Is the Carnivore Diet Good for You? What the Science Says
The carnivore diet can be good for you in the short term, especially if you're looking for weight loss, better mental health, or to improve symptoms of a disease like diabetes. Hard scientific evidence on the long-term effects of a carnivore diet isn't available, but self-reported data from individuals on carnivore diets on their effects is available in a study published in Current Developments in Nutrition.
What is the Carnivore Diet?
The carnivore diet is a controversial diet that involves eating exclusively meat, fish, and eggs. It goes against what most nutritionists recommend, which is a balanced diet with a variety of foods in moderation, including lots of plant-based foods like fruits, veggies, and beans.
Carnivore diet enthusiasts believe our bodies are designed to thrive on animal-based foods and that cutting out plant-based foods can actually be beneficial. Advocates of the diet point to hunter-gatherer societies to support their argument that our bodies evolved to thrive on meat. Moreover, plant foods contain toxins known as antinutrients many people are allergic to, and eliminating plants could also eliminate their headaches, digestive complaints, or other symptoms.
Why the All-Meat Diet Became Popular
The carnivore diet has gained traction through online communities and forums where individuals following the diet can share their experiences, advice, and support. Personal testimonials and anecdotes from individuals who claim to have experienced positive results with the carnivore diet, such as weight loss or improved health, have circulated widely on social media platforms.
Popular influencers like Joe Rogan and Jordan Peterson have promoted the carnivore diet. Proponents of the carnivore diet claim that it can lead to various health benefits, such as improved digestion, weight loss, increased energy, and reduced inflammation. These claims have attracted attention from those seeking solutions to health issues or weight management and have contributed to the diet's popularity.
How the Carnivore Diet Works
Here are the key tips for sticking to a carnivore diet:
- You can only eat meat, seafood, eggs, lard, and butter
- Drinking coffee is ok
- You can season your meat with salt and spices
- Taking vitamin and mineral supplements is encouraged
- Stay well hydrated by getting 8 to 10 cups of water a day
- Avoid alcohol and beverages like soda and juice
- Eat as much as you want at every meal without portion control
Can the Carnivore Diet Help You Lose Weight?
The potential for weight loss on the Carnivore Diet may be attributed to its low-carb nature. By eliminating most, if not all, carbohydrates from the diet, the body is forced to rely on fat as its primary fuel source, a state known as ketosis. This can lead to an initial rapid weight loss, as the body burns through its stored glycogen (carbohydrate) reserves and burns fat.
Is the Carnivore Diet Good for Muscle Growth?
Overall, the Carnivore Diet may provide enough protein and fat to support muscle growth, but it may also have limitations regarding energy balance and micronutrient intake. Glucose from carbs fuels muscle growth after workouts, and eating a varied, non-restrictive diet may be better for building muscle. However, the long-term effects of the carnivore diet are yet to be seen, and it may be sufficient in supporting muscle growth.
Does the Carnivore Diet Help with Mental Disorders?
Proponents of the carnivore diet claim lower inflammation and better overall health from the all-meat diet contribute to better mental health outcomes. There's a lack of research and evidence on the effects of the carnivore diet on mental health, but the keto diet has been shown to improve symptoms of depression and psychosis. In a Harvard study involving 3,883 participants on a carnivore diet, 85 percent of the participants reported better mental clarity on the diet. Meanwhile, 66 reported better memory function.
Does the Carnivore Diet Provide Enough Nutrition?
Yes, you can get all your nutritional needs met on a carnivore diet, as long as you're varying your diet and incorporating organ meats into your meals on a weekly basis.
Does Not Provide Fiber
The carnivore diet provides no fiber, as fiber is only found in carbohydrates. Because of this, the carnivore diet can cause constipation and even hemorrhoids, as well as elevate your risk for colon cancer. The carnivore diet also lacks prebiotic fiber, which helps balance your gut's microbiome and improve digestion. The lack of fiber and prebiotic fiber could affect your gut health and even take a toll on your liber. One option is to take a fiber supplement in pill form that includes prebiotic fiber—the carbohydrates good bacteria in your gut require as food.
May Not Provide Some Vitamins and Micronutrients
While it's technically possible to get all your micronutrients from eating meat by consistently incorporating high-quality organ meats, seafood, and eggs, it's expensive to eat this way long-term. It's also important to eat beef from grass-fed cows to get micronutrients like vitamins A, D, and K. If you're buying the cheapest meat products you can get at the store to sustain a carnivore diet, it may not be healthy for you.
If you can access a wide range of farm fresh animal products, including organ meats, you're more likely to get the micronutrients you need. For example, beef liver contains superfood levels of vitamins A and C and minerals like copper, zinc, iron, and phosphorus. You can also get omega-3 fatty acids from kidney meats and seafood like fish.
Benefits of the Carnivore Diet
Unfortunately, long-term studies on the effectiveness of the carnivore diet for sustained weight loss aren't available to confirm outcomes. However, here are some of the most common benefits mentioned by carnivore diet proponents:
Relieves Food Allergy Symptoms
Symptoms of food allergies can include abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting, as well as skin conditions like eczema and hives. Food allergies occur when the immune system overreacts to certain proteins in foods, and most food allergens are plant-based. While the carnivore diet won't cure the allergies, it can allow you to get high-quality nutrition on a restrictive diet and avoid food allergy symptoms.
Some people claim that eliminating plant-based foods from the diet reduces inflammation in the body. The inflammatory response is part of the immune system, and some of the natural chemicals in plants can trigger it. For example, nightshade vegetables like tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, and bell peppers contain inflammatory alkaloids that trigger an inflammatory response. The lectins found in beans and legumes also cause inflammation, and people's reactions to them vary widely.
The carnivore diet is often promoted as a weight loss or weight management strategy. Advocates argue that by eliminating carbohydrates and increasing protein and fat intake, the carnivore diet supports weight loss by reducing hunger, increasing satiety, and promoting fat burning.
Carnivore Diet Downsides and Risks
There are a few risks to be aware of before you go on the carnivore diet:
- Nutrient deficiency - As with any restrictive diet, it's easy to develop nutrient deficiencies. Be sure to get your nutrition status tested at your doctor's office and shore up any deficiencies with a vitamin or mineral supplement.
- Social challenges - Typically, any meat served at restaurants or catered events contains sugary sauces that aren't allowed on the carnivore diet.
- Side effects - Initially, the diet can cause side effects like diarrhea, nausea, and sugar cravings; later on, you may experience constipation.
Is the Carnivore Diet Worth It?
The restrictive nature of the carnivore diet makes it somewhat risky, inconvenient, and often inaccessible. While the carnivore diet isn't for everyone, some people may see significant benefits in the diet, according to anecdotal evidence. Many of the same benefits of the carnivore diet can be obtained through the keto diet, which is restrictive but less so than the carnivore diet.