The carnivore diet exploded onto the scene last year and as with most [seemingly] extreme diets, it caused a lot of controversy. Love it or hate it, I’m going to do a complete dissection of the carnivore diet so you can decide for yourself if it’s something you want to try, entertain, or potentially even live by.
I’m as open-minded as they come, but even I was shocked when I saw people I knew switching up their diet to what seemed at first glance to be an all-meat diet.
The first time I heard about the carnivore diet was on Twitter. One of my friends who used to be big in the Paleo world was doing it.
Honestly, at the time I just thought Paleo people were taking things to the next level. I haven’t really been active in the Paleo sphere since 2013 or 2014 so I don’t really know the lay of the land so to speak. I know a lot has changed in Paleo land over the last couple years.
Anyway, back to the carnivore diet. My first reaction was that it’s “out there.” But I don’t want to be the type to dismiss anything simply because it *sounds* a little extreme.
So, I looked into it. And here’s everything I’ve found, written in plain terms you should easily be able to understand…
What is the Carnivore Diet?
Before I answer this, it’s probably important to ask, “what is a carnivore?”
If you missed elementary school science class, a carnivore is an animal that feeds on flesh. In Latin, “caro” means “meat” or “flesh” and “vorare” means “to devour.”
Based on this, you might gather that the carnivore diet mimics the diet of carnivorous animals – you just eat all meat. For every meal. Every day. Yes?
Pretty much, actually.
It’s not an “all meat” diet, though, it’s more so an “all animal products” diet. More on that in a moment.
But humans aren’t carnivores…are we?
No, humans aren’t carnivores. Humans are omnivores – an animal that eats both plants and animals.
For the vegans reading this, I’m not even going to entertain the idea of humans being biologically vegetarian. That junk science is wholly uninteresting at this point.
“So, if we’re omnivores, why are people trying to eat like carnivores?”
Because humans are too smart for their own good and often do very odd things instead of just leaving well enough alone.
That’s actually an important point, though. The reason humans are so smart is specifically because of our ability to cook…meat.
Eating meat and cooking food made us human, the studies suggest, enabling the brains of our prehuman ancestors to grow dramatically over a period of a few million years. via LiveScience
Meat may literally be responsible for the reason why we’re sitting here arguing about the human diet on computers beaming information through the air.
That’s cray, but humans still aren’t carnivores. We’re omnivores, so keep that in mind as we continue.
So is the Carnivore Diet like the steak and eggs diet?
To put it bluntly, no, it’s not the steak and eggs diet.
The steak and eggs diet has been around for a long time (probably as far back as the ’50s, I’d guess).
It’s an old-school diet that was promoted pretty heavily in the bodybuilding world and used by lots of people as a weight loss diet.
While “steak” and “eggs” are both included in the Carnivore Diet, confining your diet to these foods would mean you’re eating a severely restricted version of it.
Since the Carnivore Diet is already pretty restrictive, I’m not sure that making it even more restrictive is a good idea. At least not long-term.
Wait, This Sounds Kinda Crazy. Should I Even Keep Reading?
Calm down, Becky. Just reading about the carnivore diet isn’t going to hurt you.
Even if you decide not to do it, it’s still important to know more about it and understand it better.
But, I do understand why you would be questioning it based on what you know so far. In fact, the question that’s probably blaring most loudly in your head right now is…
Is the Carnivore Diet it safe?
Well, safe is a relative term isn’t it?
For sure, confining your eating to animal products exclusively – in the short-term – won’t harm you. It’s perfectly safe. There’s no physiological *need* for plants in terms of weeks, months, or perhaps even years in many cases.
Some will argue that there’s no biological need for plants *at all*, ever, but my conclusion is that the science is still out on that.
For now, my final answer is, “it’s safe in the short-term.” I would consider to be an “intervention” style diet.
Will it create nutrient deficiencies?
Another good question, because “safe” doesn’t mean “optimal” by any means.
Eating an all-animal-products diet is naturally going to be rich in nutrients and minerals. This is especially true if you’re eating “nose to tail” – consuming the organ meats, making bone broth, etc.
