There's a new diet in town, and it's meaty.
The Carnivore Diet, popularized by Shawn Baker, has gone somewhat viral since 2018 due to its extreme stance.
It advises an all-meat diet — to heck with vegetables and fruits. What you need is grass-fed meat, like the days of old. By eliminating carbs, we can absolve ourselves of the misfortunes and health issues that have arisen due to a western diet loaded with carbs and inflammatory ingredients.
While there is some truth to that, you'll soon discover that the Carnivore Diet is controversial. Today, we're going to try and show you what we know and why about the Carnivore Diet — that way you can make the best decision for you.
What Is the Carnivore Diet?
The carnivore diet is simple; you only eat animal foods and products. Everything else is restricted. That means no fruits, no vegetables, no bread or grains, and limiting your dairy intake to low-lactose foods. It's almost the complete opposite of a vegan diet.
While this may seem crazy at first, some people theorize that plant foods are not required to live. In fact, carbohydrates — which are abundant in plants — are the only non-essential macronutrient. This means fats and proteins are required for our bodies to survive, but we don't need carbohydrates in the same way[*].
Carnivore diet is sort of an evolution of paleo and keto. It stems from the contested belief that our ancestors ate mostly meat and fish, and high-carb diets are why Americans and other western societies are experiencing such high rates of chronic inflammation, disease, and gut issues.
Bottom line: The Carnivore Diet is a controversial evolution of the keto and paleo diet that aims to eliminate carbs entirely from your diet by eating exclusively animal-based foods.
Benefits of the Carnivore Diet
While the credibility of the carnivore diet is very much in question, there is no doubt that people credit it for substantial transformations. Common anecdotal stories include results of:
1. Weight Loss
Similar to the ketogenic diet, eating a strict meat diet can help you lose weight faster because you're shifting your main energy source from carbs to fats.
When you're fat-adapted — also known as being in ketosis — your metabolism can use both dietary and stored body fat for fuel. This means you can burn off your own body fat and use that as energy.
In addition, fat and protein are very satiating. You may go for several hours without thinking about food, and studies have also shown that becoming fat-adapted improves your hunger hormones, further regulating your appetite[*][*].
2. Decreased Inflammation
Inflammation can be exacerbated when carbohydrate-rich foods are consumed. Vegetable oils, processed foods, and even some nutrients in plants have been linked to increased inflammatory responses in the body.
Having less inflammation through a carnivore diet may result in fewer aches and pains. The extra collagen from protein sources can also improve cartilage health.
3. Increased Testosterone
Healthy fats are responsible for optimal hormonal function, including testosterone, and diets that are high in healthy fats have been shown to improve testosterone levels[*].
Since most people will be eating more healthy fats and protein on the carnivore diet, you may see an increase in muscle mass, strength, and energy. And if you're a woman, don't worry. The increased fat will regulate your hormones, including testosterone — it won't increase it.
4. Mental Clarity
Many carnivores have reported increased focus, energy, and mental clarity[*]. This is likely due to the restriction of carbohydrates, becoming fat-adapted, and running on ketones (fats) for energy.
Studies have shown that ketones have neuroprotective properties and the brain actually prefers fats for energy over carbohydrates[*].
What Advocates for the Carnivore Diet Say
The carnivore diet is spearheaded by a man named Shawn Baker. He is the founder of MeatRX, which is the primary community for carnivore dieters. Shawn Baker temporarily lost his medical license but was reinstated in 2018[*].
Baker positions himself as a skeptic but believes his carnivore diet has been the path to fat loss, an improved mind, and relief from chronic illness for both himself and other carnivore dieters.
Specifically, MeatRx states that:
Thousands of people have reduced or even reversed symptoms of diabetes, digestive issues, depression, mental disorders, skin conditions, joint pain, hormonal imbalances, lyme disease, chronic fatigue, candida overgrowth, pain, inflammation, etc.
And it does all of this without timing your food intake, counting calories, and counting your macros. Its simplicity is partly its success — all you have to do is eat meat.
The Carnivore Diet has been rising in popularity in the fast two years and received a bit of viral news when famous intellectual Jordan Peterson and his daughter began to advocate for the benefits of the carnivore diet[*].
Foods You Can Eat on the Carnivore Diet
Eating only animal products makes your weekly grocery haul extremely easy. One of the major selling points of the carnivore diet is how easy it is to follow.
