The Carnivore Diet restricts all of your eating to animal and meat-based products, nothing else.
This all-meat diet excludes other foods, like fruits and vegetables, grains and legumes.
It is thought to help with weight loss, blood sugar control and auto-immune conditions.
Here’s the issue with carnivore:
Where are these health claims coming from? Can you lose weight and feel better on the Carnivore Diet?
This article explains the Carnivore Diet, including its benefits, where to start, meal plans, carnivore foods, FAQs and more.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about going carnivore.
What is the Carnivore Diet
The Carnivore Diet consists of meat, fish and animal products like cheese and eggs. You can eat some dairy items, not others.
Remove all vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, legumes and grains on the Carnivore Diet.
You can eat dairy items which are low in lactose (ex: butter and hard cheeses). However, carnivores restrict any dairy items containing lactose, which is a sugar. These include milk, yogurt and ice cream.
How the Carnivore Diet works
Like any other diet, the Carnivore Diet works by restricting food groups and calories. Carnivore proponents cite that ancestral populations consumed meat and fish and not much else.
They claim that carbohydrate and sugar based diets (like much of the “Standard American Diet”) are to blame for obesity and chronic health issues.
By restricting food to just meat, Carnivore Diet proponents claim it decreases inflammation.
Unlike keto or paleo, carnivores completely exclude any carbohydrates.
Carnivore Diet history
Shawn Baker created the modern application of the Carnivore Diet. He’s a former orthopaedic doctor turned author who wrote a book on the subject in 2019 (1).
Both are supporters of the Carnivore Diet. Peterson claims the diet helped him cure auto-immune conditions that plagued him for his whole life.
Rogan went on the Carnivore Diet for 30 days in January 2020. He claimed the diet helped him lose weight and gave him more energy. It also gave him explosive diarrhea.
The Carnivore diet was created in 2019. Since then, it has gained popularity.
Does the diet have merit?
The Carnivore Diet has no research or scientific basis. Proponents use testimonials to promote the diet.
Those on the diet claim it can treat arthritis, autoimmune conditions, diabetes, obesity, anxiety and depression (2).
There are case studies, but not scientific studies to prove that the Carnivore Diet is safe and effective.
Carnivore Diet for weight loss
Can going carnivore help you lose weight? Many proponents of the diet report weight loss.
Some aspects of going carnivore may help you lose weight.
Protein does two things:
1. Helps with satiety
It makes you feel full after meals. This helps you crave less food and eat less food throughout the day. You eat fewer calories and you lose weight (6).
2. Increases your metabolism
It makes sense that the Carnivore Diet would help you eat fewer calories and lose weight. You would feel full and perhaps your metabolic rate would increase… in the short-term.
Many studies show that high protein diets lead to weight loss compared to low protein diets (9). These diets lead to more sustained weight loss well.
The issue with the Carnivore Diet is compliance and restriction. Are you really going to eat only meat for the rest of your life?
It doesn't seem viable or sustainable as a long-term diet or weight loss strategy. You are restricting too many food groups.
Losing weight doesn’t require you to go on the Carnivore Diet.
Moreover, you do not need to remove carbs, vegetables and fruits to lose weight.
Carnivore Diet benefits
Claimed Carnivore benefits include:
- Weight loss
- Curing autoimmune conditions
- Reducing joint pain and arthritis
- Helping control blood sugar and diabetes
- Increasing energy
Here is an important tidbit on these health benefits.
All the Carnivore Diet benefits can be attributed to what you are not eating, not necessarily what you are eating.
What do I mean by this?
Going carnivore restricts your eating to… meat. Meaning you are not eating refined carbohydrates, sugars and vegetable oils.
Gone is the days of soda, donuts, candy and bagels.
These processed foods are high in calories but low in vitamins and minerals. They don’t belong in any balanced eating plan.
This is why carnivores lose weight on the diet. You are limited to meat. It is difficult to stuff yourself with 2500+ calories of steak per day.
You are naturally creating a caloric deficit.
Proponents of the Carnivore Diet claim it helps control autoimmune conditions. Some claim it leads to remission of symptoms.
My hunch is that eliminating inflammatory foods like grains, legumes and dairy contributes to these benefits. However, no research has been done.
Reducing Joint Pain
Similar to autoimmune conditions, removing foods that cause inflammation may help reduce joint pain.
Blood Sugar Control
Eliminating sugar and refined carbohydrates will generally help control your blood sugar.
You know that sugar and ultra processed foods like Impossible Burger are bad for you. They spike your blood sugar and can lead to blood sugar issues like type 2 diabetes.
The carnivore diet does not have any blood sugar spiking foods.
More importantly, glycine is found in some cuts of meat and bone broth. Glycine is used to control insulin and blood sugar in type 2 diabetics (11).
Increased Energy on Carnivore
Incredibly hard to measure subjective energy levels. Many proponents claim to have improved energy and clarity of thought while on the Carnivore Diet.
These are not substantiated by any science.
Cons of going carnivore
The Carnivore Diet is not safe because we do not know the long-term effects of the diet. It restricts many important food groups for your health and wellness.
