Carnivore Diet

An unlikely diet has become surprisingly popular over the last few months. It’s called the “carnivore diet” and its followers eat meat–and only meat. No vegetables, fruits or grains are permitted on this diet–just meal after meal of meat.

While most of us can’t imagine following such a restrictive eating plan, many of the diet’s followers claim it has had dramatic, positive effects on their health.

Controversial author and college professor, Jordan Peterson, appeared on Joe Rogan’s popular podcast in July 2018 and claimed the carnivore diet cured him, and his daughter, of numerous long-time ailments, including his depression.

Peterson’s daughter, Mikhaila Peterson, says the carnivore diet caused the remission of her “severe arthritis (multiple joints replaced), chronic fatigue, depression and a plethora of other symptoms” and has a website devoted to publicizing the diet.

Carnivore adherents even have the opportunity to attend the first ever Carnivore Conference in Boulder, Colorado on March 7th, 2019 which promises “a day of leading edge talks on the science of plant-free diets!”

A look at Google search volume for the term “carnivore diet” using the Google Trends tool, shows little interest in the diet until early last year, when it began to increase dramatically.

Carnivore Diet Google Trends

Interest peaked last July, corresponding with Peterson’s appearance on Rogan’s podcast, but still remains far above previous levels.

Why Only Meat?

There’s no one single reason why carnivore dieters eat only meat, but the most common are:

Weight loss-Many carnivore supporters believe the diet is a superior approach to weight loss. They claim that meat’s relatively minimal affect on the body’s insulin production and the high satiety levels associated with protein consumption, result in easier and greater weight loss for the carnivore dieter compared to conventional diets. To date, there’s no scientific research to support these claims.

Avoidance of possible food allergens and autoimmune disease triggers-Elimination diets are a recognized diagnostic procedure that can help uncover food allergies and intolerances.

The typical elimination diet removes the most common allergy-provoking foods and requires the individual follow this basic diet until they are free of allergy symptoms. Food items are then gradually reintroduced into the diet and any negative reactions are noted so the individual can avoid them in the future.

The carnivore diet can be considered an extreme form of elimination diet since everything but meat is avoided. Many of the diet’s claimed health improvements may be due to removing virtually anything from an individual’s diet that may provoke an allergic reaction.

Philosophical beliefs-Some of the most vocal proponents of the carnivore diet maintain that humans evolved to subsist primarily on meat and that following the carnivore diet is aligned with our evolution.

One of the most well-known of the diet’s advocates, and an example of this belief, is Shawn Baker, an orthopedic surgeon from Orange County, California, who has written a book about carnivore eating and promotes the diet on his website and YouTube channel. His website’s motto is “Humans Evolved as Apex Predators” and believes we evolutionarily developed to subsist on meat alone.

Is the Carnivore Diet Ketogenic?

The ketogenic diet (“keto” for short) seeks to induce a state of ketosis in the dieter by restricting the amount of carbohydrates consumed. This restriction forces the body to utilize fatty acids instead of glucose and creates ketone bodies which are then used for fuel throughout the body.

The traditional keto diet is high in fat, low in carbohydrates and recommends consuming only a moderate amount of protein. There are no restrictions on keto for eating vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts and seeds, as long as total carbohydrates don’t exceed the individual’s threshold for maintaining ketosis.

The carnivore diet, however, is a very high protein diet which may include a moderate amount of fat (depending on the cut of meats included) and virtually zero carbohydrates.

While the balance of fats, carbohydrates and protein that a carnivore consumes may differ greatly from someone following the standard ketogenic diet, the two diets do share the feature of restricting carbohydrates. It’s this carbohydrate restriction that triggers ketosis, so the carnivore diet is considered ketogenic.

Is the Carnivore Diet Healthy and Sustainable?

Can a person obtain all the nutrition they require and be healthy while only consuming meat?

For those of us that grew up with the USDA’s food pyramid and being told to eat a “balanced diet,” we would assume the answer would be “no.” However, carnivores disagree. They claim that it is possible to get all the nutrients-the vitamins, minerals, everything the human body needs-from meat alone.

What does science say about the topic? As with most things diet related, there’s no clear-cut verdict on the health aspects of eating a meat-only diet. And given the relative obscurity of the diet, there have yet been no large-scale studies of carnivore dieters.

Since the carnivore diet has gained much of its popularity within the last 12 months, most followers have been on the diet for a relatively short time. It remains to be seen how many are willing and able to follow their meat-only diet for the long term.

Is carnivore a sustainable, viable diet alternative or a fad that will die out as quickly as it grew? Only time will give us the answer.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash