WHAT IS THE CARNIVORE DIET?
Finding a diet that works for you is one of the most difficult but rewarding challenges that anybody ever faces. Whether you’re looking to improve your health, body image, energy levels, or relationship with food, there are many different plans to choose from. Right now, the carnivore diet is gaining a lot of popularity.
But what exactly is the carnivore diet, and is it the right option for you? Here’s everything you need to know.
What is the carnivore diet?
In its most basic definition, the carnivore diet is a nutrition strategy that focuses almost exclusively on eating meat (including fish) and other animal produce such as eggs.
The carnivore diet excludes all other foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and grains. In its strictest form, it also involves limiting the consumption of hard cheeses and other dairy products that have low lactose levels while removing milk intake entirely.
Conceptually speaking, the carnivore diet stems from the belief that our ancestors survived primarily on low-carb diets of meat and fish. The carbohydrates found in pastas, breads, and sugary processed foods are linked to obesity and other nutrition-based problems facing the modern generations. Our lifestyles have evolved at a far quicker rate than our bodies, which is why many believe reverting back to older traditions is the best biological solution.
In many ways, the carnivore diet shares many attributes with other popular low-carb diets such as keto and paleo diets. The main difference is that the carnivore diet aims to completely eliminate carbs rather than merely restrict them. Instead of sugars, individuals focus on gaining energy from fats – which are not the enemy they have previously been depicted to be.
Followers of the carnivore diet should stick exclusively to animal products in their most basic form. Sauces, pastries, and other additions can seriously compromise the purpose and goals of the diet. Small levels of low-lactose dairy products are allowed on the diet, but all plant foods and grains should be avoided.
Another key component to consider is the timing of eating foods. While some individuals may want to count calories, the carnivore diet focuses on the simple idea of eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you feel satisfied. Listening to your body’s natural responses is the key to managing meal times and portion sizes.
Who Should NOT do a Strict Carnivore Diet?
The carnivore diet has won many new supporters in recent years, not least because it has been advocated by several nutritionists and doctors. Nonetheless, focusing on fats and protein while limiting sugars and carbohydrates isn’t for everyone.
Firstly, children and pregnant women are unlikely to hit their daily nutritional needs from the strict carnivore diet and should avoid it – although meats can still play a central role in the nutritional plans that they follow. For similar reasons, breastfeeding women should look to alternative methods until we have more research.
Meanwhile, anybody that is medically advised to limit their protein intake due to chronic kidney diseases or related health issues should avoid this diet as most energy would come courtesy of these sources. Cholesterol hyper-responders are another audience that should probably avoid the diet.
If you are taking medication for high blood pressure or diabetes, consulting a doctor before starting the carnivore diet is highly advised.
LEARN MORE: GETTING STARTED ON THE CARNIVORE DIET
What to eat on the Carnivore diet
The carnivore diet (like most nutrition plans) focuses on the food that you eat. While there are no set rules on calories, the restrictions on where you can get those calories from are very significant. Building a comprehensive strategy that appreciates what to eat, drink, and avoid is essential.
Anyone following a strict carnivore diet can eat virtually all meats including but not limited to; beef, chicken, turkey, organ meats, lamb, and pork. However, it is advised that individuals pay special attention to fatty cuts of their meat products in a bid to gain the necessary energy and calories. Go-to meat include steaks, roasts, and ground beef.
Fish is included on the menu with all common fish meats accepted. Cod, salmon, sardines, crab, lobster, mackerel, etc. can all be enjoyed. Other animal products such as eggs, lard and marrow can be consumed in any quantity should you be able to tolerate them, but heavy cream, hard cheese, and butter (any low-lactose dairy) should be restricted to smaller quantities.
LEARN MORE: IN DEPTH CARNIVORE FOODS LIST >
Try to Avoid
Virtually all other foods should be off the table. This includes fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, grains, alcohol, juices, sodas, alcohol, and sugars. This includes table condiments like syrups and table sugar. If you're trying to fix autoimmune issues, most will suggest that adding pepper, and sauces to meat dishes should be avoided too. At least for some time until you find out what triggers the autoimmunity.
While hard cheeses and heavy cream are OK, high-lactose dairy such as milk, yoghurt, and soft cheeses should not be consumed either.
What to Drink
Water will be the staple drink for anyone following the carnivore diet, which is great news given that it is the healthiest drink anyone could ever consume. It’ll help with energy levels, hydration, and the digestion of the foods you eat. However, when exercising, you may wish to add electrolytes to the beverage.
