What Is the Carnivore Diet, and What Can You Eat On It?
There are a number of popular diets of late that significantly reduce or totally eliminate entire food groups in the name of health. Think: a vegan diet, a Paleo diet, or a ketogenic diet. But the carnivore diet, the latest food craze circling the Internet, takes this methodology to the extreme with a meat-only approach to eating.
Why would someone want to only eat meat? Is this even healthy? Below, two experts weigh in on the new and controversial carnivore diet plan.
What Is the Carnivore Diet?
“The carnivore diet is actually tricky to define because there’s no official description,” says Cara Harbstreet, MS, RD, and owner of Street Smart Nutrition. “But it’s essentially just like it sounds — an all-meat diet, or a diet that features only meat and a limited number of other animal-based products,” she explains.
The diet was created by Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson, who — it’s worth noting — has no nutrition credentials. He and his daughter Mikhaila Peterson both say it cured their depression, as well as Mikhaila’s rheumatoid arthritis. The diet really entered the mainstream when Shawn Baker, a former orthopedic surgeon touted the benefits of eating a zero-carb diet on a popular podcast.
What Can You Eat on the Carnivore Diet?
Foods that are allowed on the carnivore diet include poultry, fish, lard, bone marrow, organ meats, bone broth, and salt and pepper. Some people on this diet also eat eggs, butter, milk, and cheese.
“It basically eliminates all plant-based foods like fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, and beans,” says Krista Maguire, RD, CSSD, and Openfit nutrition manager. And there’s no snacking, either. You’re only supposed to eat full meals, since “the idea is that the high amount of protein helps keep you full,” she adds.
Is It Safe to Eat Only Meat?
Proponents of the carnivore diet claim it helps with weight loss and inflammatory issues, says Harbstreet, but “there is little to no [medical] evidence to support that this is the case.”
The main problem with subsisting solely off meat is that it doesn’t provide the nutrients you need to thrive. When you eliminate vegetables, fruits, and other plant-based foods, you miss out on key vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, says Maguire, as well as macronutrients like carbs, fiber, and healthy fats.
Most animal products also contain high amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol, both of which can negatively impact heart health when consumed in excess. In fact, research shows that the long-term consumption of high amounts of red meat and processed meat can lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and total mortality.
Plus, because you’re eating little to no carbs on the carnivore diet (AKA your body’s main source of fuel), you’ll likely have less energy, which may hinder your ability to exercise regularly or maintain an active lifestyle.
Though the carnivore diet has plenty of online success stories, it’s not backed by science. “As a registered dietitian, this is not a style of eating I recommend or endorse,” Harbstreet, says. Not only does it reduce the volume and variety of nutrients you consume, it decreases “the opportunity to fully participate in everyday life when it comes to eating.” Eating this way also has the potential to negatively affect your body image and may increase your anxiety and fear around food, she adds.
And Maguire agrees, reiterating the fact that this diet is too restrictive. If you want to lose weight or improve your general health, there are plenty of safer, more sustainable dietary approaches to consider, she says.