Cutting straight to the point, following a carnivore diet plan is restrictive and dangerous.
A carnivore diet plan is not practical for anyone except for a shark, lion, or wolf. It’s not good for our microbiome, heart health or the environment. In this article, I am going to reveal the meaty truth of this animal-based trend.
As a dietitian, I believe everyone is entitled to eat however they like; nutrition is extremely personal. I never dismiss a client if they want to try something new. I help them ensure they are doing so safely, the diet is balanced and does not compromise their health. But I have to draw the line with a carnivore diet plan.
Frankly, it’s an unhealthy diet that contradicts all of our nutritional research.
- 1 What Is The Carnivore Diet?
- 2 Proposed Benefits of The Carnivore Diet
- 3 Where Did The Carnivore Diet Come From?
- 4 So, What Are The Arguments For Following A Carnivore Diet?
- 5 The Dangers Of The Carnivore Diet
- 6 The Proposed Benefits Of The Carnivore Diet
- 7 Other Considerations: How Much Does a Carnivore Diet Cost?
- 8 The Evolution Of The Carnivore Diet
- 9 Conclusion
What Is The Carnivore Diet?
The carnivore diet consists entirely of meat and animal products, excluding all other foods. It’s a diet full of beef, chicken, pork, lamb, organ meats, fish and some raw dairy. The diet encourages drinking water and bone broth but discourages drinking tea, coffee, and other drinks made from plants.
It provides no specific guidelines regarding calorie intake, serving sizes, or how many meals or snacks to eat daily. So, for the most part, you can eat when and how much you want, but you can only eat these specific animal foods.
No carbohydrates are allowed. That means no more fruit, vegetables, grains, starches, nuts and legumes.
So, ya, it’s pretty restrictive!
Proposed Benefits of The Carnivore Diet
People claim that following the carnivore diet will help you lose weight, protect against disease, reduce inflammation and increase testosterone levels. There is limited or mostly anecdotal evidence for these claims.
Where Did The Carnivore Diet Come From?
Shawn Baker and Paul Saladino are the most well-known advocates of the carnivore diet. They are both medical doctors in the US with large social media followings. Their promotion of the diet through appearances on the Joe Rogan podcast, their own podcasts, YouTube and Instagram seems to be where this diet trend has gained traction.
Most of their claims, however, lack substantial research behind them and biased ways of looking at the literature.
Now, usually, this doesn’t bother me – everyone can have their own opinions, whether they are science-backed or not, but when it is paired with a motivation for selling something like a book at the expense of people’s health, it annoys me. It’s even more concerning when you can call yourself a “doctor.” Many people will unfortunately see that a doctor is promoting this way of eating and then think surely it’s healthy, which is dangerous.
Interestingly, in 2017, Baker’s medical license was revoked due to concerns about his competency. It was reinstated in 2019 with a requirement for direct supervision when practising medicine.
So, What Are The Arguments For Following A Carnivore Diet?
As it says on Paul’s website, “Plants do not want to be eaten. They must defend their roots, stems, leaves, and seeds with defence chemicals to pass their genes on to the next generation”.
This is simply a poor argument. You can also argue that animals don’t want to be eaten. That’s why we can run away from predators and fight back. Also, if you forced a herbivore like a rabbit to only eat meat, it would die.
If plants were so toxic, then why do some of the longest-living people in the world tend to eat mostly plant-based diets? (read the Blue Zone diet plan here). If plants are trying to kill us through toxins as a defence mechanism, they are doing a very poor job of it so far.
Another argument for the carnivore diet is that “it’s what our ancestors ate, and high-carb diets are to blame for today’s high rates of chronic disease. “ But our ancestors died young! So that’s a poor argument, too.
In fact, we know that the more fibre you eat (which comes from plants) is directly related to a reduced risk of death.