Removing these nutrient rich foods makes the Carnivore Diet dangerous. Here are the cons of the carnivore diet.
1. Lacks vitamins and minerals for your health
Many of the non-compliant carnivore foods provide crucial vitamins and minerals for bodily functions.
Thanks, captain obvious. It goes without saying that a diet devoid of fruits and vegetables will lack important micronutrients.
Turns out that plants have more than just vitamins and fiber. There are sterols, antioxidants and other unique compounds in plants for health and longevity.
The Carnivore Diet restricts all plants and fruits. Meaning you could end up with major nutrient deficiencies (15).
You also may end up with an overconsumption of other nutrients like methionine. Not good.
2. High in fat, sodium and cholesterol
Speaking of overconsumption, the Carnivore Diet can easily make you over do it on sodium, cholesterol and fat.
Animal-based foods are higher in saturated fat and cholesterol. Does this matter?
Saturated fat and cholesterol are not the demons we once thought. We now know that dietary cholesterol is not linked to blood cholesterol or heart disease (16).
I’d like to emphasize that Carnivore may push the limits in terms of saturated fat and cholesterol intake. We do not have studies or information on the long-term health effects of consuming this much saturated fat and cholesterol.
If you are going carnivore, stick to real meat products. Why? Processed meat products like bacon, cheese and lunch meats are incredibly high in sodium.
Overdoing it on sodium does have major health implications. Too much sodium leads to high blood pressure, kidney issues and many other scary health issues (19).
3. Has zero fiber
Fiber is an important part of gut health. It is a non-digestible carbohydrate that keeps you regular and is only found in vegetables and fruits.
Low fiber diets can lead to constipation in some. Although, I’ll note that many anecdotal Carnivore Diet reports mention the opposite while on the diet. Just ask Joe Rogan.
What’s important about fiber is its effect on your gut health. Fiber is needed to seed and fuel our gut bacteria.
The gut is the cornerstone of our immunity. Messing with your gut bacteria has adverse health effects (20).
4. Not suitable for some people
Anyone with a history of eating disorders should never try Carnivore or any restrictive diet. If you have anxious thoughts or a poor relationship with food, this diet is not for you.
It goes without saying that the Carnivore Diet is not for those who must limit protein intake. Those with kidney disease should not follow the Carnivore Diet (21).
You should not go Carnivore if you are sensitive to saturated fat or cholesterol rich foods.
Lastly, if you have specific nutrient needs, then do not try this diet.
Where to start with carnivore
If you are going to experiment with an all-meat diet, read this. Going carnivore makes your life and shopping list simple. All you eat are animal based foods. It should be easy to follow… in principle.
Foods to eat on Carnivore
Here’s what you can eat on the Carnivore Diet:
Your main source of food will be meat. You should opt for fattier and more nutrient dense cuts of meat like organ meats. These include liver, heart and kidneys.
In fact, the best way to maximize your nutrient intake on Carnivore is to eat nose to tail. Nose to tail ensures you are getting all the nutrients and minerals from an animal.
Other fattier cuts of meat include: rib eye, 80/20 ground, flank and thighs.
Similar to meat, choose the fattiest fish you can find. Salmon, sardines, anchovies and mackerel are all great. Small fish are great because you can eat the bones. Small fish bones provide calcium and other important nutrients.
Perhaps the most nutrient dense animal based food. Eggs are crucial if you are carnivore. They’ll provide vitamins and minerals to keep your body in check.
4. Bone Broth
Rich in hydrating electrolytes, collagen and important amino acids (glycine) that buffer out the negative effects of high meat intake. Bone broth should be consumed daily on the Carnivore Diet.
5. Bone Marrow
Contains many vitamins and minerals for carnivores. Also, rich in fat.
6. Low-lactose Dairy
Carnivores are split on whether dairy is allowed. Many proponents recommend keeping dairy out of the Carnivore Diet as people develop allergies to it. Others will consume milk, certain hard cheeses and grass-fed butter.
7. Lard, Tallow, Animal-Based Fats
A great alternative to most cooking oils. Cook your food in tallow, schmaltz or other animal based fats.
8. Low-Carb Spices and Herbs
Salt, pepper, herbs and spices are carnivore compliant. Just make sure these spices do not have sugar and carbs. Some carnivores allow zero-calorie condiments like hot sauce.
Some carnivores also consume yogurt and softer cheese. However, these are higher in carbs, which go against carnivore beliefs.
Note: Some all-meat diet leaders like Shawn Baker don't think you need to eat pasture-raised, organic, grass fed or wild caught animals. I do.
If you are going to eat all-meat or any meat, you must eat the highest quality meat that you can afford. Read this meat checklist to look for when buying meat products.
Foods to avoid on Carnivore Diet
Ready for the ‘no-fun police’? Here are the foods you must avoid when going carnivore.
- All vegetables: Including condiments made from vegetables and broth.
- All fruit: Any fruit like bananas, berries, etc
- Sugar: Even sugar alcohols, natural forms of sugar and sugar substitutes are not compliant.
- Processed foods: Carnivores avoid additives like nitrates, MSG and nitrites. Processed meat like bacon, shelf stable products or canned foods and non-compliant.
