The Carnivore Diet: Benefits, Risks & How to Follow

Table of Contents

The carnivore diet has been controversial among health professionals because it’s an extreme elimination diet. However, its connection to a number of health benefits is worth investigating.

The carnivore diet has been linked to health benefits such as:

  • Lowered blood sugar
  • Decreased intestinal discomfort (such as gas and bloating)
  • Decreased inflammation
  • Stronger mental acuity
  • Weight loss
  • Reduced symptoms of chronic diseases (especially autoimmune diseases)

The surprising relationship between these health benefits and a mostly meat diet has inspired intrigue even in the health community. Though this diet appears both appetizing and potentially healthy, one final feature creates a draw for many – it may be the most straightforward diet to follow.

Before making any major dietary changes, it’s vital to be aware of risks or drawbacks. Consider 1) conducting your own research beforehand and 2) consulting your primary care doctor, a nutritionist, or a dietitian before diving into any diet. 

What is the carnivore diet?

The carnivore diet centers on consuming meat and animal products only. This diet is high protein, high-fat, and ideally zero-carb.

In recent years, the carnivore diet has been gaining popularity. Former orthopedic surgeon, Shawn Baker, was a forerunner of the trend when he turned to an all-meat diet in 2016. He subsequently released his book, The Carnivore Diet, in 2019, detailing his conversion to carnivory, his positive health results, and the athletic success he credits to this diet. 

A year later, Dr. Paul Saladino published his book, The Carnivore Code. He, too, is considered a pioneer in this meat movement. 

Saladino advocates for eating “nose to tail,” meaning incorporating organ meats and connective tissue into one’s diet alongside traditional cuts. He also argues for consuming grass-fed and grass-finished beef (cows that consumed grass only).

And Dr. Saladino isn’t just an expert author and provider. He had severe eczema (an autoimmune condition of the skin) that required multiple courses of IV steroids to control the inflammation so severe that it caused bleeding at times. 

He tried various other diets, including plant-based diets and the autoimmune protocol, to no avail before discovering the carnivore diet.

Podcast host Joe Rogan tried the diet for one month in 2020, which likely contributed to the diet gaining traction. He ate only grass-fed beef, elk, and eggs. He did add amino acids and fish oil to supplement his micronutrients.  

At the end of the 30 days, he reported increased energy and fewer daily aches. Because he was so happy with the results, he has since tried variations of the carnivore diet with slight modifications.

Rogan is now on a variation of the carnivore diet with fruit to provide healthy carbohydrates. He’s expressed this is better for him in the long-term, particuarly as the fruit provides him a much-needed burst of energy before workouts.

This variation of the carnivore diet lets him work just as hard in the gym while sustaining a healthy weight and improving unwanted gastrointestinal symptoms.

What do you eat on the carnivore diet? What you eat on the carnivore diet depends on your personal preferences and tolerance, but always includes meat, organ meats, bone broth, and animal fats. 

Dr. Saladino defines 5 different tiers of the carnivore diet, which are variations on the basics that you can adjust to your specific needs.

Though animal products such as cheese, yogurt, and milk are permitted, the diet encourages only low-lactose to keep this as much of a low-carb diet as possible. In general, eggs and dairy tend to be highly inflammatory for some people, so we don’t recommend these to patients trying this diet.

Some consider themselves mostly carnivores because they incorporate small amounts of other food groups into their diet. 

Film director Chris Bell (brother of Mark and Mike Bell) falls into this camp as he would say he’s 90% carnivore. He takes cravings seriously as he feels, “that’s your body telling you that you need something.” 

Also, Bell finds the carnivore diet more sustainable when followed with some flexibility.

Keto vs. Carnivore Diet

The ketogenic diet is primarily a low-carbohydrate diet that causes your body to enter the metabolic state of ketosis. In this state, the body fat burns more quickly because you have essentially run out of your primary energy source, glucose. 

Keto and carnivore diets share several similarities. Both emphasize protein and fat intake while drastically cutting carbohydrates. Both result in relatively quick weight loss for the majority of people. You might say the carnivore diet stems from the keto diet as it appears to be a natural next step to completely cutting carbs.

There are a couple of significant differences between these diets. 

First, keto doesn’t limit food based on plant or animal origin. 