The Dangers Of The Carnivore Diet
- The diet eliminates all fruit and vegetables (F&V), meaning you will be at high risk of nutrient deficiencies. Take vitamin C, for example; not eating F&V means you will be severely lacking in vitamin C, which can lead to scurvy. Scurvy is a disease that was common among sailors in the 18th century. They lived on ships and didn’t have access to any fruit. Scurvy causes swollen and bleeding gums, anaemia, loss of teeth, weakness and poor healing of wounds, and it can be deadly.
- A lack of fruits and vegetables is also a risk factor for some cancers. It’s well known that a diet heavy in red and processed meats can increase the risk of colorectal cancer. On the flip side, we have strong evidence from several meta-analytical studies that plant-based diets may help ward off cancer and other disease states, including diabetes.
- The diet is also void of fibre, which is a recipe for constipation and cardiovascular disease. Fibre is essential for your gut to work normally. Without it, you’re increasing your risk of conditions like diverticular disease. Fibre also increases the good bacteria in your gut, which benefits physical and mental health. We are learning more and more every day about how a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut can influence good health throughout the body.
- The diet promotes an intake of high-fat foods – particularly saturated fats, which increase total cholesterol in the body, particularly (LDL bad) cholesterol), leading to an increased risk of heart disease. While these foods can be included in a balanced diet, consuming them in moderate amounts is essential to avoid compromising our health. As stated by the American Heart Association, lowering the intake of saturated fat and replacing it with unsaturated fats will lower the incidence of heart disease, a leading cause of death. The carnivore diet is not for you if you have a personal or family history of cardiovascular disease and cholesterol.
- Low Energy: A lack of carbohydrates will most likely lead to low energy levels and can affect your physical and mental performance in everyday life. Carbohydrates are our brains’ preferred energy source, and eliminating this source can lead to fatigue or mood changes. You might see relationships suffer or a drop in performance in work or sport.
- The carnivore diet may be especially problematic for certain populations. For example, those with chronic kidney disease who may need to limit their protein intake. Or if you have a condition called “Genetic Haemochromatosis (iron overload)”, this is not for you either.
- Besides the medical and nutritional issues one may encounter on a carnivore diet, you must also consider the psychological aspect of following a restrictive diet. Following any restrictive diet can often lead to loneliness and social isolation. Following a carnivore diet means you can’t eat cake at your kid’s birthday party or your birthday. When you go out for drinks with colleagues, you can’t have any booze because all alcohol is plant-based. Going out for dinner is a nightmare and makes you that awkward dinner guest, causing a fuss with the waiter. And when you look at the research on people following highly restrictive diets in the long term, the vast majority end up regressing toward their old eating habits. If you have a history of eating disorders, you’d be well advised to avoid this diet.
- Finally, there are environmental concerns with following a carnivore diet. Now, you need not be completely plant-based or vegan to look after the planet. As per the WHO, moderate amounts of meat and dairy can be included in a sustainable diet. But the carnivore diet is FAR from moderate.
The Proposed Benefits Of The Carnivore Diet
Weight loss: Can the carnivore diet help you lose weight?
Certain aspects of the carnivore diet may lead to weight loss. BUT this is because it’s a restrictive diet that forces you to cut out many high-calorie processed foods.
ANY diet can work for weight loss if it allows you to achieve a sustained calorie deficit.
The carnivore diet has no superiority over any other diet.
It’s the diet that you can stick to and sustain that will work for weight loss, and for many, the carnivore diet is not practical or easy to stick to long term. For example, if someone PREFERS intermittent fasting, they most certainly can lose weight on it, but it does not appear to be physiologically better or ideal for everyone.
Another point is that the carnivore diet is very high in protein. This may help people feel fuller after meals, which is beneficial if you are trying to lose weight. Protein can also increase your metabolic rate, helping you burn more calories.
But fibre from plants is equally beneficial for weight loss, too. People who eat more fibre are slimmer than those who don’t. So ideally, you want a balance of all of these things. You don’t need to go to an extreme and cut all carbs from your diet to see results.
