in the diet. At about the 1/3 of calories level up to 1/2 by volume for all protein and fat diet, per the wiki.
So when buying that emergency supply / ration, make sure you put a gallon or two of stable oil of fat in the pantry. I like Olive Oil and Coconut Oil, but a big tub of lard will do in an emergency TEOTWAYKI (The End Of The World As You Know It) run to the store.
Note that this does NOT take long for onset. Think you will live for 30 days on Jerky and Squirrels while your garden gets started? Nope.
The Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson, who experienced rabbit starvation himself, wrote:
The groups that depend on the blubber animals are the most fortunate in the hunting way of life, for they never suffer from fat-hunger. This trouble is worst, so far as North America is concerned, among those forest Indians who depend at times on rabbits, the leanest animal in the North, and who develop the extreme fat-hunger known as rabbit-starvation. Rabbit eaters, if they have no fat from another source—beaver, moose, fish—will develop diarrhea in about a week, with headache, lassitude and vague discomfort. If there are enough rabbits, the people eat till their stomachs are distended; but no matter how much they eat they feel unsatisfied. Some think a man will die sooner if he eats continually of fat-free meat than if he eats nothing, but this is a belief on which sufficient evidence for a decision has not been gathered in the North. Deaths from rabbit-starvation, or from the eating of other skinny meat, are rare; for everyone understands the principle, and any possible preventive steps are naturally taken.
During the Greely Arctic Expedition 1881–1884, a harrowing experience of 25 expedition members, of whom 19 died, Stefansson refers to “‘rabbit starvation’ which is now to me the key to the Greely problem,” which was why “only six came back.” He concludes that one of the reasons for the many deaths was cannibalism of the lean flesh of members who had already died. Stefansson likens this to rabbit starvation, which he explains somewhat as in the above quoted observation.
Charles Darwin, in The Voyage of the Beagle, wrote:
We were here able to buy some biscuit. I had now been several days without tasting any thing besides meat: I did not at all dislike this new regimen; but I felt as if it would only have agreed with me with hard exercise. I have heard that patients in England, when desired to confine themselves exclusively to an animal diet, even with the hope of life before their eyes, have hardly been able to endure it. Yet the Gaucho in the Pampas, for months together, touches nothing but beef. But they eat, I observe, a very large proportion of fat, which is of a less animalized nature; and they particularly dislike dry meat, such as that of the agouti. Dr. Richardson, also, has remarked, “that when people have fed for a long time solely upon lean animal food, the desire for fat becomes so insatiable, that they can consume a large quantity of unmixed and even oily fat without nausea:” this appears to me a curious physiological fact. It is, perhaps, from their meat regimen that the Gauchos, like other carnivorous animals, can abstain long from food. I was told that at Tandeel, some troops voluntarily pursued a party of Indians for three days, without eating or drinking.
Many folks will store up a pile of beans and rice. Maybe include some dried meats and dehydrated vegetables. Making a fine storage of food for even up to a year. But “Where’s the Fat?”, eh? IF you do not have enough fat, all the dried vegetables and protein in the world will just have you starving.
There is also a related, but different, set of issues that arise from the lack of essential fatty acids (from which we make all sorts of hormones and such). These are hard to get without “animal sources” (mostly being from flax seeds / flax oil). This is a significant issue for vegetarians and it must be carefully attended for them. But what is a typical “survival diet” but a largely vegetarian one?
For that reason I make sure I have some cans of foods that are rich in essential fatty acids. In particular, I always have a stack of cans of tuna, sardines, and SPAM or Chicken. Also a bottle of Fish Oil in the fridge or fish oil capsules on the shelf.
It is fine to have a preparedness diet with oatmeal for breakfast, tortillas with refried beans for lunch, and baked beans with rice and vegetables for dinner; BUT, you need to address the fat issue somewhere along the line. Add canned condensed milk with the oatmeal, and a spoon of coconut oil in it too. (Coconut oil has a very nice taste. Not the same as butter in the oats, but still nice and a lot nicer than soybean oil ;-) With those bean burritos, include a tin of sardines packed in olive oil and consume the oil. With dinner, have a slice or two of fried SPAM or put some canned chicken in the beans (including any fat from the can). Then make some biscuits and put a nice drizzle of olive oil or coconut oil on them, and top with jam for desert.
It really is important to plan for and incorporate enough fat into any food storage system. This is especially problematic as many fats do not store well, or are not particularly healthy. Anything hydrogenated is right out. It is metabolically evil. Unfortunately, it is also very “shelf stable”. But there are natural alternatives that are also stable. Coconut oil is the most available (COSTCO has it in large jars) as is Olive Oil. They are my “go to oils” for general cooking anyway. (Olive oil with butter 50:50 is my preferred cooking fat for frying and saute). Both also have very nice flavor and are easy to consume. I have no problem drinking the olive oil from the can of sardines packed in olive oil.
So as we enter this Grand Solar Minimum, if you find yourself thinking about putting away some “emergency supply” of foods, make sure a good sized part of it is some stable fats. I’ve had a large (gallon or so) sized can of Olive Oil on a shelf for a couple of years and it was fine when opened. I’ve had a large jar of coconut oil (that is a solid at room temperature) used for cooking, opened and used often, sitting on the counter for months, maybe even a year+ and it was fine. Polyunsaturated oils like Soybean, Corn, etc. do NOT store as well. They tend to oxidize and go rancid. The plastic bottles are of questionable resistance to oxygen transport long term. Once opened, you are starting a rancidity timer. Smell an old partly used bottle of Soybean Oil and it smells a bit like varnish… So solid fats like lard, coconut oil, palm oil are best. Or monounsaturated fats like Olive Oil. They are better for your health anyway ;-)