Is the Carnivore Diet Healthy?
The carnivore diet may seem like a meat-lover’s dream diet – nothing but meat throughout the day, from breakfast to dinner and even the snacks in between. But a closer look at this diet shows that it is extremely restrictive and, therefore, may be difficult to sustain long-term for many – yes, even for voracious meat-eaters.
Is the carnivore diet healthy? Is it for you? Read on to find out more.
The Carnivore Diet – How Does It Work?
The carnivore diet is a restrictive diet that only includes meat and animal products; all other foods, including plant foods, are excluded. It’s basically the complete opposite of the vegan diet. The idea is based on the theorized all-meat subsistence diet of our human ancestors, as well as the theory that high-carb diets are the major cause of many chronic diseases that afflict modern humans.
While derived from animals, eliminating dairy products is highly recommended, or consumption should be limited to products that are low in lactose, like butter and hard cheeses.
Unlike other popular low-carb diets, such as the paleo diet and ketogenic diet, which only limit carbohydrate consumption, the carnivore diet completely excludes carbohydrates. Carbs are completely off-limits when following the carnivore diet.
Based on anecdotal evidence, as shared by the carnivore diet’s most well-known proponent, former American orthopedic doctor Shawn Baker, the diet is supposed to be effective in treating obesity, diabetes, arthritis, anxiety, depression, and many other diseases.
What to Eat and Not to Eat on the Carnivore Diet
The carnivore diet does not provide specific guidelines as to portion sizes, frequency of eating, and calorie intake. The majority of those who follow the diet claim that you can eat as much and as often as you want provided that you stick to the foods allowed.
As the diet’s name clearly implies, all plant foods are eliminated from the diet. You will exclusively eat meat, fish, eggs, and limited amounts of only low-lactose dairy products. To ensure that you meet your daily energy needs, you should eat fatty cuts of meat. Other sources of fat that are allowed include bone marrow, butter, hard cheeses, heavy cream, and lard.
The only liquids allowed are water and bone broth. Coffee, tea, and other beverages derived from plants are a no-no.
Below is a list of what you can eat and you should avoid on the carnivore diet.
What to eat
- Meat: beef, chicken, turkey, organ meats, lamb, pork, etc.
- Fish: salmon, mackerel, sardines, crab, lobster, tilapia, herring, etc.
- Other animal products: eggs, lard, bone marrow, bone broth, etc.
- Low-lactose dairy (in small amounts): heavy cream, hard cheese, butter, etc.
- Zero-carb seasonings, such as salt and pepper
What not to eat
- Legumes: beans, lentils, etc.
- Nuts and seeds: almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, pistachios, etc.
- Grains: rice, wheat, bread, quinoa, pasta, etc.
- High-lactose dairy: milk, yogurt, soft cheese, etc.
- Sugars: table sugar, maple syrup, brown sugar, etc.
- All beverages other than water
Is the Carnivore Diet Effective for Weight Loss?
Studies have shown that a high-protein and low-carb diet can lead to weight loss; therefore, the high-protein and carb-restricted aspects of the carnivore diet can also make it effective in promoting weight loss.
Eating more protein can result in weight loss in a number of ways. It is more filling and keeps you fuller longer, so you will likely eat smaller servings and less frequently. Protein also helps burn more calories by increasing metabolic rate. Combined with zero carb intake, your body will eventually switch to burning stored fats as calories from carbs become unavailable.
The weight loss may only be short-term, however. As the studies have also shown, reduced calorie intake from a low-carb diet combined with increased protein intake can lead to sustained, long-term weight loss. Completely eliminating carbs from the diet is not required. Such a drastic restriction as completely excluding carbs from the diet may be difficult to commit to long-term, and falling off the zero-carb bandwagon would mean stalling weight loss and eventual weight gain.
Is the Carnivore Diet Healthy? Pros and Cons
While highly restrictive with its zero-carb tolerance, the elimination of unhealthy carbs, such as pastries, candies, sodas, and other high-carb, high-sugar foods is good for the body. Their exclusion from the diet can lower the risk for certain diseases, or make them more manageable.
A high-protein diet is good for bone and muscle health, increases energy, and has been shown to help lower blood pressure.
Again, however, the complete elimination of carbohydrates from the diet is not necessary; simply reducing carb intake and avoiding unhealthy carbs are more than enough to experience substantial health benefits.
As with other high-protein diets, the carnivore diet can increase the intake of saturated fats, which has been linked to increased levels of bad cholesterol and risk for heart disease.
Because the diet does not exclude processed meats, it also has the tendency to be high in sodium, and too much sodium in the body can lead to high blood pressure and kidney disease, among other diseases.
Eliminating all plant foods also eliminates the beneficial vitamins and minerals that they deliver, and this could lead to serious deficiencies in certain nutrients. Likewise, the exclusive consumption of meat could also lead to higher than normal levels of certain nutrients, which, in turn, could also have negative health outcomes.
The exclusion of plant foods and the nutrients and other vital plant compounds and antioxidants they contain, and which cannot be found in animal sources, further takes away their associated health benefits, such as lowered risk for diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and some cancers.
The carnivore diet is also lacking in fiber, a non-digestible carb that is important for gut health. This deficiency is a common cause of constipation, an unhealthy balance of gut microbiome, and other digestive problems. Zero fiber intake may even lead to an increased risk for colon cancer.
Given the restrictions of the carnivore diet, it is not recommended for certain populations, including those with sensitivities to high-cholesterol foods, those with chronic kidney disease (CKD), as well as children and pregnant or lactating women and
The lack of research that looks into the health effects of a diet made up exclusively of meat and animal products means that there are still a lot of unknowns with regards to the safety and dangers of such a diet.
Is the Carnivore Diet Healthy? Final Thoughts
The carnivore diet is an extremely restrictive diet that only includes meat, fish, and animal-derived foods, but with minimal amounts of low-lactose dairy products; as a zero-carb diet, it completely excludes all plant foods.
The high-protein and zero-carb diet is supposed to aid in weight loss and in preventing or treating certain conditions; however, studies that back up these claims are lacking.
While the carnivore diet can lead to weight loss, extreme restrictions make it hard to sustain. The complete exclusion of plant foods and the nutrients and other healthy compounds they deliver, plus their associated health benefits, combined with the high intake of fat and sodium may lead to a different set of health risks.
The restrictions of the carnivore diet are unnecessary for weight loss and for the other health benefits that it’s supposed to deliver. A low-carb diet with a healthy balance of nutrients can give the same results, with the substantial addition of many other health benefits.