Another point is that when you cut out carbs completely, you will lose weight quickly. Water weight. Every gram of glycogen (storage carbohydrate) in your body is bound to 3-4 grams of water. When you remove carbs, this glycogen and water store depletes, too. As soon as you eat carbs again, you will gain that water weight back. Those are the facts. That is why bodybuilders cut carbs before a competition, to look as lean as possible.
A big concern for people on the carnivore diet is the risk of weight regain when they come off the diet. It’s a strict diet to stick to, which can lead to rebound overeating when the diet ends. This can result in a binge-restrict dieting cycle, which can be very dangerous and difficult to break free from.
Can The Carnivore Diet Improve Energy Levels?
People frequently attribute starting a new diet (this could be a carnivore, keto, paleo diet or intermittent fasting) with huge benefits to energy levels.
But more often than not, your increased energy levels are due to an accumulation of you making lots of better lifestyle changes. For example, as a result of the new diet you have cut back on takeaways and processed foods, you may have joined a gym, started prioritizing sleep or cut back on unnecessary snacking. That is why you feel better. The carnivore diet isn’t doing anything magical; it’s an accumulation of you improving your overall lifestyle habits.
And since the carnivore diet excludes refined carbs such as biscuits, cakes and pastries, sugary drinks, etc., of course, you are going to feel better.
But again, carbohydrates do not need to be completely eliminated, and doing this will negatively impact energy levels.
Will The Carnivore Diet Help With Better Glucose Control?
Again, since the carnivore diet excludes carbs, it eliminates cookies, cakes, candy, sodas, pastries, and similar high-carb foods. Of course, this is going to help with blood sugar control. But again, we don’t need to go to the extreme of becoming a carnivore. We just need to take a common sense approach of not eating junk food in excessive amounts.
In fact, really new research tracking 113,097 participants over a significant 12-year period, suggests that adopting a plant-based diet could be the key to diabetes prevention. The research indicates that a diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can reduce the risk of diabetes by 24%, even for those genetically predisposed to diabetes and individuals with other risk factors like obesity.
Other Considerations: How Much Does a Carnivore Diet Cost?
Typically, meat products cost more than plant-based foods, and as such, you may have to shell out more money than you realize to follow this diet.
This cost is compounded by the fact that the diet encourages only using “grass-fed and ethically sourced protein”, which is very expensive and not everyone has the privilege to obtain.
The Evolution Of The Carnivore Diet
On a positive note, the approach to the carnivore diet is starting to evolve. Perhaps because of the issues we’ve mentioned in this article! But we are seeing some of the leaders in the carnivore diet space starting to change their narrative.
Take Paul Saladino for example; he initially started on a strict meat-only carnivore diet but reported experiencing electrolyte imbalances, causing severe heart palpitations and muscle cramps. Now he’s moved to a slightly less but still very restrictive “ANIMAL-BASED” diet where 80% of the diet is animal foods, and you are allowed 20% plants. He has reported improved sleep, mood and exercise performance since reintroducing carbs.
Overall, the carnivore diet is unnecessarily restrictive. You can 100% healthfully incorporate meat and animal products into your diet, but focusing on meat-based foods alone doesn’t make for a healthy eating pattern. Plants are loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals important for long-term health.
There is no reliable research to back any of the claims behind a carnivore diet.
I believe everyone can eat whatever way they want – but we really don’t need to be making life any harder for ourselves by throwing restrictive diets into the mix.
And, when it comes to your overall health, diet is just one piece of the puzzle. Genetics, age and gender play a huge role in how your body reacts to certain food items or diets, too, and this isn’t something we can change. These factors can account for why some people have had success on a carnivore diet while others can’t sustain it.
Hi there! My name is Maria, and I am a Registered Dietitian practising in Ireland and Bermuda. I have extensive experience in helping clients improve their health through the power of good nutrition. I hope you enjoyed this article. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me. Additionally, if there are nutrition topics or recipes you would like me to make in future posts, please let me know. I would be more than happy to help.
Stay happy and healthy 💚
Your Registered Dietitian
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