What Is the Carnivore Diet?
The carnivore diet is virtually an all-meat diet. Unlike other popular low-carb diets, the carnivore diet aims for followers to eat zero carbs. It does not allow room for any plant-based foods, even leafy greens, and suggests eating only low-lactose/no-lactose dairy products. (Lactose is a sugar found in dairy.)
It’s an extreme form of dieting, but some proponents suggest it can lead to a plethora of health benefits ranging from weight loss to managing mood disorders. So is there any truth to it?
Because it eliminates a vast amount of micronutrients and fiber, a carnivore diet is unlikely to be a safe method of eating for an extended period.
It may offer some short-term benefits—at least anecdotally, as there is no scientific research to support any claims made by proponents of the carnivore diet—but over time, it may lead to nutrient deficiencies, digestive troubles, and more.
Further, one of the diet’s biggest advocates, a former orthopedic doctor named Shawn Baker, had his medical license revoked in 2017 due to incompetence.
Foods to Eat on the Carnivore Diet
When it comes to picking your foods on the carnivore diet, you’ll need to stick to the butcher shop and the meat section of your grocery store. The only real rule outlined is that low-lactose dairy is permissible, as well as higher-fat meats.
The diet also encourages eating items like bacon, breakfast sausage, and other processed meats; however, consuming too much of these can present health risks that will be discussed later.
Some foods that would appear on a carnivore diet food list include:
- Meats like beef, chicken, turkey, organ meats, lamb, pork, etc.
- Fish like salmon, herring, mackerel, shrimp, crab, lobster, tilapia, cod, etc.
- Bone marrow
- Bone broth
- Heavy cream
- Hard cheese
Foods to Avoid on the Carnivore Diet
From a theoretical standpoint, the “foods to avoid” list for the carnivore diet is pretty straightforward: everything but meat.
This can be good in the sense that it excludes sugary and high-calorie snacks like chips, cookies, muffins, pastries, and soda. At the same time, the diet is firmly against nuts, legumes, leafy greens, fruit, and vegetables.
If it doesn’t come from an animal, quite frankly, it’s not part of the diet.
This means no:
- Sweet potatoes
- Nut butters
Not all animal products are allowed, though. High-lactose dairy products like milk and soft cheeses are not encouraged. Nor is lean meat. High-fat meats are encouraged in order to help people meet their daily caloric needs.
But really, judging by the list of foods to avoid, is this truly a diet that can produce health benefits?
Pros of a Carnivore Diet
One of the benefits you may experience on a carnivore diet is weight loss.
High-protein and low-carb diets (think keto or Atkins) have been found to promote weight loss, likely because proteins and fats have a satiating effect on the body. This means they help you feel fuller for longer, eliminating the need to snack on high-carb, low-nutrient items.
Another benefit of protein is that it promotes muscle growth, which may increase your metabolism and help you burn more calories.
Another pro—and perhaps the biggest—we touched on earlier is that the carnivore diet eliminates high-sugar snacks. Ice cream, candies, chocolates, designer coffee drinks, and all the usual sugary suspects have no place in the carnivore diet. This may result in weight loss and other benefits for those looking to avoid potential metabolic troubles caused by high blood sugar.
Most people, however, do not need to go on a carnivore diet to experience similar results. Making better carbohydrate choices, like foods high in fiber and vitamins and minerals (fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, etc.), will have a comparable—and more sustainable—impact.
Although there are no scientific studies to support the claims, some anecdotal evidence contends that a carnivore diet may help limit pain from fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, migraines, and IBS. Mood improvements like less anxiety and depression have also been beneficial claims.
Cons of a Carnivore Diet
There are many more potential cons of a carnivore diet, and that’s why it’s not recommended for long-term use. A few weeks may be okay, but any longer than that and you could start running into some trouble.
For starters, an all-meat diet is very hard to sustain. This is the case for every extreme diet and is something you will have to consider.
Another drawback of extreme diets is that they provide a great opportunity for both nutrient deficiencies and nutrient overloads. Although meat and animal products are great sources of countless healthy and essential nutrients, they are completely devoid of others.
Some areas where you’ll struggle include your recommended intakes of vitamin C, fiber, antioxidants, and other plant-exclusive compounds. The shortages can influence everything from gut health to heart health. Moreover, there are certain nutrients you could be getting in toxic amounts, like iron, if you’re only eating meat.
Because the carnivore diet can encourage intake of processed meat, you run the risk of consuming far too much sodium. Eating too many high-sodium foods can lead to high blood pressure.
The lack of micronutrients and fiber offered by plant foods is the biggest problem associated with the carnivore diet.
Think of all the evidence of the benefits of plant-based diets: lower risks of inflammation, cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease; lower blood pressure; lower cholesterol; and the list goes on. You just don’t see the same kinds of studies showing similar benefits for all-meat diets.
Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to believe there are many carnivore diet benefits. Like other extreme diets, it comes with a lot of hype, yet is unique in the fact that there is no science to back up any claims.
If you decide to try the carnivore diet, clear it with your doctor first and don’t stay on it for longer than a few weeks. When you come off, slowly reintegrate plant products, but continue to avoid processed, sugary, and calorically-rich but nutrient poor foods.
Streit, L., “All You Need to Know About the Carnivore (All-Meat) Diet,” Healthline, June 4, 2019; https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/carnivore-diet%23downsides, last accessed June 28, 2019.
Langer, A., “I’m a Registered Dietitian and I Really Don’t Want You to Eat a Carnivore Diet,” Self, August 7, 2018; https://www.self.com/story/im-a-registered-dietitian-and-i-really-dont-want-you-to-eat-a-carnivore-diet, last accessed June 28, 2019.
Ede, G., “The Carnivore Diet for Mental Health?” Psychology Today, April 29, 2019; https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/diagnosis-diet/201904/the-carnivore-diet-mental-health, last accessed June 28, 2019.
“Board Actions,” New Mexico Medical Board; http://www.nmmb.state.nm.us/docs/board_actions/07-01-17%20thru%2009-30-17.pdf, last accessed June 28, 2019.