Here's what you can have on the carnivore diet:
- Meat: Your main calorie source should come from fatty cuts of grass-fed meat like NY strip steak, porterhouse, ribeye, 80/20 ground beef, t-bone, bacon, pork chops, and flank steak. Since you're restricting carbohydrates, meats with more fat content are preferred so your body can use those fats as a source of energy.
- Fish: Just like meat, aim for the fattiest fish you can purchase. Salmon, sardines, trout, mackerel, and catfish are allowed.
- Eggs: Also known as nature's multivitamin, eggs are the perfect ratio of protein, fats, and essential nutrients to keep your body performing at its best on the carnivore diet.
- Bone marrow: Bone broth is carnivore-approved and is a great protein source that helps with gut, skin, and joint health.
- Low-lactose dairy: Milk, grass-fed butter, and aged cheese are technically allowed since they come from an animal, but many carnivore dieters try to keep dairy intake at a minimum since a large percentage of the population eventually develops an intolerance.
- Lard, grease, and other animal-based fats: Use lard, tallow, and other animal-based fats to cook your food instead of vegetable oil.
- Simple spices, seasonings, and condiments: Salt, pepper, herbs, and spices are allowed on the carnivore diet. Stick to simple ingredients that don't contain any sugar or carbohydrates. If you want some flavor with your meat, consider adding some zero-calorie hot sauce like Frank's Red Hot.
Foods to Avoid on the Carnivore Diet
Now for the hard part. Eating carnivore is extremely restrictive, so that means most of your usual snacks and meals may be off the table.
Here's what you can't have on carnivore:
- All fruits: Apples, bananas, berries, tomatoes — you name it.
- All vegetables: That includes vegetable broths and any condiments made from vegetables.
- Most dairy products: How much dairy you eat is up to debate in the carnivore community, although people tend to opt for low-lactose dairy products such as aged cheeses and kefir as opposed to creamy cheeses and yogurt.
- All sugars: Added sugars across the board are out! That goes for natural sugars as well.
- All additives: Processed foods that include nitrates, nitrites, MSG, and any other additives typically found in frozen and canned food.
- Low-grade meat: Even though the carnivore diet is meat-based, that doesn't mean any meat is on the table. In order to avoid the inflammation caused by grain, you need to eat grass-fed and pasture-raised meats.
- All grains, bread, pastries, etc: No bread or grains across the board! This means no rice, no pasta, etc.
- All nuts, seeds, and legumes: Nuts, seeds, and legumes aren't allowed either. This includes almonds, peanuts, peas, flax seed, chia seeds, etc.
- Anything else that isn't meat! That includes candy like taffy, lab-grown meats, and meat alternatives like Beyond burgers.
Carnivore Diet 7-Day Meal Plan
Getting started with the carnivore diet is extremely simple. Here's an example of what a full week of eating on the carnivore diet looks like.
- Breakfast: Steak and eggs
- Lunch: Salmon and fried pork
- Snack: Cottage cheese
- Dinner: Ground beef patties
- Breakfast: Feta cheese omelette
- Lunch: Chicken thighs with cheddar cheese
- Snack: Chomps!
- Dinner: Ribeye steak
- Breakfast: Poached eggs with bacon
- Lunch: Tuna and hard boiled eggs
- Snack: Sardines
- Dinner: Bone broth and roasted chicken
- Breakfast: Kefir and two eggs over medium
- Lunch: Shredded chicken with bacon
- Snack: Tuna
- Dinner: Bison burgers
- Breakfast: Chicken livers and scrambled eggs
- Lunch: Turkey burgers
- Snack: Hard boiled eggs
- Dinner: Slow roasted salmon
- Breakfast: Chicken and feta omelette
- Lunch: Beef liver
- Snack: Sardines
- Dinner: Pork chops
- Breakfast: Bacon and eggs
- Lunch: Grilled chicken tenders
- Snack: Steak bites
- Dinner: Prime rib
It doesn't get more straightforward, and there's no need to over-complicate it. In fact, if you love steak you can eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!
Getting Through the First Month of an All-Meat Diet
Before you dive right into the carnivore diet, it's important to know that the first month (especially the first week) will be the hardest.
Here are a few things you should understand to make the transition easier:
Get your blood tested.
Get your blood work done before you start the carnivore diet and again after approximately 2 months in. Everyone has different metabolic needs, so it's important to know if the diet is working well with your body. Better yet, work with a physician!
Don't quit when you don't feel good.
