In A Nutshell
While some people can’t fathom eating a cute, fuzzy little rabbit, the reality is that they are a good source of food. With their renown for breeding and their widespread habitat range, they are an effective source of nutrition. However, one must be careful when eating rabbit, as eating nothing but rabbit can actually kill you. It’s called rabbit starvation, and it’s one of the more paradoxical things out there.
The Whole Bushel
Rabbits are among the most populous food sources in the world. And while they aren’t terribly common today as mass production of beef, pork, and chicken has become easier, their meat was once an important food source. However, if one was to stay on a diet of entirely rabbit meat, they would begin to suffer from various, rather unpleasant symptoms, ranging from diarrhea, discomfort, headache, and (most paradoxically of all) hunger. This strange “rabbit starvation” was noted by many explorers and travelers, who relied on hunting the local game for nutrients.
Explorers who traveled to the Northern Arctic, where snow rabbits were plentiful and carrying supplies from civilization was a hassle, were confronted with it while also dealing with the harsh climate. Additionally, it was noted by Charles Darwin in his account of his famous sea voyage on the HMS Beagle. He observed that people who fed mainly on dried or lean meat gained an insatiable craving for fatty and oily foods, even actual fats and oils themselves, even though they would be quite unappetizing when consumed raw.
The lack of fat in the rabbit meat was actually causing the confusing hunger and malnutrition. While meats, even those with little fat, have nutritional value, fats are a very important part of the diet. Modern-day diets and health trends tend to demonize fats as something that people consume in excess (which is certainly true to an extent). But fats are a vital part of the body’s ability to generate energy and support its most fundamental systems.
This becomes especially important when the subject is in a particularly hostile environment, like the Arctic explorers. Without any fat in their diets to break down into energy, which can be converted into heat, their bodies burned away their own fat stores quickly in an attempt to keep their bodies warm. This is normally something that is done to help the individual seek out more food and is not a long-term survival solution. They likely weren’t even aware of their lack of fats (outside of feelings of hunger and cravings) until it was too late.
Another explanation for rabbit starvation lies in the bio-transformation of proteins in the body. Being a chemical process, the metabolization of proteins produces by-products. This includes urea (and by extension amino acids) and ammonia, which must be processed by the body’s waste filtration systems before the bloodstream is saturated with them. If they are not filtered out, the result is eventually death.
Show Me The Proof
Rabbit Starvation: High protein and high fat diets
Dietary Reference Intakes
National Institutes of Health: A review of issues of dietary protein intake in humans