The carnivore diet is a new fad diet that consists of only eating animal meat and products. Whilst there is not an official definition of the diet, it has been touted as eating “anything that walked, swam, or flew”. In practice, the carnivore diet - also dubbed the ‘zero carb’ diet restricts you to eating only meat, eggs, and some dairy. The carnivore diet is a mono-diet, meaning you only eat one type of food or food group.
This diet is similar to the ‘Paleo’ diet and claims to be beneficial for weight loss, gut health and digestion, hormone levels, cardiovascular health, mental health, energy levels and fitness.
What can you eat?
Whilst it might be obvious from the name - the carnivore diet is meat focused and removes all plant foods.
It is optional to consume or remove dairy foods, as the diet claims that lactose (the naturally occurring sugar in dairy foods) is harmful. Many people following this diet therefore only consume low lactose dairy foods such as hard cheeses and yoghurt.
Fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and grains are all removed from the diet on the claim that they contain harmful “anti-nutrients”.
What does the science say?
Like other fad diets, there is no credible evidence regarding the carnivore diet to support its claims.. However, there is an overwhelming amount of scientific literature highlighting the health benefits of plant based compared to meat based diets. The weight of evidence is that following a meat based or Carnivore style diet and can actually be detrimental to your health. Here’s why;
The carnivore diet (like many other fad diets) is extremely restrictive and therefore leaves you at risk of developing serious nutrient deficiencies by removing many essential nutrients from your diet. Consuming only meat means that you are predominately consuming protein and fat, and some micronutrients such as iron. This means your diet would be insufficient in essential nutrients such as dietary fibre, carbohydrates, and many vitamins and minerals., posing you at an increased risk of developing short and long term health issues. Australian Guidelines recommend a varied intake from ALL food groups to ensure you are meeting your nutritional requirements.
Fad diets are hard to follow long term, and the carnivore diet is no different. Can you imagine eating red meat and eggs every meal, every day? Probably not. Given how difficult and restrictive this diet is, it is highly unlikely you would be able to maintain it long term.
Ongoing research has been investigating the link between red and processed meats and risk of cardiovascular disease. Currently, Australian guidelines are based on large scale epidemiological studies gathered over the last couple of decades. A systematic review and meta-analysisof over 1 million individuals and dietary patterns showed that high intakes of processed meat increased risk of developing coronary heart disease by 42% and Type 2 Diabetes by 19%. Similarly, another meta-analysis of 13 studies including more than 1,600,000 subjects showed that high intakes of red and processed meats resulted in a 16% and 18% higher risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease, respectively.
Based on this research, it is recommended to consume less than 350g of unprocessed, lean red meat per week, or 1-3 meals which include unprocessed red meat. This recommendation also encourages the use of other proteins such as fish and seafood, legumes, nuts and seeds, dairy, and eggs and poultry. These guidelines also state that processed meats, such as bacon, devon and salami, are not part of a heart healthy eating pattern and should be limited or avoided. Given such strong evidence and heart healthy guidelines, it is evident that following the Carnivore diet would be detrimental to cardiovascular health, and should not be followed
research is starting to reveal how your gut impacts on your health and which nutrients are needed to support good gut health. Ongoing research is showing that eating more plant foods (i.e high fibre foods) facilitates the growth of ‘good’ bacteria in your gut. Some of they bacteria produce by roducts that have anti-inflammatory effects and can be protective against some diseases. There is also evidence that high intakes of meat, such as the carnivore diet, are detrimental to gut health and have been linked to increased incidence of bowel cancer. The largest up-to-date reviewof all the research founf strong evidence for a link between eating processed meats and high intakes of red meat and a higher risk of developing bowel cancer. This also found that eating more foods high in dietary fibre is associated with decreases risk. of the majority of scientific evidence shows that removing plant foods from your diet is detrimental and that a dietary pattern such as the carnivore diet is NOT healthy .
Meat Based vs Plant Based
In comparison, diets which are more plant based have been shown to have more health benefits. A review of meta-analyses showed that plant based diets were highly effective in achieving a healthy body weight in subjects. This review also showed that following a plant-based diet resulted in an improvement in overall diet quality by including a wider variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes and wholegrains. This style of eating is also been associated with a lower risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes.
The bottom line
Do not follow this diet.