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Carnivore Diet: What is it, Does it Work, & Should You Try it?

Carnivore Diet What is it Does it Work and Should You Try it

High protein, low carb diet lifestyles continue to gain popularity as the go-to solution for fat loss, increased energy, and all around better health. If you’re wondering how low carb you can actually go, introducing the carnivore diet -  an all meat, zero carb diet that will take things just about as far as they can go. 

But does it work, is it even safe, and what can you eat on a carnivore diet? We took a look at this trending lifestyle and here’s what the science says. 

TL;DR

There is no existing research to support a carnivore diet as a valuable tool for reducing your risk of disease or promoting fat loss. In fact, a carnivore lifestyle might do more harm than good due to concerns around poor nutrient intake and increased heart health risks.

Research continues to suggest that a balanced, calorie controlled diet in accordance with a healthy lifestyle, is one of the best approaches to losing weight and reducing your risk of chronic disease.

What is a Carnivore Diet?

A carnivore diet, aka “the all meat diet”, is a dietary approach that promotes eating only animal based foods like meat, fish, and some dairy. It’s aim is to restrict carbohydrate intake to the lowest levels possible, while providing high amounts of protein and fat. 

The creation of the carnivore diet is credited to Shawn Baker, a former Orthopedic Surgeon, who has since surrendered his medical license. Since then it has since been picked up by a number of low carb enthusiasts. 

Depending on who you ask, the actual guidelines for this eating style can vary - with some versions allowing dairy and a few plant based options, while stricter versions eliminate all dairy and plant based foods. 

Similar to the paleo diet that is founded on the belief that our diet should mimic our ancestors more closely - consisting of more meat and fish and fewer high carb and heavily processed foods. 

Advocates for the carnivore diet claim that a diet high in carb foods is detrimental to our health and a major cause of modern chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. And that eliminating carbohydrates from our diet altogether can help treat anxiety, depression, autoimmune diseases, and ultimately result in more weight loss. However, nutrition research does not support these claims and the role of carbohydrates in health is not so clear cut. 

How Does Carnivore Work?

The aim of a carnivore diet is to restrict carbohydrate intake to the lowest levels possible (essentially zero carb), while providing high amounts of protein and fat. This is achieved by restricting certain foods. 

Because carbs come from everything that grows out of the ground (aka plants), low carb diet meal plans tend to restrict a lot of plant based options. Carnivore is the most strict and removes all plant based foods, including non-starchy vegetables, nuts, and seeds that are popular on other carb restricted diet plans like Atkins, keto, and paleo.  

Contrary to popular belief, carbs are not an essential nutrient, meaning we don’t need them to survive and function properly. However, that doesn’t mean we are necessarily designed to live without them either. 

A carnivore diet is based solely around food choices and does not typically provide recommendations around macro and calorie goals, or meal timing like other popular weight loss diets

Carnivore vs. Keto

Because carbohydrates are your body’s preferred source of energy, cutting them out entirely forces you to rely on other sources of fuel - like fat.

Similar to  a keto diet, a carnivore diet can promote a state of ketosis, switching from sugars to fat (ketones) as your body's primary source of energy. But the state of ketosis is not as central or required with this approach like it is with a ketogenic diet. 

For this reason, proponents of the carnivore diet often suggest eating plenty of high fat animal products to support energy levels.

Additionally, there are no specific macro goals recommended for a carnivore diet, whereas a keto diet has specific macro ratios (less than 5% of calories from carbs and more than 50% of calories from fat) to strive for each day.

What Can You Eat and Drink on a Carnivore Diet?

A carnivore diet meal plan is as extreme as it sounds - eliminate all foods from your diet except meat and fish. However, there are multiple interpretations of a carnivore diet ranging from strict, standard, modified, and keto carnivore. And each of these variations have differing recommendations when it comes to what foods you should be eating and avoiding. 

When it comes to beverages, generally a carnivore diet encourages plenty of water and bone broth but discourages any fruit juice, veggie juice, tea, or coffee. Alcohol is also discouraged on this diet. 

Strict Carnivore Diet Food List

When following a strict carnivore lifestyle, you can consume any meat, poultry, and fish, including bone marrow and organ meats like liver, brain, and intestines.

