A Dietitian’s Take On The Carnivore Diet

Meat has the health world split in two. On one extreme, raw foodists swear that they’ve reopened the Garden of Eden and found eternal life via carrots and cabbage. On the other extreme, carnivore dieters claim that our mammoth-eating ancestors laid the protein-packed path that our bodies are built to follow.

But what happens when we cut out all foods except meat? Is a meat-only diet really the secret from the past that leads to weight loss and miraculous healing, as the carnivores claim? As a Registered Dietitian, I have my doubts. 

Today, we’ll take a close look at the carnivore diet to see if it’s the cure we’ve all been craving. 


What is the Carnivore Diet, Exactly? 

People on the carnivore diet eat only animal products and eliminate everything else. 

  • Carnivore Dieters are Allowed to Eat: 
    • All meat: Lamb, elk, goat, deer, beef, pork, fish, shrimp, duck, chicken—if it can walk, you can eat it.
    • Eggs: Salmon roe and bird eggs are a-ok.
    • Dairy: Cheese, butter, and even homemade unsweetened ice cream fit in the carnivore diet.
    • Organ meats: Carnivore dieters eat the whole animal, including the livers, hearts, and brains.
    • Animal fat: Tallow and ghee are promoted in the carnivore diet.
    • Salt: As an essential nutrient, carnivore dieters eat salt and eat it liberally. 
  • Carnivore Dieters aren’t Allowed to Eat: 
    • All fruits: Apples, apricots, avocados, and everything in between are off-limits
    • All veggies: Spinach, broccoli, and even vegetable broth get the cut. 
    • Grains: Carnivore dieters skip spelt, rice, buckwheat, pasta, quinoa, the whole batch.
    • Legumes: Nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, peanut butter, chia, and flax—if they grow from the ground they’re a no-go. 
    • Spices (except for salt): Since spices are dried plants, they aren’t allowed either. 
    • Sweeteners: Sugar, maple syrup, honey, and artificial sweeteners are all eliminated
    • All additives: Processed foods that contain nitrates, nitrites, MSG, gums like guar, and oils like lecithin are not allowed.
    • Any beverages other than water: Skip the soda, seltzer, cocktails, milk, tea, and even coffee.


Are There Benefits To the Carnivore Diet?

In the United States, over half of our diet consists of nutritionally empty and highly processed food full of seed oils, preservatives, sugar, and artificial ingredients. 

As an elimination diet, the carnivore diet forces its followers to cut all these unhealthy ingredients. But it doesn’t stop there. Berries, broccoli, and brussels sprouts also get the boot. Their spot on the dinner plate is replaced with pork fat. 

The bottom line: The carnivore diet eliminates many harmful and healthful foods from a person’s diet. 


Meat Miracles or A Bunch of Bull? 

As if in a panicked defense of their meat rights, meat diets are becoming weirder and weirder under the mounting pressure to lighten up on animal products. 

One content creator recently went viral for eating only meat for a month. TikTokers are taking straight bites from the butter stick. The Liver King is still pounding platefuls of bull’s testicles, raw animal livers, and cows’ brains. 

Claims from carnivore dieters range from dramatic weight loss and stable energy levels to autoimmune healing. Advocates contend that plant toxins and residual pesticides used in plant food production are harming our health. They claim that starchy foods only became a major part of the human diet with the agricultural revolution. Finally, they propose that eliminating all plant foods is the best way to go sugar-free for weight control and metabolic health. 

But are bites of butter and beef really the best way to look and feel better? After 20 years of studying health and nutrition, I can confidently say, no. 


My Beef with the Carnivore Diet

After a close look, the carnivore diet is:  


Only the most extreme characters in our culture can commit to the carnivore diet. Its claims seem tempting, but who’s really prepared to fill up on beef and fistfuls of lard for their next 40,000 meals? 



Humans are omnivores. Research shows that, while there was a wide variance in what we ate, no society has been completely vegan or carnivore. We need to consume both animal products and vegetation if our goal is to provide our bodies with all the essential nutrients we need to thrive.



Diets low in produce have been consistently linked with an increased risk of several serious diseases, including cancer and heart disease, as well as overall mortality risk. 



Ironically, diets low in plant foods often lead to unpleasant side effects, like constipation, fatigue, low mood, and nutrient deficiencies. If your goal is weight loss (that stays off), elimination diets will only give you short-term results. 

Some have found that extreme lifestyle changes make them feel better. However, there really is no science to back these claims currently, and there’s definitely no research to determine the potential long-term effects, whether beneficial or harmful, on a fad diet like this one. Science supports a different diet altogether. 


A Global Perspective on Plants and Protein

Five cultures have uncovered the secrets of longevity. In these cultures, large clusters of people are living past 100 years old. They’re growing old without health problems, like heart disease, obesity, cancer, or diabetes. 

The people of these regions all consume a plant-heavy diet balanced with local animal products. Rice, beans, beef, fish, chicken, sweet potatoes, and wine—these are the foods piled on the tables of the healthiest people in the world. 

While elimination diets with big claims can be tempting, take a beat before eating only beef. There’s a much easier and more effective way to reach your health goals. Thousands in my program LEAN have found that a balanced and whole-food diet is the key to long-term health, vibrancy, and weight loss. 

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