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Is the Carnivore Diet Healthy? Benefits vs. Dangers

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Carnivore diet - Dr. Axe

Loading up on endless amounts of beef, bacon and chicken may sound like every meat lover’s dream. But is filling your plate with meat as part of the “carnivore diet” really as stellar as it seems?

Although the internet is flooded with convincing carnivore diet before and after photos and rave reviews from proponents of the plan, health experts have pointed out that the negative effects of the diet may outweigh any potential benefits.

Not only there is little to no carnivore diet science available to support the plan, but the diet is also incredibly restrictive, difficult to follow and likely to lead to nutritional deficiencies in the long-run.

What Is the Carnivore Diet?

According to Merriam-Webster, the official carnivore definition is “an animal that feeds primarily or exclusively on animal matter.”

As its name may imply, the carnivore diet is an all-meat diet that consists almost entirely of animal products like red meat, fish and poultry. Some other products such as eggs and dairy may also be permitted, although some advise limiting foods high in lactose, such as milk, cheese and yogurt.

Fruits and veggies are off-limits on this meat-only diet, along with other foods such as nuts, seeds and grains.

The diet is based on the idea that our ancestors ate limited amounts of carbs and consumed a diet comprised primarily of meat instead.

However, unlike other similar low-carb diets, such as the Paleo diet, the carnivore diet eliminates foods containing carbohydrates completely.

Food List

Compared to other eating patterns and fad diets, the carnivore diet menu is pretty straight-forward. Meat, fish, poultry, eggs and certain dairy products are allowed, and most other foods should be eliminated.

Here are some of the top foods that can be included as part of a carnivore diet shopping list:

  • Meat: beef, pork, lamb, veal, bison, offal
  • Seafood: salmon, tuna, mackerel, anchovies, codfish
  • Poultry: chicken, turkey, goose, duck
  • Eggs and egg whites
  • Dairy Products: low-lactose foods like hard cheeses and butter
  • Beverages: water, bone broth

Here are some of the ingredients that should be avoided as part of the diet:

  • Fruits: apples, bananas, oranges, berries, pears, peaches, plums
  • Veggies: broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, kale, zucchini, tomatoes, bell peppers
  • Legumes: chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans, lentils, pinto beans
  • Nuts: almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, cashews, pistachios
  • Seeds: chia seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, sunflower seeds
  • Grains: amaranth, quinoa, wheat, buckwheat, rice, oats, barley, pasta
  • Dairy Products: high-lactose foods like milk, yogurt and soft cheeses
  • Processed foods: chips, crackers, cookies, candy, convenience meals, fast food
  • Beverages: tea, coffee, sports drinks, sodas, energy drinks
  • Sugars: table sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup

Curious what a carnivore diet breakfast looks like and what meals can be enjoyed as part of the diet?

Check out this sample three-day carnivore diet meal plan, plus a few simple recipes to help get you started:

Day One

Day Two

  • Breakfast: turkey bacon with omelet
  • Lunch: salmon roasted in butter
  • Dinner: skillet chicken

Day Three

Potential Benefits

1. May Promote Weight Loss

One of the top carnivore diet benefits is that it eliminates high-carb, heavily processed ingredients, many of which are also high in calories. Decreasing your intake of these calorie-dense foods, such as chips, candy, crackers and cookies, could potentially help promote weight loss.

While research on the carnivore diet specifically is limited, several studies have found that low-carb diets could be effective for weight loss.

For example, a 2013 review published in British Journal of Nutrition showed that following a very low-carb diet was able to boost long-term weight loss in participants compared to a low-fat diet, suggesting that cutting carbs could be a useful strategy to combat obesity.

2. Low in Added Sugar

Many of the foods restricted on the carnivore diet plan are high in added sugar, including sugar-sweetened beverages, baked goods, candies and desserts.

Added sugar can have detrimental effects on nearly every aspect of health, with some research linking added sugar consumption to an increased risk of obesity, heart disease, liver problems and even cancer.

