March 7, 2024

Carnivore Diet: A Trending Fad Starved of Evidence

Written by our expert

Dr. Meenakshi Maruwada

Dr. Meenakshi Maruwada

Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS), GMHE (IIM Bangalore)

Carnivore Diet: A Trending Fad Starved of Evidence
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All diet fads worldwide primarily have one common goal—weight loss!

However, with more research in health and nutrition, several diets have been recommended for managing different diseases.

Some diets have come up due to people’s philosophical and spiritual beliefs. Two such diets that instantly come to mind are vegan and carnivore diets.

Both these diets are restrictive and exactly the opposite of each other.

What You Can Eat In A Carnivore Diet
What you can eat in a carnivore diet

While a vegan diet involves the consumption of only plant-based foods, a carnivore diet recommends the consumption of animal-based foods and zero plant-based foods.

Interestingly, much has been spoken about the vegan diet, and there is much information about it. However, not much is known about the carnivore diet.

Let’s decode this restrictive diet with potential health benefits, understand its drawbacks, and whether there is any proof in the pudding.

Carnivore Diet: What it is & How Does it Work?

A carnivore diet, as the name suggests, includes consumption of foods obtained from animals.

  • Unlike other high-protein diets that are low-carb, the carnivore diet is a zero-carb diet. 
  • Since proteins are low in calories and have a high satiety value, they keep you feeling full for longer. 
  • As a result, you are less likely to consume high-carb foods, i.e., reduced caloric intake

However, you tend to feel more sluggish when on this diet due to the lack of carbohydrates.

What’s Allowed and What Isn’t in a Carnivore Diet?

There are many variants of the carnivore diet. While some eat specific kinds of meat, others add salt or cut it out!

Regardless of the type of carnivore diet one follows, all variants essentially avoid plant-based products.

Let’s look at the foods you can and cannot eat on a carnivore diet.

Foods to Eat

As part of the carnivore diet, you can only eat products obtained from animal sources. Here are a few things you can eat if you are on this diet:

  • Different varieties of meat: Beef, chicken, pork, lamb, turkey, organ meats
  • Fish and other seafood: Mackerel, salmon, sardines, lobsters, herring, prawns, crabs, etc.
  • Other animal products: eggs, bone marrow, bone broth, etc
  • Low-lactose dairy products
  • Water 

Foods to Avoid

Like most other restrictive diets, the carnivore diet has a longer list of foods that you must avoid, the most common ones being:

  • Vegetables: Potatoes, onions, leafy greens, cruciferous veggies, gourds, etc
  • Fruits: Apples, bananas, berries, citrus fruits,
  • Legumes: Beans, lentils, pulses of all kinds
  • Cereals/grains: Rice, wheat, quinoa, etc
  • Sugars of all types: white sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, jaggery, honey, etc
  • High-lactose dairy: Milk, yogurt, soft cheese, etc
  • Alcohol of all types
  • Beverages (other than water)
  • Nuts and seeds: Pistachios, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, cashews, almonds, etc

Is the Carnivore Diet Beneficial?

With diet fads, one of the pressing questions is - how does this diet benefit me?

It is important to understand that there is limited research on this diet. However, here are a few potential benefits of the carnivore diet:

  • It may aid in weight loss

Since the carnivore diet has no carbohydrates, it is low in calories. This feature may promote weight loss, at least in the short term. In a study published in 2021, participants who followed a carnivore diet for 14 months reported a reduction in BMI. [Ref]

While this is encouraging, the carnivore diet is helpful only in the short term as it is restrictive, and people find it difficult to stick to its requirements in the long term.

  • It may improve blood sugar regulation

Low-carb diets are ideal for people with diabetes. Carbohydrate-rich foods spike blood sugar levels in these people, impacting their overall health. Since carbohydrate intake is minimal in people following the carnivore diet, it may help improve blood sugar regulation.

A 2021 study stated that participants with type 2 diabetes who followed the carnivore diet for 9 to 20 months saw a reduction in their HbA1c levels. Many of them reduced or discontinued the use of diabetes medications. [Ref]

While the carnivore diet may seem appealing to people with diabetes, other less restrictive diets are more effective and sustainable in managing this chronic condition and its symptoms.

Some foods allowed in the carnivore diet, such as fish, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. [Ref]

Eating a carnivore diet rich in fish and other seafood rich in omega-3 may help fight free radicals (the primary cause of chronic diseases) and reduce inflammation.

Potential Risks and Side Effects of the Carnivore Diet

Now that you know the good, here are a few points to remember when considering a carnivore diet:

  • It may increase the risk of heart diseases

A carnivore diet is rich in saturated fats and can elevate cholesterol levels significantly. Both these are known to increase your risk for heart disease. Eliminating high-fiber foods like grains, vegetables, and fruits (known to lower your risk of heart disease) further elevates your risk for heart disease and other chronic conditions.

  • It may impact vital organs

Eliminating fruits and vegetables and eating a low-carb diet promotes metabolic acidosis (a condition with too much acid in the body fluids) [Ref]. This impacts vital organs like the kidneys and increases the risk of diabetes.

  • Can cause vitamin and mineral deficiencies

Cutting out vital food groups like fruits, vegetables, and grains results in a deficiency of essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals. This has been associated with several diseases, including heart disease and cancer. Fruit and vegetable consumption has been associated with reduced mortality risk and chronic diseases.[Ref]

  • Increases risk for different cancers

There is substantial evidence that consumption of red and processed meat increases the risk of several types of cancers, including colorectal, breast, endometrial, and colon cancers. [Ref]

  • Can have an environmental impact

Studies have shown that a carnivore diet can impact the environment as it significantly contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and may result in global warming and its consequences, like climate change. [Ref]

Is Carnivore Diet Doctor Recommended?

Not really! Here are several reasons why doctors and nutritionists may not recommend a carnivore diet:

  • It is an extremely restrictive diet low in carbohydrates, fiber, and other healthy plant compounds rich in antioxidants. 
  • Many other proven balanced strategies and diets include foods sourced from plants, which can be used for weight loss and the effective management of chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension.
  • Since the diet is low in fiber, it results in constipation and irregular bowel movements.
  • A high consumption of meat increases one’s risk for conditions like cancer
  • A carnivore diet is not sustainable in the long-term

Wrapping it Up!

The carnivore diet is fairly simple- eating foods sourced from animals and avoiding anything plant-based. However, the benefits are not as straightforward.

Since the diet is unnecessarily restrictive, one misses out on essential nutrients that form a part of a balanced diet.

Limited evidence exists that the carnivore diet causes weight loss and improves conditions like type 2 diabetes. However, following the carnivore diet has significant implications in the long run.

It is highly recommended that you consult your doctor and nutritionist to achieve your health and wellness goals before opting for diet fads and restrictive diets like the carnivore diet.

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