The very strictest carnivore diet fans will suggest that water is the only permitted drink. However, most will accept tea and coffee, as long as it doesn’t include too much milk, cream, sugar, sweeteners, or syrups. If you have been reliant on your morning caffeine hit, withdrawing it could be too much in combination with the other dietary changes. Either wean yourself off slowly or keep your coffee included.
Example Carnivore Diet Meal Plan for the day
Variety is still essential when following the carnivore diet, and each day should be different. Here's an example of what a day’s meal plans might look like for a 75kg person:
Of course, how much you eat would be dictated by your current level of lean mass and your goals.
LEARN MORE: CARNIVORE DIET PLAN >
Benefits of the Carnivore diet
While the idea of eating as much meat as you like certainly appeals to the tastebuds. Nevertheless, as is the case with any proposed diet, it’s important to understand and appreciate the impacts it will have on your health. After all, there is a reason why your current nutrition plan isn’t working, and knowing whether the new one will combat those issues is vital.
Here are the essential health benefits that can be provided by investing in the carnivore diet.
Losing weight is the most common source of motivation for starting any diet, and reducing your carbohydrate intake is one of the quickest routes to success. We’ve all heard the “no carbs before Marbs” mantra and, while it’s not directly associated to the carnivore diet, it’s sentiments ring true.
Low carb diets such as the carnivore diet encourage quick weight loss. There are several reasons for this, including but not limited to:
Various studies have shown a correlation between high-protein, low-carb diets, and significant weight loss that can be sustained.
The human body thrives on proteins and fats, which can also provide increased energy levels for physical activities.
READ MORE: WEIGHT LOSS ON THE CARNIVORE DIET
While (as already mentioned), anyone taking medication for diabetes should avoid the diet or at least consult a medical professional, the carnivore diet can actively support the fight against both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. It is shown to aid the management of Type 1 while it can potentially reverse Type 2 altogether.
The carnivore diet’s lack of carbohydrates and refined sugars helps stabilize blood sugar levels. Blood sugar levels won’t suffer the huge spikes that eating cookies, pastries, pastas, and other high-carb foods produce, ultimately leading to a far smaller (or potentially no) dependence on insulin and other management techniques.
In addition to combating existing symptoms of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, the implementation of a carnivore diet can help stop the early threats developing into diabetes. Whether a preventative tool or a management one, the potential to fight diabetes is a major positive.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Irritable Bowel Syndrome, otherwise known simply as IBS, can take many forms. The symptoms include pain and discomfort in the gut often characterised by gas, bloating, diarrhoea, and cramps. IBS can also bring on indigestion, reflux, and a range of other problems relating to the digestive system. Switching to the carnivore diet can help reduce or remove the symptoms.
This is because the majority of IBS symptoms surface (or at the very least become significantly more noticeable) due to plant food consumption. Grains, legumes and other ingredients that the body doesn’t digest are often the culprits. The carnivore diet avoids those potentially harmful foods, meaning it can be the perfect diet for fighting IBS.
The carnivore diet doesn’t actively remove the stomach or digestive system’s sensitivity to gluten and other substances. However, the fact that you won’t be exposed to the problematic materials makes it feel like a cure.
Low-carb diets have been used to fight epilepsy for almost a century, and the introduction of a carnivore diet can bring those benefits too. Originally used to treat children, low and no-carb diets are now identified as a suitable management process for adult sufferers too.
It is shown that carnivore diets can reduce the frequency of seizures, which can allow patients to reap the rewards of requiring fewer drugs and medications in their battle to manage the condition. Given the many side effects attributed to epilepsy management drugs, such as personality changes and reduced concentration levels, this is deemed a very positive outcome.
Some followers of the carnivore diet have even reported to break free entirely from the reliance or usage of epilepsy drugs. However, even those that still require them often find that the frequencies are greatly reduced.
Poly-Cystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS, which stands for Poly-cystic ovary syndrome, is an issue that affects over 1 in 10 women. It can cause menstrual problems, a range of physical discomforts, acne, obesity, and even make a woman infertile. It is linked to insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes, which is one of the reasons why the carnivore diet can be associated with effective management.
Likewise, the weight loss attributes of the carnivore diet can support users in the battle against PCOS. The added benefits of levelled hormones, blood sugar levels, and reduced insulin needs can all feed into the idea of combatting PCOS. Several studies have underlined a connection between low-carb and no-carb diets with reversing PCOS, enabling individuals to lead less disrupted lifestyles and even fall pregnant.
