Autoimmune Thyroid Disease

An Unfortunate and Lengthy Adventure in Misdiagnosis

Why meat prevents scurvy

with 10 comments

Roald Amundsen was a polar explorer in the early part of this century. Unlike Robert Falcon Scott on his ill-fated expedition to the antarctic, Amundsen’s philosophy was to eat what the native eskimos ate. Whilst Scott took tinned food and biscuits on his expedition, Amundsen ate pemmican, cloud berry jam, and slaughtered half of his huskies for fresh meat when they were no longer required to pull supplies. Scott’s rations were not calorically adequate for the journey and his team lost a lot of weight. Despite taking lime juice with them, they died, disasterously of malnutrition and scurvy.

Fresh raw meat contains very small quantities of vitamin C. Vilhjalmur Stefansson, another polar explorer who ate like the eskimos, was never troubled by scurvy. When two of his team became sick with scurvy, he discovered they had been secretly eating a cache of Western foods like biscuits. He cured them on an all meat diet. Stefansson was the original carnivore – after his expeditions in the arctic, he became convinced it was entirely possible to live on a diet of nothing but meat, and remain in excellent health, and in fact negate many of our common health problems like headaches and aches and pains (sound familiar?). Stefansson – whose diet included such delicacies as raw calves’ brains and other organ meats, checked himself into the Bellevue hospital for a year to be observed in order to prove an all meat diet to the world. He succeeded, and spent the rest of his life eating a diet of meat. In his old age, he married a younger woman who tempted him with sweet desserts. He gave in to her persuasions, and suffered a stroke. Having had this setback in health, he went back to his all meat diet and lived for over another decade, into his eighties.

Meat contains virtually insignificant amounts of vitamin C, yet arctic explorers have long known its ability to prevent scurvy. The average sailor’s diet, by contrast, consisted largely of carbohydrate in the form of biscuits, and little protein – weevils not withstanding – as well as significant amounts of alcohol, all factors known to increase the risk of developing scurvy.

Despite the fact that fresh meat was well-known as a practical antiscorbutic among civilian whalers and explorers in the Arctic, at the time of Scott’s mission to the antarctic, the prevailing medical theory was that scurvy was caused by “tainted” canned food, and it wasn’t until 1932 that the connection between vitamin C and scurvy was established.

I have read many passages here and there extolling the virtues of fresh meat in preventing scurvy, one is even quoted in Nourishing Traditons, where this capacity is attributed to “some unknown factor” in the meat.

In fact, meat not only prevents scurvy because it contains tiny quantities of vitamin C, it prevents it because it bypasses the need for vitamin C.

Vitamin C is required to form collagen in the body, and it does this – despite being described everywhere as an antioxidant – by oxidation. Vitamin C’s role in collagen formation is to transfer a hydroxyl group to the amino acids lysine and proline. Meat, however, already contains appreciable quantities of hydroxylysine and hydroxyproline, bypassing some of the requirement for vitamin C. In other words, your vitamin C requirement is dependent upon how much meat you do not eat.


Written by alienrobotgirl

4 September, 2006 at 12:56 pm

10 Responses

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  1. does cooked meat contain some vitamin C or does the meat need to be eaten raw?Carolyn


    16 September, 2006 at 1:07 am

  2. Fantastic! It’s interesting to know that raw meat prevents scurvey, but knowing why is many times more satisfying.Two and a half months into a 0% fruit and vegetable diet and 90-95% raw animal foods diet and I have no scurvy… and now I know why.-Raw Paleo John


    16 September, 2006 at 8:02 am

  3. Hi Carolyn, This is quite a difficult question as it depends on how the meat is cooked – time, temperature, and leaching into water all reduce vitamin C content. Probably one of the better retentions will be in quickly fried rare steak.Hi Raw Paleo John, good for you! Sounds like our diets are pretty similar at the moment, now I’ve finally plucked up the courage to eat raw meat!

    Alien Robot Girl

    16 September, 2006 at 2:29 pm

  4. Do you think adequate nutrition could be met on a diet based entirely on raw eggs? In my research, some list eggs as having very minuscule amounts of vitamin C, while others state that it has none. I don’t know which is more correct but I do find raw eggs more palatable than raw meat and would prefer that route to a raw animals foods diet.In fact, in a cup, lightly blended with a fork, they taste just like egg nog and I love egg nog.-MikeP.S. Eggs constitute a complete animal to me and it seems that a diet based on makeup of a complete animal would yield all necessary vitamins and nutrients. Would you not agree?


    29 September, 2006 at 10:53 pm

  5. Well Mike, I wouldn’t advise eating huge amounts of raw egg whites as the avidin in them antagonises biotin and can give you a deficiency at high quantities.However, a diet made up of around 40 egg yolks a day (2,400 kcals), provides one’s RDA of micronutrients several times over with the exception of:vitamin C 0%calcium 93%copper 19%magnesium 20%manganese 26%niacin 1%There’s no nutritional data in the USDA database about hydroxyproline and hydroxylysine content.It wouldn’t take much supplementation (liver? oysters? mussels? pure ascorbic acid?) to make up the nutritional deficits!

    Alien Robot Girl

    30 September, 2006 at 2:06 pm

  6. What are you thoughts on something with a little more middle ground, say bananas and egg yolks?-Mike


    1 October, 2006 at 2:41 am

  7. Bananas aren’t as nutritious as eggs. You’d have to eat eight of them per day (870 kcals) to make up the missing nutrients, and that wouldn’t include niacin – you’d still be stuck on 37% of RDA. Also you’d get an extremely high dose of histidine and histamine, and pyridoxine and pyridoxine glycosides. (B6, and B6 blockers).They’re a neolithic food. I’m not a fan of bananas for a variety of reasons.

    Alien Robot Girl

    1 October, 2006 at 9:53 am

  8. […] on September 19th, 2006 Rob from Zero Carb Daily gave me a link to my article on why meat prevents scurvy! Thanks Rob! “I don’t eat any veggies primarily because they taste like absolute […]

  9. In “The Fat of the Land”, Stefansson wrote that the aboriginals of Alaska and N. Canada were not obsessed with raw food and preferred cooked food. They ate fish raw in various forms of decay and stocked up on fat which fermented. But cooking has always been a center piece of aboriginal diets. I think it’s one of the main reasons we mastered fire.


    28 December, 2008 at 6:28 am

  10. People have such strong opinions on this. I honestly don’t think it matters. Eating raw meat didn’t really make much of a difference for me – what I felt was a marginal improvement that may well have been a placebo. I do remember craving huge amounts of lo-salt. Raw meat contains more taurine, and taurine tends to calm you down but result in increased potassium loss.


    8 February, 2009 at 7:25 pm

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