Can you get leaner, stronger and fitter with the carnivore diet?
Is eating nothing but meat and other food products derived from animals really the best way to build muscle, burn fat and improve a whole host of biomarkers associated with living a fitter, healthier and longer life? Or will eschewing all plant-based foods a dangerous dietary tactic that opens the door to a wide range of nutritional deficiencies that will ultimately leave you far from optimal health? Here’s everything you need to know about the carnivore diet to make the right dietary decision for you and your health goals, says New Body Plan’s Joe Warner
In just a few short years the carnivore diet has moved from the fringes of food philosophy to become a mainstream meal approach.
It’s popularity has soared for a number of reasons, not least thanks to a number of high-profile celebrity endorsements, including comedian and podcaster Joe Rogan, psychologist and author Jordan Peterson, and orthopedic surgeon Dr Shawn Baker.
And in theory eating nothing but meat sounds pretty good, right? Chargrilled steaks. Smoked baby back ribs. Chicken wings. Ask most men for their Death Row dish and chances are their last meal will feature a plate piled high with prime cut meat.
But is it really advisable to live on meat and meat alone? Will only ever eating meat, fish, eggs and dairy – the four main types of food allowed on the carnivore diet – and cutting out all carbohydrates really help you lose weight, build muscle and get fitter, healthier and happier? Here’s what you need to know!
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What is the carnivore diet?
The carnivore diet is a type of diet that involves consuming only animal-based products such as meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. It is a very restrictive diet that eliminates all plant-based foods, including fruits and vegetables, grains, and legumes.
What’s so good about the carnivore diet?
The rationale behind the carnivore diet is that it is believed to offer a range of health benefits, including weight loss, improved digestion, and reduced inflammation. Supporters of the diet argue that humans have evolved to consume meat and animal products, and that plant-based foods may be harmful to human health. We’ll dive deeper into all the potential health benefits of the diet shortly.
What are the downsides of the carnivore diet?
The carnivore diet is controversial and has been criticised by many health experts and nutritionists. Eliminating all plant-based foods can lead to nutrient deficiencies, and the diet can also be high in saturated fat and cholesterol, which can increase the risk of heart disease and other health problems.
We’ll take a closer look at all the reported negative health effects of the carnivore diet shortly. But for now it’s important to note that the carnivore diet is not recommended as a long-term diet, and anyone considering it should consult with a healthcare professional before starting.
Did humans evolve eating a carnivore diet?
The human diet has evolved over millions of years, and early humans were primarily hunter-gatherers who consumed a variety of foods, including plants, animals, and insects. While it is true that early humans may have relied more heavily on meat during certain periods of time, such as during the Ice Age, their diets were not exclusively carnivorous.
Anthropological and archaeological evidence suggests that early humans were opportunistic eaters who consumed whatever food sources were available. This included a wide variety of plant and animal foods, as well as some insects and other small animals.
In addition, the human digestive system has evolved to be able to process and extract nutrients from a variety of foods, including both animal and plant-based foods. Humans have a relatively long small intestine and a shorter large intestine, which is characteristic of omnivores who require both animal and plant-based foods for optimal health.
Why is the carnivore diet so popular?
The carnivore diet has gained popularity in recent years, especially among some health and fitness enthusiasts, as well as individuals seeking to address certain health conditions. Some reasons why include:
The diet is a very simple and easy-to-follow diet that does not require counting calories or macronutrients, as long as you stick to eating only animal products.
It has been reported by some individuals to be effective for weight loss, which is a common goal for many people.
Some proponents of the diet claim that it can improve certain health conditions, such as autoimmune disorders, mental health issues, and digestive problems, although there is limited scientific evidence to support these claims.
Social media and influencers
The diet has gained visibility and popularity through social media and influencers who promote this way of eating as a way to lose weight and improve health.
What are health advantages of eating a carnivore diet?
There are a number of potential positive health effects from following the carnivore diet. They include:
A carnivore diet may be low in carbohydrates, which can lead to a reduction in calorie intake and ultimately lead to weight loss.
Improved blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity
A low-carb, high-fat diet, which may include animal products, has been shown to improve blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity in some studies.
Improved cholesterol levels
Some studies have shown that a low-carb, high-fat diet, which may include animal products, can lead to improvements in cholesterol levels.
A high intake of fruits and vegetables is often recommended to reduce inflammation, but some proponents of a carnivore diet suggest that it can also lead to a reduction in inflammation.
Improved mental clarity and focus
Some people report feeling more focused and clear-headed on a carnivore diet.
Reverse chronic diseases
It may alleviate symptoms of certain health conditions such as autoimmune diseases, diabetes, and epilepsy (although this is still a topic of debate and research).
Better portion control
It may be easier to follow for some people who have trouble with portion control or craving
Some people report improved digestion and reduced gastrointestinal symptoms on a carnivore diet.
Is the carnivore diet dangerous?
There are a number of minor and major health risks associated with the carnivore diet. They include:
A carnivore diet may lack some essential nutrients that are found in plant-based foods, such as fibre, certain vitamins, and minerals.
Increased risk of heart disease
A high intake of saturated fats, which are found in animal products, may increase the risk of heart disease.