Second, keto requires keeping track of macronutrients (proteins, fats, carbohydrates). If too much protein is consumed, the body will begin converting it into sugar and kick the body out of ketosis. 

Overall, the carnivore diet is more restrictive in regards to nutrient sources but is less focused on macro or even calorie counting. 

Does the carnivore diet put you in ketosis? The carnivore diet will put you in ketosis, though this is not the overarching intention as it is with the keto diet. You’ll start producing ketones on the carnivore diet once your glycogen storage (the stored form of glucose) is depleted.

Is carnivore better than keto? Though both diets have a fair amount in common, it’s challenging to determine which would be “better” without long-term studies comparing the two. 

How to Follow a Carnivore Diet

One of the carnivore diet’s biggest attractions is that it’s easy to follow. There are only 2 rules:

  1. Eat meat (and maybe some animal products)
  2. Eat until you’re full

Counting and categorizing calories is not necessary. The ultimate goal of this diet is to function optimally and feel good.

What is the best way to start a carnivore diet? Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the possible benefits and risks of the diet, the first step is a trip to the grocery store. Most advocates of the diet favor the fattier red meats to keep their caloric intake and satiety level up. 

Foods to Eat

  • Grass-fed and grass-finished beef
  • Steaks (fatty cuts such as New York strip and ribeye)
  • Pork belly
  • Pork chops
  • Pork ribs
  • Pork shoulder
  • Chicken thighs
  • Lamb chops
  • Fish (packed with omega-3’s) – salmon, trout, albacore tuna, mackerel
  • Eggs (once a lack of sensitivity has been established)
  • Beef liver
  • Chicken liver
  • Beef heart
  • Beef kidneys
  • Bone broth (from real bone marrow)
  • Animal fats like lard, tallow, and duck fat (but not butter)
  • Seasonings (at your discretion)
  • Avocado (occasionally)
  • Squash (occasionally)

Foods to Avoid

  • Fruits
  • Veggies
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Grains — both processed and whole grains like bread, pasta, and rice
  • Heavily processed foods — frozen dinners, cakes, cookies, chips
  • Dairy products with higher levels of lactose — butter, goat cheese, ricotta cheese, low-fat milk, low-fat yogurt, ice cream
  • Beverages — alcohol, soda, fruit juices, energy drinks, teas
    • Alcohol Alternative: A favorite alternative of ours is Feel Free, a plant-based tonic that provides improved mood, sustained energy, and decreased anxiety, without the many negatives of alcohol.
    • For 40% off your first order use code primehealth40. Subscribe to receive an additional discount. Order as many boxes in your 1st order as you’d like to capitalize on this considerable discount and cancel your subscription at any time!

Sample Menu

Overall, following the carnivore diet is simple. Remember to carve out time to cook a fair amount of your meals – unless you want to do some extra homework and experiment with raw food. Also, having a meal plan in place will make food preparation more efficient.

Here is an example 3 day plan:

Day 1

  • Breakfast: Beef and bacon
  • Lunch: Bone broth with shredded chicken
  • Dinner: Ribeye steak

Day 2

  • Breakfast: Salmon and sardines
  • Lunch: Turkey burger
  • Dinner: Pulled pork

Day 3

  • Breakfast: Prime rib
  • Lunch: Tilapia and albacore tuna
  • Dinner: Pot roast

You’ll notice snacks are not included. One of the benefits of the carnivore diet is that animal foods tend to be more filling, and many people have reported a reduced urge to snack. 

You’re welcome to incorporate snacks if hunger pangs arise. Jerky, shrimp, or anchovies provide nice meat morsels for in-between meals (just be mindful of sodium intake with some of these options).

Benefits of the Carnivore Diet

What are the benefits of the carnivore diet? Benefits reported by carnivore dieters range from digestive health and decreased inflammation to stabilized energy levels and mood improvement. These benefits are generally based on testimonials or other anecdotal evidence and have not been scientifically proven in a larger population.

Translation: A carnivore diet might provide the benefits below, but it’s unlikely to work for everyone.

Work with your healthcare provider if you plan major changes to your diet, such as going full carnivore.

Lower Blood Sugar Levels

Because the average American diet relies so heavily on carbohydrates, many of us battle blood sugar spikes and energy fallout on a daily basis. 