- Most dairy products: A hot button issue among the carnivore community. Some advocate low-lactose dairy like hard cheese or kefir. You should avoid yogurt and processed dairy.
- All grains, pastries, bread: No refined carbs like grains, rice, pasta, donuts, etc.
- All nuts, seeds, legumes: Not allowed. These include peanuts, almonds, macadamias, cashews, chia, flax, peas, etc.
- Any other non-meat products: Including meat alternatives like Beyond Meat, lab grown meat or Impossible Burger. Candy or chocolate.
Carnivore Diet Meal Plan
Here is a 7-day meal plan to get you started with the Carnivore Diet.
- Breakfast: Scrambled eggs
- Lunch: Baked or canned salmon
- Snack: Bone Broth
- Dinner: Beef liver fried in lard or beef tallow
- Breakfast: Kefir and steak
- Lunch: Chicken wings
- Snack: Pork rinds
- Dinner: Flank steak
- Breakfast: Eggs fried in lard or beef tallow, bacon
- Lunch: Beef kidneys or steak
- Snack: Sardines
- Dinner: Chicken and bone broth soup
- Breakfast: Feta cheese omelette
- Lunch: Fried beef heart
- Snack: Mackerel
- Dinner: Chicken thighs
- Breakfast: Eggs fried in beef tallow with bacon
- Lunch: 80/20 ground beef patties
- Snack: Bone Broth
- Dinner: Baked salmon
- Breakfast: Fried eggs with cheese
- Lunch: Beef liver
- Snack: Canned anchovies
- Dinner: Bison burgers
- Breakfast: Bacon and eggs
- Lunch: Grilled chicken
- Snack: Pork rinds
- Dinner: Beef or lamb roast cooked in beef bone broth
See the simplicity? You can eat any of these foods all day, every day. Do your best to work in some organ meats as they are crucial for vitamins and minerals. You should experiment with what you enjoy, but also ensure you are getting adequate fat and nutrients.
Carnivore Diet tips to get you through month one
You should know that the first month of an all-meat diet will be difficult. The first week, in particular, will be hard.
Here are three things to do and expect.
1. Get blood work done
Get your blood tested before you begin and at 6-week intervals while on carnivore. This look under the hood is crucial to see how your body is reacting to eating an all-meat diet. Consult your doctor or primary care provider about blood work and carnivore before proceeding.
2. Expect appetite changes
Your appetite will fluctuate like crazy on the diet. Some days you’ll feel full and satiated. Other days you can’t get enough food in your mouth. Experts say that your appetite will adjust to the new diet.
3. Expect to feel awful
Much like the keto flu, you will feel like crap on the Carnivore Diet. This is because you are switching your primary fuel source from carbohydrates to protein and fat.
Our bodies need time to adjust. You’ll likely experience fatigue, irritability, headaches and flu-like symptoms. These will pass.
All-Meat Diet Bottom Line
The Carnivore Diet is new and dangerous. There are no scientific studies backing to substantiate the claims and possible benefits of the diet.
You should be careful and do your research before trying this diet. It is restrictive in terms of foods, but also nutrients and minerals.
You will have a hard time getting adequate vitamins and minerals on the all-meat diet. As such, proceed with extreme caution and under the guidance of a physician.
FAQs about Carnivore Diet
Is the Carnivore Diet keto
No, the carnivore diet is not keto. Eating that much meat will kick you out of ketosis. Why? Our bodies are cleverly designed to convert protein into carbohydrates for fuel via a process called gluconeogenesis.
Can the Carnivore Diet heal leaky gut
The carnivore diet may help your leaky gut. We do not have enough research or information. Some claim it helps improve gut health. Others believe all-meat diet is damaging to gut health due to a lack of fiber and fermentable carbohydrates to see gut bacteria.
Can it cure cancer
No, the carnivore diet cannot cure cancer.
Can you eat eggs
Yes you can eat eggs on the Carnivore Diet.
Can you do it without red meat
It is possible but not recommended going carnivore without red meat. Why? Red meat provides many beneficial vitamins and minerals to your body. These include iron, b vitamins and many other that you cannot get without red meat.
Why consume salt
You should be careful to consume adequate electrolytes, salt included while on the Carnivore Diet. The all-meat diet is low in carbs. Carbs are needed to store sodium and potassium. As such, your body will flush out electrolytes while on the diet. You must supplement or get enough natural sources of electrolytes to stay hydrated while on Carnivore.
Does it work for athletes
For strength-based athletes, the Carnivore Diet may work. For mixed sport (soccer, basketball, tennis) or endurance athletes, Carnivore Diet will not work. Your body needs carbohydrates to excel at any mixed or endurance sport. You are handicapping your performance on these sports by not eating carbs.
How long does it take to adapt
Carnivore Diet requires an adaptation period for your body to get used to it. Most people take 3 weeks or so to begin getting used to its effects on the body.
Can you gain muscle on an all-meat diet
If you are working our correctly, then yes, you can gain muscle on the Carnivore Diet
Disclaimer: this information is for educational purposes only and has not been evaluated by the FDA or CFIA. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please consult your primary care physician for advice on any of this.
Photo by Matheus Gomes