Over the past year, the carnivore diet has made headlines for its unique and meaty approach to eating. As with most of-the-moment trends, it has its share of fans and naysayers alike. But before you can make an informed decision on whether this diet may be for you, it helps to understand what you’re working with. To that end, we’ve broken down what you need to know about this all-meat eating plan.
What exactly is the carnivore diet?
The carnivore diet—sometimes called the “zero-carb diet”—consists entirely of animal products. That means no fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, or starches. This differs from other diets such as keto (high fat, low carb) and Atkins (high protein, low carb), which encourage low-carb eating but still allow for some carbohydrates to grace your fork on occasion.
The carnivore diet includes meat of all kinds, such as red meat, poultry, pork, game meats, and organ meats. Other permissible foods include fish, seafood, eggs, and dairy. As for condiments, only salt and pepper are recommended.
So salads—and every other form of produce—are off the table completely. Same goes for rice, pasta, potatoes, beans, and many other plate fillers.
The Pros of Eating Only Meat
Meat and seafood can be very nutritious. Plus, they provide high doses of certain vitamins and minerals in addition to protein. Red meat, in particular, is high in iron, zinc, and B vitamins. Meanwhile, fatty fish such as salmon are rich in heart-healthy omega-3s and contain vitamin D.
Meat-heavy diets have had their supporters for years. But the all-meat version we’re discussing here has come into vogue more recently, thanks in large part to a few vocal advocates. These meat-eaters—including the visible Mikhaila Peterson—claim that the diet has dramatically improved their lives. In Peterson’s case, switching to the carnivore diet allegedly cured her depression and arthritis.
Another proponent is Shawn Baker, a doctor, multisport athlete, and author of the forthcoming book The Carnivore Diet. He notes increased physical performance and a reduction in aches and pains since beginning this diet. On his website, he says that many who follow this lifestyle experience improved glucose control due to the omission of carbs, reduced arthritis and allergies, and improvements in skin conditions and autoimmune disorders.
Consultant and author Ryan Munsey first tried the carnivore diet because he was curious. An athlete with a degree in food science and human nutrition, he followed the carnivore diet for 35 days and then tested his blood to see the results. For the most part, all looked good, including his triglycerides and digestive health.
“I felt great, lost body fat, got stronger, enjoyed stable energy levels, and had zero food cravings,” Munsey wrote. He noted other positive findings, including solid sleep patterns, good energy and mood, and the fact that he didn’t tire of eating meat during his experiment.
Another way to promote sleep and good energy is with regular exercise—and Aaptiv classes are here to help.
Look around online, and you’ll find countless others sharing their own positive experiences with the carnivore diet. Of course, everything is anecdotal and should be taken with a grain of salt—which, fortunately, is permissible on this diet.
The Cons of Eating Only Meat
No major studies have examined the carnivore diet’s impact on health and wellness yet. So, it’s not a science-backed diet, meaning that hard facts are scarce. But we do know a lot about meat in general. For all its protein-packed positives, red meat is considered “probably carcinogenic to humans” per the World Health Organization. In fact, large studies performed in the United States and Europe have shown that those who ate the most red meat and processed meat were significantly more likely to develop colon cancer than those who ate the least.
Even if an all-meat diet is able to cure certain ailments, it could be setting up the dieter for more serious issues down the road. “Weight loss from extreme dietary changes can lead to positive changes, like lowering your blood pressure, your blood sugar, and perhaps even your total cholesterol,” says Louise Chen, a registered dietitian based in Dallas. “But there is no long-term evidence that this diet is sustainable and without risk, including colon cancer and micronutrient deficiencies. Those positive changes are likely related to weight loss itself, not because we are only eating meat.”
Chen adds that meat can be especially problematic for those with gout, as foods high in purines (such as red meat) tend to raise uric acid levels in the body. If the amount of uric acid in your blood gets too high, it can cause painful gout flare-ups and even kidney stones.
So, is the carnivore diet healthy?
“The short answer is no,” Chen says. “This diet is lacking in fiber, which we get from fruits and vegetables. Not only is fiber important for maintaining gut health and bowel regularity, but it also helps keep us full and can have positive effects on lowering our LDL cholesterol.” She notes that while meat can provide iron and B vitamins, it lacks other important nutrients such as vitamin C and folate. Also, carbohydrates are an important source of energy, so cutting them out completely may leave you feeling sluggish. If you compete in a high-intensity sport such as sprinting, where short bursts of energy are required, the lack of carbohydrate fuel in your system would hinder performance.
Besides, the word “diet” implies a time limit. Rather than any one particular diet, Chen advises we attempt to maintain a healthy overall lifestyle. “The carnivore diet is not likely sustainable on a long-term basis, at least for most folks,” she says. She adds that the bottom line is to “eat your fruits and veggies.”
And remember, that eating a healthy and balanced diet is only half the battle. The other half is keeping up an exercise routine. Luckily, Aaptiv makes it easy to do so.