The carnivore diet, popularly known as the “no-carb to the extreme diet,” is the newest trend to attract people who are particularly fond of meat and terrifyingly afraid of carbs. As an extreme type of elimination diet, the carnivore diet has sparked controversy in the health and fitness world. Given how easy it is to overindulge, you might wonder whether consuming meat at every meal is safe. So, what’s with all the hype about the carnivore diet these days?
High-protein and zero-carbohydrate diets like the carnivore diet may look attractive to many dieters, especially since carbs hold such a bad reputation these days. However, it’s essential to know that there are drawbacks to getting your calories from only meat and other animal products.
As you read on, these are the main points we are going to discuss in this article:
- What is a carnivore diet?
- How is a carnivore diet different from a well-balanced diet?
- What can you eat on the carnivore diet?
- What foods do you need to avoid on the carnivore diet?
- Who can do a carnivore diet?
- Who shouldn’t do a carnivore diet?
From this, you’ll be guided on the essentials of the carnivore diet to help you decide what works best for reaching your health goals.
What Is A Carnivore Diet?
The carnivore diet is an extremely restrictive diet that only allows animal-based foods and strictly omits all other food groups. Yes, it does not permit the consumption of any foods from plants, such as cereals, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, or seeds.
It is interesting to note that the carnivore diet is touted as having health advantages linked to weight loss and overall health improvement. Common testimonials from its followers include reversing health problems like diabetes, chronic inflammatory conditions, hormonal imbalances, mental problems, and digestive and skin issues. However, there is not enough research to support these claims.
How Is A Carnivore Diet Different From A Well-Balanced Diet?
The carnivore diet aims for zero carbohydrates daily, and one should only get nutrients from animal-based foods and products.
On the other hand, a well-balanced diet consists of a variety of foods that satisfy all your recommended daily requirements and nutritional needs. These include macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat), micronutrients (vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals), fiber, and other essential food components. Hence, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, grains, and meats are all components of a well-balanced diet.
What Are The Pros And Cons Of Following A Carnivore Diet?
While working toward achieving your fitness goals, you may be increasingly interested in learning about various diets in the hopes of achieving your desired body weight or improving your overall health. Anecdotally, here are some of the most reported health benefits from a study of people on the carnivore diet who were surveyed on social media in 2020:
The Pros of Following A Carnivore Diet
#1: Short-term weight loss
The carnivore diet is perceived as effective for weight loss because it prompts the body to switch from using carbohydrates to fats as an energy source. Research has shown that a high protein intake is also associated with an increased feeling of fullness, resulting in the consumption of fewer meals.
However, while studies have shown that higher protein intake and reduced carbohydrates can contribute to weight loss, completely removing carbs from your meals is not necessary to lose weight.
#2: Blood sugar control
When following a carnivore diet, you also stop eating unhealthy carbohydrate-rich processed foods that are typically high in fats and refined sugar. Consuming these foods not only makes you gain weight but can also cause problems with blood sugar levels, particularly for people with diabetes. In general, blood sugar spikes can be controlled without completely eliminating carbohydrates. And eating more red meat and poultry has been linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
#3: Improved digestive issues
Some people with fiber sensitivities, gluten intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome, or other digestive disorders may find relief from their symptoms upon reducing their fiber intake. After all, the carnivore diet automatically excludes fiber-rich foods because animal products contain zero fiber; it only comes from plants.
#4: Mental clarity and improved mood
Meats are also high in nutrients essential for brain health, such as vitamin B12, iron, and zinc. Thus, many carnivore diet followers have reported improvements in mental clarity, focus, mood, and even sleep. This may have more to do with what they are not eating, such as cutting out the highly refined, processed foods and resolving the sugar spikes. However, while the carnivore diet became popular due to its health claims, there is little scientific evidence to support its potential benefits.
The Cons of Following A Carnivore Diet
The restricted nature of a carnivore diet, combined with the fact that it lacks a variety of nutrients our bodies need, can negatively affect our health. These include:
#1: It contains high amounts of sodium, saturated fats, and cholesterol.
The carnivore diet calls for you to consume more items that are heavy in saturated fats, cholesterol, and sodium. This raises the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, kidney issues, and a variety of other chronic conditions.
#2: It is completely lacking in dietary fiber.
Dietary fiber, which is necessary for a healthy digestive system and gut, is absent from all animal products. It is an essential component of our diets and promotes normal bowel movements, glucose control, cardiovascular health, and overall health. Thus, low dietary fiber intake can result in constipation, weakened immunity, and increased risks of heart disease, stroke, and other chronic diseases, many types of cancer, and increased overall mortality.