With the carnivore diet essentially eliminating sugar intake, blood sugar levels tend to even out. This helps to stabilize energy throughout the day.

Calmer Gut

Many plant foods disrupt our gut:

  • Fiber, while generally beneficial, can cause gas and bloating. 
  • Lectins, proteins found in nightshades (potatoes, eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes), can cause stomach upset. 
  • Phytochemicals like flavonoids and tannins found in many fruits can also irritate the stomach.

By eliminating plant-based foods, you may find you experience fewer gastrointestinal issues. 

Keep in mind that a major diet change like this will probably cause digestive side effects at first (just like with any other change of this magnitude).

Decreasing Inflammation

Sugar is a major trigger of inflammation. Eliminating sugar along with inflammatory vegetables (those nightshades again) decreases inflammation. Removing processed foods is also a major way to reduce inflammatory contributors in the diet.

According to one study, low-carb diets can help prevent the composition of inflammation-causing fatty acids.

Pro tip: Don’t follow your carnivore diet by loading up on processed foods like deli meats and non-organic red meats. Sure, you may be following the letter of this plan, but you may miss out on some of the significant benefits of lower inflammation.

Clearer Mind

Many carnivore diet enthusiasts claim that meat sharpens their minds. Meat contains nutrients known to help brain function, such as B12, Zinc, and iron. Not only that, many claim their mental health improved while on the diet. 

Without blood sugar crashes, your energy and mental stamina will improve. In addition, the majority of people will notice improvements in brain function while in ketosis. 

Heart Health

Meat is a rich source of vitamin K2, which has been shown to decrease calcification of arteries, a factor that plays a crucial role in the development of heart disease. 

Additionally, a 2019 review suggests that a high-protein diet can help lower LDL (often referred to as the “bad cholesterol”) levels.

Some people will experience elevations in their cholesterol levels when eating high amounts of animal meat and animal fat. However, the overall effect will be a net positive for heart health due to dramatic decreases in inflammation and glucose/insulin spikes.

Weight Loss

It’s common to try the carnivore diet when you’re trying to lose weight. 

There are no long-term studies on how following a carnivore diet may reduce your risk of obesity. However, research does suggest a more carnivorous diet may positively impact weight gain and metabolic issues in a larger population.

Plus, being in ketosis will frequently lead to weight loss (although it doesn’t work for everyone). A 12-week study published in 2018 found that keto dieters lost an average of 24-39 pounds in the first 3 months.

Nearly all carnivore dieters notice shedding weight within the first few weeks. Once the body’s desired energy source (sugar) has been spent, the body turns to stored body fat for fuel.

Dietary protein is known to satisfy appetites. For this reason, you might find yourself less likely to mindlessly snack while on the carnivore diet.

Reduced Symptoms of Autoimmune Diseases

One of the most remarkable claims regarding the carnivore diet is its reported effects on those suffering from chronic conditions.

Dr. Soyona Rafatjah, medical director and co-founder of PrimeHealth, interviewed former patient Brian Jaworski and discussed his success in implementing the carnivore diet. 

Brian suffered from psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. He tried paleo and keto with limited success. After switching to the carnivore diet, he saw vast improvement within weeks. 

His energy levels improved and stabilized, pain in his joints decreased (so much that he was able to take up guitar and martial arts), and his skin cleared up. He even lost weight. Occasionally, he experiments by reintroducing a food into his diet to see how his body responds. 

Check out the full interview:

Potential Drawbacks of a Carnivore Diet

There are some drawbacks to the carnivore diet you should consider before diving in. 

  • Diarrhea and/or constipation: Most people notice a change in bowel movements, with diarrhea expected in the diet’s early stages. Once the body acclimates to the amount of protein, bouts of constipation are common, as fiber is no longer a part of this diet plan. If you experience constipation, consider a magnesium supplement to resolve this.
  • Hard to sustain: The carnivore diet is difficult to sustain long-term because the food selection is so limited.
  • Very repetitive: The lack of variety on this diet can be a deterrent, particularly if you’re a foodie who enjoys trying new foods often.
  • Expensive: The cost of high-quality meats and organ meat supplements could limit some from continuing the diet for an extended period. 
  • Potential health risks: Consuming large quantities of meat has been linked to an increased risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart disease. While this research is often due to external factors (low-quality/processed meats, simple carbohydrate intake, etc.), there is a possibility of risks associated with going full carnivore. Consuming high amounts of red meat may lead to excessively elevated levels of iron in some people. It’s important to work with a practitioner to check your iron and ferritin levels while on this diet to know if you need to donate blood in order to reduce it.