Other Health Benefits
In addition to all of the issues mentioned above, the carnivore diet has been linked to a range of other health benefits. Individuals can potentially see;
Side effects of the Carnivore diet
The carnivore’s many health benefits make it an attractive prospect to a varied audience. However, restricting your diet in any shape or form can cause negative impacts too. The carnivore diet and its prohibition of many different foods should not be ignored.
While many dieters on the carnivore plan will not experience any of the side effects, it’s important to acknowledge the possible complications before deciding whether it’s the right plan or not. Here are the most common.
Adaption Phase (headache, flu, fatigue
The bad news is that a lot of people will suffer some minor symptoms during the initial stages of transition. The good news, however, is that the problems are only temporary and should pass within days – even in the worst cases, they should fade within a month.
Adaption phase side effects can manifest in many ways. You may experience any combination of the following issues;
The side effects of the adaption stage usually occur simply because the body needs to adjust itself to a new nutritional approach. You’ll be consuming a contrasting (often reduced) number of calories than in the past while the sources are different too. Crucially, losing the carbs reduces water retention rates, which can reduce your salt levels during the transition too.
You experience side effects after any major health or lifestyle change, and the new diet is no different. Things should even themselves out fairly quickly as your body acclimatizes and starts to burn fat at a quicker rate.
READ MORE: ADAPTING TO THE CARNIVORE DIET
While the carnivore diet can help those with IBS, it can cause digestive issues for other followers. Diarrhoea is not uncommon. In many cases, this is a temporary issue that is an upshot of the colon’s increased efficiency of reabsorbing fluid (because everything leaving the small intestine is liquid rather than partially solid as would be the case with a fibre diet).
Bad breath experienced during the carnivore diet is usually a result of the body’s increased fat burning and, more specifically, its conversion of fat to ketones in order to fuel the brain. Again, this can be a temporary issue linked to the transitional phases and body’s adaption. However, some will find that the symptoms are ongoing.
The bad smells are usually closely connected to the smell of acetone nail polish remover because acetone is a ketone itself. In addition to bad breath, the excess ketones may exit the body through sweat, especially during exercise and workouts.
Drinking enough water and salt is important for fighting this issue while employing improved oral hygiene can reduce and mask the smells. Breath fresheners are another way to mask the smell in an effective style.
READ MORE: BAD BREATH ON THE CARNIVORE DIET
The heart will often beat faster and harder during the adaption phase, meaning that your heart rate increases and the heartbeat feels stronger. As long as you are not experiencing other symptoms, this is nothing to worry about. It is usually attributed to the lack of fluid circulating the bloodstream and dehydration.
It’s not uncommon for physical and athletic performance to take a turn for the worse as a result of the new diet. This is because your energy is no longer coming rom sugars, which is something the body and mind must get used to. Essentially, your body needs time to transition from burning sugars to burning natural fats.
Lost salts and poor hydration will also have a negative impact on your physical performance, which is why paying special attention to the adequate replenishment of those ingredients is essential. As well as water and electrolytes before and during exercise, broths can be consumed to aid the post-workout recovery.
Pushing through the barrier by simply increasing your exercise can lead you back to peak performance. For many, the weight loss aspects of the diet combined with the fact that the body can store more fat energy than glucose energy can actively improve the long-term athletic performance, particularly in regards to endurance events.
READ MORE: REDUCED PERFORMANCE ON THE CARNIVORE DIET
Other Side Effects
The other potential side effects encountered by followers of the carnivore diet are far less likely, but should still be factored in by anyone considering this nutrition plan. They include:
READ MORE: SIDE EFFECTS OF THE CARNIVORE DIET
Carnivore diet FAQ
While low-carb diets have existed for a long time, the no-carb carnivore diet is still a relatively new and unknown territory. Here are the answers to some of the most common questions and concerns of people considering the diet.
Can I include Some plants?
Absolutely. The carnivore way of life is not a dictatorship. It's simply recognizing that the optimal form of nutrition for humans is animal foods. Most people choose the carnivore way of life to deal with autoimmune issues, but if your body tolerates plants, there's no reason why you shouldn't enjoy them.
Isn’t red meat bad for you?
A lot of people worry about the proposed negative points associated with eating red meat. Many diets have suggested that fats are the worst thing you can eat. In reality, the body needs healthy fats to function properly – it’s in our ancestry to digest fats. The key is to avoid eating more than you burn off, which is the same as carbs.