Allowed foods on this diet style include:

  • All meat and fish
  • Shellfish
  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Organ meats
  • Bone Marrow
  • Bone Broth
  • Jerky (no added sugar)
  • Pork rinds
  • Lard
  • Tallow

Foods to avoid on this diet style include: 

  • Dairy: milk, yogurt, cheese, butter
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Grains
  • Processed foods
  • Sugar
  • Alcohol
  • Tea and coffee
  • Sweetened Beverages
  • Vegetable oils

Standard Carnivore Diet Food List

A standard carnivore diet often allows for some high fat, low carb dairy products in addition. 

Allowed foods on this diet style include:

  • All meat and fish
  • Shellfish
  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Organ meats
  • Bone marrow
  • Bone broth
  • Lard
  • Tallow
  • Pork rinds
  • Jerky (no added sugar)
  • High fat dairy: yogurt, butter, ghee cream, hard cheeses, kefir

Foods to avoid on this diet style include: 

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Grains
  • Processed foods
  • Sugar
  • Alcohol
  • Tea and coffee
  • Sweetened Beverages
  • Vegetable oils

Modified Carnivore Diet Food List

A modified carnivore diet approach will allow small amounts of certain low sugar plant foods like avocado, lettuce, and cucumber. 

Allowed foods on this diet style include:

  • All meat and fish
  • Shellfish
  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Organ meats
  • Bone marrow
  • Bone broth
  • Lard
  • Tallow
  • Pork rinds
  • Jerky (no added sugar)
  • Low carb dairy: yogurt, butter, ghee cream, cheese, kefir, cottage cheese
  • Avocado
  • Non-starchy veggies: cucumbers, lettuce, radish, celery, onion
  • Tea and coffee
  • Vegetable oils

Foods to avoid on this diet style include: 

  • Fruits
  • Most Vegetables
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Grains
  • Processed foods
  • Sugar
  • Alcohol
  • Sweetened Beverages

Keto Carnivore Diet Food List

A keto carnivore diet allows slightly more plant foods that are also keto diet approved, including certain nuts, seeds, and non-starchy vegetables. Keto carnivore is essentially a keto diet with more meat and fish emphasis.  

Allowed foods on this diet style include:

  • All meat and fish
  • Shellfish
  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Organ meats
  • Bone marrow
  • Bone broth
  • Lard
  • Tallow
  • Pork rinds
  • Jerky (no added sugar)
  • Low carb dairy: yogurt, butter, ghee cream, cheese, kefir, cottage cheese
  • Avocado
  • Non-starchy veggies: cucumbers, lettuce, radish, celery, onion
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Tea and coffee
  • Vegetable oils

Foods to avoid on this diet style include: 

  • Fruits
  • Starchy Vegetables
  • Grains
  • Sugar
  • Alcohol
  • Sweetened Beverages

Sample Standard Carnivore Diet Meal Plan

Wondering what an all meat carnivore diet looks like in practice? Here’s a sample menu that one might consider eating when following a standard carnivore diet.

Disclaimer: This is a sample menu for reference only. This diet likely does not provide a balanced nutrition approach and is not recommended.

Carnivore Diet Breakfast Options

  • Eggs and sausage
  • Shredded chicken and egg scramble 
  • Sardines and fried eggs

Carnivore Diet Lunch Options 

  • Tuna in oil and cheese slices
  • Bun-less burger with cheese
  • Chicken and sausage

Carnivore Diet Dinner Options  

  • Salmon and cream cheese
  • Steak and shrimp
  • Liver and cheese

Carnivore Diet Snack Options 

  • Hard-boiled eggs and sardines
  • Jerky (no added sugar)
  • Full fat yogurt
  • Bone broth
  • Kefir

Does a Carnivore Diet Work?

So, is there any real health or weight loss benefit to taking your low carb lifestyle to the most extreme level? 

Let's take a look at the science behind the two most popular claims behind a carnivorous diet: increase weight loss and reduced risk of chronic disease.  

Carnivore Diet for Weight Loss

While low carb diets continue to gain popularity as a tool for losing weight, it is likely not the absence of carbs that leads to success. Ultimately, weight loss is the result of reduced calorie intake and low carb diets can sometimes make this feel easier (1,2). This occurs as a result of the combination of decreased hunger and increased food restriction (3,4). 

Protein is thought to be incredibly satiating and higher protein intakes are associated with decreased hunger, fewer cravings, and improved calorie control (5,6,7,8). Additionally, protein supports improved body composition helping to support lean muscle mass in the process (9).