Eliminating these foods from your diet could potentially reduce the risk of developing chronic disease to support overall health.

3. High in Protein

Meat, fish and poultry are key components of the carnivore diet, all of which are loaded with protein.

Protein plays a central role in tissue repair, muscle-building, growth and immune function. A deficiency can have serious consequences and may lead to symptoms like weakness, vascular problems, stunted growth and anemia.

High-protein diets have also been shown to enhance weight loss and reduce levels of ghrelin, the hormone that stimulates feelings of hunger, to help curb cravings and keep your appetite in check.

Risks and Side Effects

Currently, no research has been conducted to evaluate the long-term effects of the carnivore diet. Therefore, it’s difficult to determine how much of an impact eating only meat and eggs may have on your health and whether or not following the carnivore diet results in any real benefits.

That being said, the diet eliminates several important food groups that supply key micronutrients, including a range of vitamins and minerals. This can increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies, which can lead to serious side effects like decreased energy levels, brain fog and impaired immune function.

It’s also low in fiber, an important compound that promotes digestive health, regularity, heart health and more.

On the other hand, the plan is high in dietary cholesterol, saturated fat and sodium, all of which should be limited as part of a healthy diet.

It may also be contain high amounts of red meat and processed meat, which have both been linked to a higher risk of colorectal cancer.

Overall, the carnivore diet is very restrictive and eliminates several important food groups, including fruits and veggies. Therefore, it should not be followed long-term, as it can increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies and health problems.

Because the diet is so restrictive, it is not suitable for children or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. It’s also not recommended for those with certain health conditions, including diabetes or kidney disease. If you have any underlying health conditions, consult with your doctor before making any changes to your diet.

Because it’s high in fat and low in fiber, the plan may cause digestive issues for some people. Similar to “keto flu,” a common side effect of high-fat diets like keto, it can cause loose stools or increased fat in the stool, and is not a recommended diet for diarrhea. Conversely, it may also cause constipation due to the lack of fiber.

Other potential side effects of the diet include:

    • Increased cravings
  • Low energy levels
  • Bloating
  • Impaired focus
  • Nausea
  • Irritability
  • Headaches

Carnivore Diet vs. Keto

The ketogenic diet is another popular eating plan that involves restricting high-carbohydrate foods and added sugar. However, unlike the carnivore diet, the keto diet permits limited amounts of high-fiber, low-carb ingredients such as non-starchy veggies and low-sugar fruits, as long as they fit within the daily allotment for carbs.

While the carnivore diet is made up almost completely of protein foods, the ketogenic diet encourages only moderate consumption of protein. Instead, the majority of calories on the ketogenic diet should come from healthy fats such as coconut oil, avocados and grass-fed butter.

For this reason, you’re unlikely to enter a state of ketosis on the carnivore diet, which is a metabolic state in which your body burns fat for fuel instead of sugar.

Also unlike the carnivore diet, the ketogenic diet is an eating plan that has been extensively researched and shown to be beneficial when followed for short periods of time.

Instead of eliminating carbs completely and consuming only animal products, try cutting back on unhealthy carbs from added sugars or processed foods instead.

Not only can this help improve your health and enhance your diet, but it’s also much less restrictive, easier to follow and less likely to lead to nutritional deficiencies or other adverse effects on health in the long-run.

Final Thoughts

  • The carnivore diet is an eating plan that includes meat, fish and poultry. Other items permitted on the carnivore diet food list include eggs and small amounts of other dairy products.
  • Fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts, seeds, grains and added sugars are all eliminated on the diet.
  • Although there is no research available on the health and safety of the plan, it could potentially increase weight loss and benefit health by restricting added sugar and increasing protein intake.
  • On the other hand, the diet is highly restrictive, which can increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies and health problems. It’s also high in saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol, all of which should be limited as part of a well-rounded diet.
  • Enjoying a balanced diet rich in a variety of healthy whole foods is a better option to help meet your needs and improve your health.
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