Do you need supplements on a carnivore diet?

Many proponents of the diet argue that supplements aren’t necessary. Meat, especially organ meats, are very nutrient-rich. There are those who can’t quite stomach the organ meats, but organ meat supplements are on the rise.

We encourage everyone on this diet to have their vitamin levels monitored by their healthcare provider to ensure you are maintaining optimal levels while on this diet, or any diet at all. 

For example, vitamin D3 should be supplemented for everyone regardless of the diet you are on. Omega-3 fatty acids may need to be supplemented for brain and inflammation optimization as well. 

However, contrary to popular belief, it’s unlikely you’ll develop a vitamin C deficiency on the carnivore diet. Still, it’s best to monitor your levels on this very restricted diet.

Who should try the carnivore diet?

Ideally, this diet works best for short-term goals such as 

  • Weight loss
  • Identifying food sensitivities
  • Cleansing the body from a high-carb diet

However, this diet hasn’t been implemented long-term and studied over time. Thus far, the carnivore diet seems to best serve those suffering from severe chronic conditions like autoimmune diseases and even cancer. 

Perhaps the most well-known case is Mikhalia Peterson, daughter of Canadian psychologist, author, and YouTube personality Jordan B. Peterson. 

She suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis from a young age. At 17, her right hip and left ankle needed replacing. She also struggled with depression. 

Once she switched to an all-meat diet, her symptoms vanished. Because her results were so compelling, her father switched to the carnivore diet and claims his depression disappeared.

Another remarkable case would be that of nutritional periodontist Dr. Al Danenberg. He received a terminal cancer diagnosis (multiple myeloma) in 2018. While going through radiation, he also devised what he calls his “10 Unconventional Cancer Protocols” to help combat cancer. 

At the heart of his plan is a mostly meat diet. His cancer is now in remission.

Talk to a functional provider today.

If you’re still curious about a carnivore diet and how it could help your chronic condition, consider contacting a functional provider for a consultation. 

PrimeHealth specializes in a whole-body approach to identifying root causes for illness. Then, a treatment plan is tailored to the patient’s specific needs. 

If you’re looking for healthcare that invests time in listening and guiding as well as treating, PrimeHealth could be the best option for you! Schedule a free consultation today.

Sources

  1. Forsythe, C. E., Phinney, S. D., Fernandez, M. L., Quann, E. E., Wood, R. J., Bibus, D. M., … & Volek, J. S. (2008). Comparison of low fat and low carbohydrate diets on circulating fatty acid composition and markers of inflammation. Lipids, 43(1), 65-77. 
  2. Theuwissen, E., Smit, E., & Vermeer, C. (2012). The role of vitamin K in soft-tissue calcification. Advances in Nutrition, 3(2), 166-173.
  3. Yu, Z., Nan, F., Wang, L. Y., Jiang, H., Chen, W., & Jiang, Y. (2020). Effects of high-protein diet on glycemic control, insulin resistance and blood pressure in type 2 diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Clinical Nutrition, 39(6), 1724-1734.
  4. Brand-Miller, J. C., Griffin, H. J., & Colagiuri, S. (2012). The carnivore connection hypothesis: revisited. Journal of obesity, 2012.
  5. Mohorko, N., Černelič-Bizjak, M., Poklar-Vatovec, T., Grom, G., Kenig, S., Petelin, A., & Jenko-Pražnikar, Z. (2019). Weight loss, improved physical performance, cognitive function, eating behavior, and metabolic profile in a 12-week ketogenic diet in obese adults. Nutrition research, 62, 64-77. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30803508/ 
  6. Westerterp-Plantenga, M. S., Lemmens, S. G., & Westerterp, K. R. (2012). Dietary protein–its role in satiety, energetics, weight loss and health. British journal of nutrition, 108(S2), S105-S112.

Share this Post

Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn
Telegram
Pinterest