However, we don't see much benefit in eating beyond 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight for most individuals. A typical high protein diet provides 30 to 40% of calories from protein, whereas a carnivore diet can reach as high as twice that amount. 

Moreover, restricting entire nutrient groups like carbs, sincerely limits the number of foods you are able to consume and stick to your goals. And carbs in particular tend to be readily available in a lot of less nutritious options in the form of refined grains and added sugars. Thus, cutting carbs can often mean you automatically cut out a lot of extra calories from snacks, sweets, and beverages which results in decreased calorie intake and reduced body weight. 

That being said, being overly restrictive can make your plan feel impossible to stick to and likely won’t set you up for success in the long run. 

Carnivore Diet for Improved Health

When it comes to overall health and managing chronic disease, there are some interesting studies looking at the possible benefits of keto and other low carb diets on managing blood sugar and diabetes. But again, these benefits are likely the result of improved nutrition overall - eliminating added sugar and empty calories, while replacing them with nutritious, whole foods (10,11). 

Because of the types of food promoted on a carnivore diet (high fat animal products) and the lack of nutrient dense plant options, it is unlikely to provide adequate, balanced nutrition and may actually harm health more than it helps (12). 

Much more research is needed before one can make any claims around an all meat diet for improved health.

As far as we know there is no scientific evidence to support eliminating all carbohydrates from your diet, and we do not see any added health benefits in doing so. 

Is it Safe? What are the Risks of a Carnivore Diet?

Well, a carnivore lifestyle might not give you the extra edge when it comes to your health and nutrition goals, but could it actually be harmful to your health? 

Here’s the full breakdown of the pros and cons around this popular diet trend. 

Poor Nutrition Intake

Cutting out entire food groups on any diet can increase the risk of nutrient deficiencies over time (13). Meat and fish are excellent sources of high quality protein, and provide valuable nutrition, but they cannot provide all the essential vitamins and minerals your body needs to function and thrive properly (14). 

Carbohydrates can be found in some of the most nutrient dense foods on the plant - mainly fruits and vegetables. Eliminating carbohydrates entirely can also eliminate major sources of key nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, potassium, and fiber.

Constipation

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that plays a role in healthy digestion, and helps to keep things moving (15). Thus, cutting out carbs altogether might lead to constipation and GI distress initially. 

Increased Heart Health Risks

While fatty seafood is a source of heart healthy omega-3s, if a majority of your fat intake is coming from other animal based sources, you’re likely going to be eating high amounts of saturated fat.

Saturated fat, especially in the absence of healthy unsaturated fats, is associated with increased blood cholesterol levels and may negatively impact heart health (16). 

Moreover, eating a lot of red meat, especially processed meats, like bacon and sausage, is associated with increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer (17).

Disordered Eating Habits

The more restrictive your diet, the more it can mess with your sanity and potentially lead to unhealthy eating behaviors (18). 

If you are finding that avoiding carbs starts to turn into real life carb-phobia, you might want to reconsider your approach. 

There is no single food item - not even carbs - that can make or break your health, and being too strict when it comes to your eating can often do more harm than good. Not to mention, it makes sticking to your diet long term nearly impossible and makes eating way less fun overall. 

Is a Carnivore Diet Right for You?

There is no existing research to support a carnivore diet as a valuable tool for improving health or promoting weight loss. 

If you are looking to lose weight calorie control still remains your best approach. 

If you want to improve your health, following a basic healthy eating approach is your best bet.

Research continues to suggest that a balanced, nutrient dense diet (including some carbs) in accordance with a healthy lifestyle, is one of the best approaches to managing and reducing your risk of chronic disease.

Bottom Line

You don't need to go to extremes to lose weight and improve your eating habits. Often times all it takes is small changes to see drastic improvements in your wellbeing. 

So instead of overhauling your lifestyle and trying the next new diet trend, try the following.

  • Track your daily food intake in a nutrition app to learn your exact calorie and macro goals and see where you are coming up short. You might be surprised how your daily choices are helping or hurting your progress. 
  • Find nutritious options you enjoy eating and add more of them to your day. This includes lots of nutrient dense whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. You might finding that focusing on eating more nutritious foods means you automatically have less room for everything else. 
  • Focus on total health from the inside out. This includes being kind to yourself and learning what your body needs to thrive. Diet is only one part of the puzzle, you'll also want to take a look at your physical fitness, mindset, sleep, emotion, and stress levels, to name a few things. 

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