Increased risk of certain cancers
Some studies suggest that a high intake of red processed meats may increase the risk of certain cancers, such as colon cancer.
Increased risk of kidney stones
A high intake of animal protein may increase the risk of kidney stones.
A sudden switch to a carnivore diet may cause digestive issues such as constipation, diarrhoea, and nausea.
Bad breath and body odour
A diet high in protein may lead to bad breath and body odour.
Ethical and environmental concerns
Many people have ethical concerns about consuming animal products, and there are also environmental concerns associated with the production and consumption of meat.
Is the carnivore diet a type of ketogenic diet?
Yes, the carnivore diet is considered to be a type of ketogenic diet. Both the carnivore diet and ketogenic diets are based on a low-carbohydrate, high-fat approach to eating that is designed to encourage the body to enter a state of ketosis.
Ketosis is a metabolic state in which the body burns fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates. This is achieved by reducing carbohydrate intake and increasing fat intake, which forces the body to switch to burning fat for energy.
On the carnivore diet, you only consume animal-based foods, which are naturally low in carbohydrates and high in fat and protein. This puts your body into a state of ketosis, where it burns stored fat for energy instead of carbohydrates.
Similarly, the standard ketogenic diet involves consuming a diet that is high in healthy fats and protein, with a very low intake of carbohydrates. The goal is to achieve and maintain ketosis, where the body is primarily burning fat for fuel.
However, it’s important to note that the carnivore diet is much more restrictive and may be more difficult to follow long-term than a standard ketogenic diet.
What can I eat on a carnivore diet?
On a carnivore diet, you would only eat animal-based products, which could include:
Beef, pork, lamb, veal, bison, and other types of red meat. Poultry such as chicken, turkey, and duck.
Fish and seafood
Salmon, trout, tuna, sardines, shrimp, crab, lobster, and other seafood.
Chicken, duck, quail, and other types of eggs.
Milk, cheese, and butter (although some people following a strict carnivore diet may choose to avoid dairy).
It’s important to note that a strict carnivore diet would not include any plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, or legumes. Some people following a carnivore diet may also choose to avoid processed foods, such as cured meats or sausages, and opt for whole cuts of meat instead.
What can’t I eat on a carnivore diet?
On the carnivore diet, the following foods are typically avoided or eliminated completely:
All plant-based foods
This includes fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes.
Processed meats, such as hot dogs, sausages, and deli meats, are typically not allowed on a strict carnivore diet.
All forms of sugar, including natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup, are generally not allowed on a carnivore diet.
Most forms of alcohol are not allowed on the carnivore diet, as they are derived from plant-based sources like grains or fruits (see below for more on alcohol).
While some people on the carnivore diet may consume coffee or tea for the many mental and physical performance benefits of caffeine, others choose to avoid caffeine altogether.
What nutritional deficiencies are likely on the carnivore diet?
Some of the nutritional deficiencies that may be more likely on a carnivore diet include:
Since the carnivore diet eliminates all plant-based foods, it can be very low in fibre, which can lead to constipation, digestive issues, and an increased risk of certain health conditions.
Vitamins and minerals
The carnivore diet is low in many essential vitamins and minerals that are abundant in plant-based foods, including vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, folate, potassium, and magnesium. This can increase the risk of nutrient deficiencies, which can cause a wide range of health problems.
Plant-based foods contain a variety of phytonutrients, which are beneficial compounds that can help to protect against disease and promote optimal health. By eliminating plant-based foods, the carnivore diet may result in a lack of these important compounds.
While the carnivore diet may provide adequate amounts of protein and fat, it is extremely low in carbohydrates, which are an important source of energy for the body. This can lead to low energy levels, fatigue, and other negative health effects.
Can I drink alcohol on the carnivore diet?
While the carnivore diet generally eliminates most plant-based foods and their byproducts, such as grains and fruits, it does not have specific rules around consuming alcohol.
However, it is generally recommended to limit or avoid alcohol consumption while on the carnivore diet, especially if you are trying to achieve specific health or weight loss goals.
Alcoholic beverages are often high in sugar and carbohydrates, which can interfere with ketosis (a metabolic state in which the body burns fat for energy instead of carbohydrates). In addition, alcohol can be dehydrating and may interfere with proper nutrient absorption, which could be problematic on a very restrictive diet like the carnivore diet.
That being said, some people on the carnivore diet may choose to consume small amounts of alcohol occasionally. If you do choose to drink alcohol while on the carnivore diet, it’s important to choose low-carb alcohol drinks and drink in moderation.
Some low-carb alcoholic beverages include dry wines, spirits like whiskey, gin and slimline tonic, and vodka, and certain low-carb beers.
Should I try the carnivore diet?
It is important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new diet, especially one that is as restrictive as the carnivore diet. Your healthcare professional can help you determine if a carnivore diet is safe and appropriate for you based on your individual health status, medical history, and nutritional needs.
It’s also important to keep in mind that while some people may experience benefits on a carnivore diet, such as weight loss or improved blood sugar control, there are also potential risks associated with a diet that is primarily composed of animal products.
In general, a balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrient-rich foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, is recommended for optimal health.
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