Another common concern relates to cancer. While there have been plenty of studies that claim there is a link between red meat consumption and cancer, they're of poor quality and only show correlation, not causation. However, avoiding (or limiting) processed meats is advised. Contrary to popular belief, replacing meat with processed carbs is the far greater danger.
What about cholesterol?
Cholesterol is another misunderstood topic. While it’s not incorrect to state that high cholesterol is bad, it’s important to break it down into HDL (high-density lipoprotein) and triglyceride. The former is considered good cholesterol, and you want a high level of this. Meats are a good source of it.
While meats will provide triglyceride too, the amounts are far lower. If you incorporate the carnivore diet as part of a healthy lifestyle that includes good physical activity levels and other key features, there should be nothing to fear. However, if you have high cholesterol to begin with, you may want to speak with a specialist first.
Won't I need Fiber?
Fibre is commonly believed to be an essential part of a human diet, but it doesn’t have to be. There are no scientific studies to prove fibre to be a ‘must-have’ feature, and many healthy cultures over the generations followed diet with very small amounts of fibre.
The main benefits of fibre stem from the correlation with reduced reined carbs. However, by avoiding carbs altogether, this isn’t something you’ll need to worry about. Fibre has also been linked to positive digestion, but healthy colons do not rely on fibre. Fibre isn’t the only source of SCFAs (short chain fatty acids) and a carnivore diet can still provide the digestive healthy you deserve.
What About Scurvy?
We need vitamin C to avoid scurvy, and the way meat is packaged suggests that meat doesn’t contain the vitamin. On the contrary, though, meat does contain safe amounts of vitamin C among other crucial vitamins. Moreover, the fact that the vitamin isn’t fighting carbohydrates means that you need to consume less of it in order to reach your daily allowance. This is because a greater percentage is used, stored, and utilised.
The body only needs 10 mg/day of vitamin C, and even less on a high fat no carbs diet. The amount of vitamin C consumed on this type of nutritional plan is smaller, but it needn’t be a problem thanks to the increased bioavailability. Crucially, the collagen needed to fight scurvy and other dangers will remain.
What should I do if I don’t like organ meat?
If your research up to this point has suggested that organ meat should be considered a key part of the carnivore diet, it is true. The full nutritional benefits can only be enjoyed when you eat the full animal, including its organs. Variety is crucial for gaining a full and balanced diet. For example, the beef liver is packed with multivitamins, including vitamins A, B, C, and K. Sticking to one animal or one cut of meat could lead to deficiencies.
The thought of organ meat is offputting for a lot of people, but most will find that the majority of organs are delicious when cooked properly. Another option is to blend the organ meat if texture has been the cause of problems. If you genuinely can’t stand the thought, or find that the taste isn’t to your preference, you can always take multivitamins and supplements to ensure your body receives everything it needs to perform.
With so many different animals and organs available, though, a little trial and error should solve the problem.
Are dairy products ok?
Dairy is perhaps the most controversial elements. It comes from an animal so, conceptually at least, it should be approved at all times. In reality, though, the nutritional elements and fact that it doesn't replicate the way humans would have eaten prior to agriculture revolution makes it harder to accept.
From a nutritional viewpoint, the fact is that milk is designed to help baby animals grow at a rapid rate. To do this, it must be packed with carbs and sugars (amongst other items). As such, avoiding the milk sugars is crucial for staying true to the carnivore diet.
It should also be noted that humans are naturally lactose intolerant once they mature beyond the point of needing (historically speaking) breastmilk. While we have evolve to develop a tolerance of sorts, it’s probably best to avoid large volumes anyway. So, if you’re going to eat dairy, stick with the low-lactose cheeses and produce.
Calcium is needed, but dairy isn’t the only way to consume it.
I’m concerned about the environment?
If you do not want to eat meat on moral grounds, that’s fine and the carnivore diet clearly isn’t for you. However, if you’re worried about the environmental impact, the truth is that the meat industry causes far less damage than the production of processed foods – especially when you stick to organic meats and locally farmed animals.
For the very best results, choose the local butcher. If that’s not possible, the right choice of supermarket will suffice. As long as you do your homework into the subject, you’ll have no reason to feel guilty.
Our mission at The Carnivore Diet Coach is simple. We want to empower people with evidence based, scientific data about meat production and consumption so that they can make better decisions for their health.