#3: It lacks essential nutrients.
The carnivore diet is deficient in many micronutrients, including vitamin C, bioactive chemicals, and antioxidants, all of which are abundant in plant foods. Those who stick to this diet for an extended period will certainly become deficient in these phytonutrients and possibly develop other nutritional deficiencies.
#4: It increases your risk of cancer.
In a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies, a high intake of red meat and processed meat (e.g., cold cuts, hot dogs) has been shown to potentially increase the risk of developing cancer of the breast, uterus, colon, rectum, lungs, kidney, and liver.
#5: It can lead to chronic inflammation
Since adopting the carnivore diet involves avoiding plant-based foods, that also means that you are limiting yourself from consuming dietary fiber. Note that low dietary fiber intake has been reported as a contributor to both systematic and chronic inflammation.
A cross-sectional study showed that inflammatory markers in the blood were drastically reduced among participants with the highest consumption of dietary fiber compared to those with the lowest intake.
#6: It increases mortality rates.
The consumption of fruits and vegetables was related to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and overall mortality. However, the carnivore diet does not allow food sources that come from plants, leaving higher risk levels in followers of any diet that restricts plant foods.
#7: It reduces cognitive performance.
Research using UK Biobank data looked into the association between red meat diets and cognitive function. It was found that higher red meat consumption was associated with lower cognitive function in terms of reasoning ability, short-term memory, prospective memory, and reaction time.
#8: It makes you more likely to fall into depression.
The carnivore diet restricts plant food sources. However, fruits and vegetables contain high levels of fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and phytonutrients. A meta-analysis of the data from multiple studies revealed that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is protective against depression. As their intake went up, the incidence of depression clearly declined. Specifically, a 5 percent reduction in the risk of depression was observed for every 100-gram increase in fruit and vegetable consumption.
#9: It is extremely restrictive and difficult to maintain.
While your trip to the grocery store may be simpler (although perhaps more costly), the lack of variety in your diet can have implications for your health and your eating experience. The carnivore diet so severely limits your food choices that it would be difficult to sustain and adhere to in the long run—think of those holiday dinners, lunch invites, and office parties!
What Can You Consume On the Carnivore Diet?
The carnivore diet is pretty straightforward when it comes to what you can eat. It is an elimination diet that cuts out all plant-based foods. The foods allowed on the carnivore diet include the following:
- Meat and meat products
- Fish and shellfish
- Egg and low-lactose dairy
- Animal-based fats
- Bone broth
What Foods Must Be Avoided On The Carnivore Diet?
It is easy to note that all foods from plants are excluded. Plant-based drinks are also not allowed. Foods to avoid in a carnivore diet include:
- All fruits
- All vegetables
- All seeds, nuts, and legumes
- All grains, bread, and pasta
- Desserts and other sweet treats like chocolate, cakes, cookies, and candy
- Vegetable oils
- Beverages such as wine, beer, and all alcohol, tea, soda, lemonade, and fruit juice
Who Can Benefit From Following The Carnivore Diet?
Individuals seeking rapid weight loss, improvement in food sensitivities, and gastrointestinal relief may succeed with the carnivore diet. However, that success may be short-lived. There are no studies reviewing long-term adherence to the diet, much less any benefits that might be derived from doing so.
Before starting the carnivore diet, you should talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian. They can guide you through planning a diet optimal for your body composition, health, and goals.
Who Shouldn’t Try The Carnivore Diet?
People who have kidney problems should not follow the carnivore diet. Those with diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, cancer, lung disease, immune- and autoimmune-related inflammatory conditions (such as asthma, allergies, eczema, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, lupus), mental or cognitive dysfunction, pregnancy and breastfeeding, or other medical conditions requiring medication should not attempt any type of restrictive diet unless they have a discussion with their doctor first. And individuals prone to/or with eating disorders are also not recommended to follow a carnivore diet.
The carnivore diet is extremely restrictive as only meat and other animal products are permitted and nothing else. While there seems to be no perfect diet that works for everyone, the carnivore diet may be associated with more downsides than advantages for most people. There are substantial risks involved when removing large food groups from the diet, and more clinical research is recommended to prove its health claims.
Remember that choosing a diet you can stick to in the long run is crucial. Instead of selecting an extremely restrictive diet, opt for one that is well-balanced, practical, and tailored to fit your preferences and goals. Achieving and maintaining your desired weight relies on healthy eating patterns and regular physical activity that can be sustained throughout life.