A lot of people think meat isn’t very nutritious, but organ meats rival almost every plant food in terms of micronutrition (vitamins, minerals, and essential amino acids). For example, compare 200 calories of beef liver to 200 calories of carrots.
One real concern, though, would be Vitamin C. But, if you’re diligent and knowledgeable about your carnivorous diet, you can make specific food selections to still acquire Vitamin C from animal products.
For example, raw pacific oysters have nearly the same Vitamin C content as carrots…
The first column (1%) is beef liver. The second column is carrots. And the the final column is raw pacific oysters.
While that’s just one example, it’s not the only example. So, it doesn’t appear that the Carnivore Diet will cause nutrient deficiencies provided you get an adequate variety of animal products (e.g. don’t follow the “steak and eggs” diet long-term).
Why Would I Follow the Carnivore Diet, Though? What are the benefits?
There must be benefits, right, else nobody would be doing it? I mean, let’s be honest, it’s not like people are doing the Carnivore Diet as some personal morality mission or anything.
There are real benefits, though. Both physical and psychological. So, let’s discuss…
If you’re overweight and you convert over to the Carnivore Diet, you’re very likely to experience weight loss and you’ll probably feel like that weight loss comes without much effort.
Is there some magic trick about eating only animal products that causes weight loss? Kind of, but it’s the same trick that makes low-carb diets work: calorie-reduced satiety.
When you eat mostly protein with moderate fat, you reach satiety faster and maintain satiety longer while consuming fewer total calories. This causes weight loss and that weight loss tends to come without a lot of hunger.
Traditional calorie-restricted diets that prioritize carbohydrates, for example, will tend to leave you hungry as carbohydrates have a significant impact on your blood sugar and aren’t nearly as hunger-suppressing as protein.
When people complain about being hungry all the time I always tell them to eat more protein and it almost always solves the problem.
Believe it or not, a lot of people will experience better digestion when confining their eating to animal products.
Why? Because it’s low in fiber.
“Wait, what? I think you’ve got that backwards there Kevin.”
You’re right, the *common advice* given for people who want to improve their digestion is, “eat more fiber.” But, like most mainstream “knowledge,” it’s important to not just accept things as true when there is meaningful evidence that contradicts it.
This study from 2012, for example, puts a serious damper on the “fiber is great” narrative.
Patients who stopped or reduced dietary fiber had significant improvement in their symptoms while those who continued on a high fiber diet had no change. Of those who stopped fiber completely, the bowel frequency increased from one motion in 3.75 d (± 1.59 d) to one motion in 1.0 d (± 0.0 d) (P < 0.001); those with reduced fiber intake had increased bowel frequency from a mean of one motion per 4.19 d (± 2.09 d) to one motion per 1.9 d (± 1.21 d) on a reduced fiber diet (P < 0.001); those who remained on a high fiber diet continued to have a mean of one motion per 6.83 d (± 1.03 d) before and after consultation. For no fiber, reduced fiber and high fiber groups, respectively, symptoms of bloating were present in 0%, 31.3% and 100% (P < 0.001) and straining to pass stools occurred in 0%, 43.8% and 100% (P < 0.001).
CONCLUSION: Idiopathic constipation and its associated symptoms can be effectively reduced by stopping or even lowering the intake of dietary fiber.
A real head-scratcher, right? Back to the drawing board, fiber freaks!
More Stable Energy Levels
This one doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. I’ve experimented with low-carb, high-carb, keto, and everything in between and there hasn’t been anything that’s fostered stable energy levels for me better than a high protein, moderate fat, low-carb approach.
Now, keep in mind that “low carb” doesn’t have an official definition. It’s a relative term. What’s low carb for a professional athlete might be high-carb for a desk jockey. So, you have to find your own sweet spot with this.
The bottom line, though, is that when you eat carbs throughout the day, especially higher glycemic or very starchy carbs, you’re much more likely to experience energy crashes from the blood sugar spikes and drops.
Protein and fat are more likely diesel fuel in that they sustain you for a long time and don’t spike your blood sugar as much. This creates very steady energy.
Better HDL Cholesterol Markers
Want to know the best way to increase your HDL (“good” cholesterol)?
Eat saturated fat.
Another shocker, I know, but it’s true.