You'll likely experience fatigue, headaches, and other flu-like symptoms during the first week of the diet. This is a normal part of the process as your body is getting used to using fats for energy rather than carbs.
Expect your appetite to fluctuate.
You'll have some days where you want to eat non-stop and other days where you won't even think about food. Your appetite will adjust once your body gets used to the diet.
Risks of the Carnivore Diet
Now that you're aware of the purported benefits and structure, let's talk a bit about the risks.
1. Low Vitamin C
Organ meats and eggs are about your only option apart from supplementation to get the Vitamin C you need. Vitamin C is vital for repairing our body's tissues and helps reduce the chance of chronic diseases[*].
2. Lack of Fiber
Fiber is only found in plants, and it contributes to healthy bowel movements and good gut bacteria. A lack of fiber may lead to constipation and eventually contribute to an imbalanced gut — which can contribute to a weakened immunity system and increase your chance of colon cancer[*].
3. Loss of Good Bacteria
Many carnivore evangelists note that intestinal issues are resolved after beginning a carnivore diet. This may be true due to the elimination of typical inflammatory foods like sugar, lactose, or anything else your body may be sensitive too. The issue is if good bacteria is eliminated overtime as well, which could cause a variety of digestion issues[*].
4. Excessive Sodium and Saturated Fats
Eating only meat and dairy will almost certainly increase your intake of sodium and saturated fats. Excess sodium can contribute to headaches, swelling, and kidney disease[*], and excess saturated fats can increase your risk of a stroke[*].
What Critics of the Carnivore Diet Say
Considering how restrictive an all-carnivore lifestyle and pursuit of zero carbs can be, it's no surprise that the carnivore diet has been the subject of much debate and is widely criticized by nutritionists and doctors, leading to such headlines like "Vegetables are good for you, we promise", among others.
Counter arguments point out that while going low-carb and eliminating sugars, grains, and other typical sources of inflammation can be good for health (much like Whole30), it is not a sustainable diet in the long-term because it lacks critical sources for nutrients like fiber and makes it difficult to have a balanced nutritional profile without supplementation.
Carnivore dieters tend to point toward meat-eating ancient cultures like the Inuit in defense, but these cultures were eating extremely fresh meat (sometimes raw) and almost always ate the organs, which are chock full of important nutrients[*].
And because there are no specific studies that back up the benefits of the carnivore diet, dieticians argue that the carnivore diet is established on belief — not scientific fact, and therefore should not be trusted by the public[*].
Frequently Asked Questions About the Carnivore Diet
Here's a list of the most common questions people have about the all-meat diet.
Q: Will it work for athletes?
Yes. Many fitness enthusiasts assume that glucose from carbs is the best source for quick and immediate energy to fuel workouts and competition. On the carnivore diet, your body will go through a process called gluconeogenesis where some protein is converted into just enough glucose for certain body functions.
Q: Can I eat processed meats?
No. Grass-fed animal products should be the only food source you consume. Processed meats like pepperoni and other lunch meats typically contain harmful ingredients like artificial nitrates to preserve its shelf life which can negatively impact your health.
Q: How long is the adaptation period?
Around 1 month. If you're like most people, you've been eating carbohydrates your whole life, so your body will take some time to adjust.
Q: How much meat should I eat per day on a carnivore diet?
The Carnivore diet is not a calorie counting diet. It is an elimination diet designed to remove inflammatory foods and other ingredients that modern nutrition has introduced. You should eat until you're full or until your calorie goal (if you have one) is reached. It's ultimately up to you.
Q: Does the carnivore diet put you in ketosis?
While ketosis isn't the direct goal, it often occurs while following the carnivore diet. This is because the diet aims for zero-carbs, so by design your body will begin to prioritize burning fat over carbs and sugars.
Q: Can you build muscle on the Carnivore Diet?
While it has to be supplemented with working out, of course! Many stories from MeatRx quote muscle growth as a result of eating carnivore. This is due to an increase in average protein intake.
The Bottom Line on the Carnivore Diet
The fact is, while there may be unique health benefits of following the carnivore diet and the downsides may be overblown — we simply don't know. What we do know is that the carnivore diet directly advises people to not eat food we know scientifically is good for you. Study after study has shown the benefits of eating a balanced, natural, and organic diet.
If you're looking to improve your health, we recommend implementing trusted advice before attempting something as drastic as the carnivore diet. For example, if you think inflammation may be an issue, run a more traditional elimination diet that still has room for most conventional foods instead of cutting everything out.