In humans, diets high in saturated fat and cholesterol raise HDL-cholesterol (HDL-C) levels.
Now, people also tend to see an increase in LDL (often referred to as “bad” cholesterol) cholesterol on diets high in saturated fat. However, this doesn’t automatically mean that saturated fat – or animals products – is bad for heart health.
The science that tries to link saturated fat with heart disease has more holes than Swiss cheese.
There are different particle types and sizes associated with LDL, so an increase in total LDL doesn’t necessarily mean an increase in the destructive particle types and sizes.
If you really want to know where you stand when it comes to heart health, you need an advanced cholesterol panel that looks at particle type and size as well as your inflammation markers as inflammation is another important ingredient in the heart disease formula.
And that brings us to…
“Hold the fucking phone. You’re saying the opposite of everything I know to be true.”
Take a breath, Becky.
Here’s the deal. It doesn’t matter how nutritious plants are, there’s something that’s fairly undeniable at this point: most plants don’t want to be eaten.
The plants you’re “supposed” to be eating are much harder to digest than animal products and a lot of them deploy defense mechanisms. Nightshade plants, for example, deploy toxins that are irritants for many animals (including many humans). If you eat those and your body doesn’t respond well, your inflammation is gonna go up significantly.
If you’re sensitive to FODMAPs, then your body is gonna struggle and your inflammation is likely to go up. If you have any number of various plant-based food sensitivities, your inflammation is going to go up.
This brings about issues like bloating, joint pain, skin issues, etc.
Now sure, animals don’t want to be eaten either, but they deploy things like fangs, claws, breakaway speed, etc. to try to stop you from eating them. Plants don’t really have the “breakaway speed” attribute, you know what I’m saying? So, their only option is to poison you or you make you feel like shit so you don’t eat their sister.
The bottom line is that plants cause a crap load (often literally) of problems for people. This is why, when people ditch the plants, they might say, “Wow, I feel so much better.”
Now, this doesn’t mean it’s a great idea to ditch *all* plants. But, it’s certainly evidence that “eat more plants” is not always the right answer. If you’re going to eat plants, you need to eat plants that your body tolerates well.
Maybe switching over to the Carnivore Diet as a sort of “elimination diet” is a good strategy? That’s up to you.
Less Emotional Effort
I use the term “emotional effort” to describe the difficulty of following a specific diet or lifestyle.
For example, traditional diets that ask you to restrict your favorite foods, micromanage your eating, and beat yourself up with workouts that aren’t really that enjoyable, require a lot of emotional effort. This is one reason why people say they need more willpower and discipline to adhere to them. And it’s why they say they lose motivation and “fall off the wagon.”
Of course, I’m all about teaching you how to make your healthy lifestyle emotionally effortless, because that’s what really matters at the end of the day. If you can’t stay consistent long-term, you’re screwed.
One way to make a lifestyle require less emotional effort is to simplify things. The trick is to do this without feeling restricted.
For some people, the advice to just eat animal products may be quite liberating. This is especially true if they feel better and can reach their goals without all the micromanagement they were doing before.
You have to be careful, though, because some things that feel liberating in the beginning (like keto for example), get tiresome very quickly. When that happens, you crash and burn and feel dejected.
Since the Carnivore Diet isn’t something I’d personally recommend you follow long-term, I would take this psychological part of it with a grain of salt.
Okay, So What Foods Can One Eat on the Carnivore Diet?
Ohhh, you’re getting interested now, huh? OK, Becky, I see you.
Here’s what you can jam out on when following the Carnivore Diet (basically, everything in the “animals” section of this cheat sheet).
While meat is a duh, there’s some important things to take into consideration here.
The first consideration is meat quality. I wouldn’t advise that you chow down on conventional CAFO (confined animal feeding operation) meats. This is especially true when it comes to eating fattier cuts as the toxins are mostly stored in the fat.
Eating sick, high-stress animals as the primary focus of your diet isn’t great for overall health.
The second consideration is variety. Americans tend to eat lots of beef and chicken, but there are so many other options available. Wild game meats are a good choice, for example. The bottom line is that the more variety you get, the better.
The third consideration also has to do with variety, but in a different way. It has to do with eating the various parts of the animal, often referred to as eating “nose to tail.”
The Carnivore Diet works best when you commit to eating the entire animal instead of just the muscle meat. The organ meats (liver, brain, heart, etc.) are much higher in nutrition and the bones can be used for bone broth which is rich in minerals and gut-healing collagen.
Fish & Sea Life
Another staple of the Carnivore Diet is fish. As I mentioned with meat above, it’s important to only eat high quality, wild-caught fish.
I’d also recommend targeting fish that’s low in mercury. Here are some recommendations from the Natural Resources Defense Council…
The Natural Resources Defense Council has a list of fish that contain the lowest levels of mercury. These include anchovies, catfish, flounder, hake, haddock, herring, salmon, trout, whitefish, pollock, mackerel, sardines and butterfish. While all of these fish are low in mercury, NRDC notes that farmed salmon should be avoided because it can contain high levels of another chemical with serious long-term health effects — PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyl). The NRDC also recommends avoiding haddock and flounder because these fish are low numbers due to extensive fishing.
Eggs are one of the most complete foods available and can be a staple on the Carnivore Diet. Again, though, I’d challenge you to branch out and collect variety. Can you eat other eggs besides chicken eggs?
Can you have dairy on the Carnivore Diet? Yes, for sure, assuming you tolerate it well.
While I wouldn’t recommend drinking glasses of milk, using butter for cooking and heavy cream for coffee and such is just fine. You can even do bulletproof coffee on the Carnivore Diet.
Spices & Herbs
Last but not least, you can season your food with spices and herbs. While these are technically plant-based ingredients, they’re a helpful addition for making the Carnivore Diet more palatable and practical.
Is the Carnivore Diet the Same Thing as the Keto Diet?
The Keto Diet is surging in popularity right now, so you might be wondering if the Keto Diet and the Carnivore Diet are one in the same.
Here’s what I’ll say about this – it is and it isn’t. They’re both very low-carb diets, but for most people I would think the high amounts of protein would be too much to achieve ketosis.
Remember, keto isn’t just about being low carb. It’s also about consuming the highest percent of your calories from fat. That’s tough to do when you’re eating a lot of meat and you’re not going to chow down on high-fat plants like avocados and coconuts.
And why does it matter, really? If you feel great and you’re reaching your goals, who cares if it’s not keto? The keto-as-religion thing doesn’t appeal to me at all. In fact, I think we’d all be better off is keto went back to being seen as an extreme intervention-style diet.
What About for Athletes? Is the Carnivore Diet a Zero Carb Diet?
The Carnivore Diet is not a “zero-carb” diet, but it is *very* low in carbohydrates.
Does this mean it’s not good for athletes? I don’t think that question has a sound answer. The carb-performance debate has been raging for a very long time and there’s no clear-cut side to take.
My observation is that some athletes do really well on low carb and even ketogenic diets while other athletes feel and perform like shit on them. And yes, that’s even after becoming “fat adapted.”
It also depends on the type of athletic activity you’re doing. Personally, when I’m very low carb or keto I have fantastic long-duration, slow-burning cardio. What I feel like I lose is explosiveness and high-intensity performance.
I’ve heard other people claim the exact opposite, though. This is why I hesitate to answer. The best solution is for you to try out the Carnivore Diet and see how you personally perform – see how your individual body responds.
Carnivore Diet Wrap-Up
That’s a wrap on the details of the Carnivore Diet. Here are some of the main points covered…
- Humans aren’t carnivores, but a carnivore diet might be therapeutic as an intervention.
- The Carnivore Diet isn’t just a re-invention of the steak and eggs diet or Atkins.
- The Carnivore Diet is safe in the short-term and shouldn’t lead to any nutritional deficiencies.
- There are a bunch of potential health improvements that can come with the Carnivore Diet including weight loss, better cholesterol ratios, improved digestion, and reduced inflammation.
- It’s important to get as much variety as possible in the types of animal products you consume and only consume high-quality animal products.
- The Carnivore Diet and keto are not necessarily the same thing.
- The diet might be good for some athletes, but most athletes are likely to experience declines in performance, especially in the short-term.
Have any questions about The Carnivore Diet? Drop them in the comments below.