The harsh landscape of diets has recently introduced a hot trend involving all the meat you can eat. It seems like a dream come true for many carnivores. But The Carnivore Diet comes with its ups and downs. Imagine that almost any other ingredient aside from meat is forbidden. When this reality kicks in, the diet no longer feels like a breeze. Questions also pop up and many will find that even the tastiest foods can make you lose appetite. Is this a bad thing? It depends on your goals…
For now, the research on this topic is scarce. A significant percentage of the carnivore dieters are testing it while struggling with different medical conditions. Others simply want to test the power of an all-meat diet. Either way, all kinds of potential worries come to mind. And the decision of going down this path can only stem from accurate answers. Coming up next, that is precisely what we are trying to offer you… So, allow us to take things one at a time.
Table of Contents
What is the carnivore diet?
“The carnivore diet, what is it?” has a very simple answer, in theory. The definition of “carnivore” is an animal that feeds on other animals. Consequently, a carnivore diet is the equivalent of a plant-free diet. Those who adhere to it rely on protein and fat as primary sources of energy. At the same time, they have little to zero carbohydrates on their plates. Hence, its other name of zero carb diet.
Nevertheless, does plant-free means that you only have to eat meat? No other animal products, such as dairy? And what kind of meat? From what kind of animals? These questions were the starting point to an overwhelming number of carnivore diet versions.
In practice, there is more than one approach to this particular diet. In fact, all these carnivore diet versions have one thing in common: the commitment to minimize the amount of plant foods. Starting from here, there are carnivore diet options that:
- Exclusively forbid any kind of plant foods, sea foods, and animal-derived foods (eggs and dairy);
- Allow a moderate amount of dairy – cream and butter, particularly for their fat, and some cheese;
- Prefer to focus on simple steaks, with little to no interest towards organ meats;
- Insist on eating nose to tail carnivore, making use of all the animal parts;
- Indulge into spices, tea, and even coffee to go along with meat foods.
Imagine that there are even dieters who claim that all meat should come from grazing animals only! So, there is more than one answer to the question of “What is carnivore diet?”and the answer depends on who you ask.
The carnivore diet, a diet for the tough ones
Since the carnivore diet is all about eating as much meat as possible, to many, it may seem like a diet of the extremes. But even within its variations, there is still plenty of room for surprising approaches. For instance, people who search the web to see what is the carnivore diet or how and why it became so popular, will most likely find at least two widely spread versions: the one of Dr. Shawn Baker and the one of Paleomedicina.
Dr. Shawn Baker’s carnivore diet
Dr. Shawn Baker is the most popular promoter of the carnivore diet. As a surgeon in his mid-50’s, he claimed significant health gains following this all-meat diet. And as an amateur bodybuilder and holder of a world record on Concept2 rowing machine, he attributed these performances to a carnivore diet that stirred up the internet in the recent years.
Starting out, Dr. Baker would recommend eating only… ribeye. He initially chose it for its high amount of fats. Then, he gradually started recommending to add some other sources of protein as well, such as fish and eggs. Organs are not on his meal plan and the protein intake, together with the glucose that might be produced from its metabolization, are actually suitable for someone with an intense level of activity.
Nevertheless, a version of this diet has also been used at institutional level, resulting in one of the most restrictive carnivore diets, PKD or Paleomedicina Carnivore.
The Paleolithic Ketogenic Diet (PKD) – a version of carnivore diet
PKD is actually a trademarked diet promoted by Paleomedicina, currently known as the International Center for Medical Nutritional Intervention. The version applied inside the clinic is the strictest carnivore diet, used with positive results for treating certain chronic diseases.
- It implies eating high quality meat, mostly from grazing animals. It strongly insists on getting a high fat intake, ideally 2 grams of fat for each gram of protein. And the meat should come from a controlled source, without any additives or chemicals.
- It focuses mostly on organs, which must be consumed daily. And it specifically forbids dairy and plants or plant fats. Moreover, it makes ketosis an important part of the process, encouraging the consumption of animal fat on purpose.
In its milder forms, the PKD, just like the name suggests, implies eating meat the way our ancestors from the Paleolithic used to, “nose-to-tail”. Nose to tail means eating everything that the animal has to offer, its organs included. This idea alone brings us to a common conundrum among carnivores…
The carnivore diet nose-to-tail vs one-cut
One doesn’t need to follow Dr. Baker’s strict carnivore diet or the PKD curative diet to have this dilemma. But because the word “carnivore” leaves so much room for options, some people prefer eating only certain meat parts, always the same (see Dr. Baker’s ribeye diet). And others prefer eating more varied, but still reject the idea of eating organs. Finally, there are also dieters who prefer to eat everything that an animal has to offer.
Those from the last category have mainly two reasons for promoting this approach. One of them is the fact that our ancestors from the hunter-gatherer societies used to consume meat this way. Assuming that they probably had some very good reasons for doing so, these dieters believe we should continue to do the same. The other reason is the fear of not suffering from certain nutrient deficiencies. Since organs are known to be rich in folate, vitamin A, and magnesium, they hope that by consuming organs they prevent some of those potential deficiencies.
Though it may not be too obvious yet, nose-to-tail eating has been turning into a very popular eating trend ever since 2018. Promoted not just by people who really need to stick to a carnivore diet for health reasons, nose-to-tail eating has been pushed up front by chefs and foodies, artisan butchers, and even environmentally conscious people. They all seem to agree that eating all the parts of an animal, without wasting anything, is cool. It doesn’t just offer the chance to return to tradition and experience with older recipes, but it is also economical and environmentally friendly.
All these, of course, may or may not make the concerns of a carnivore dieter. What matters to these persons, above all, is to cover their body needs by varying the sources of meat and, therefore, the sources of important nutrients.
The one-cut eaters, on the other hand, probably have no other excuse for doing so other than the fact that they don’t like eating organs or other less appealing animal parts. And culture plays a huge role in this decisional process, especially for those who haven’t been used to seeing butchered animals on display in public markets and shops.
Bottom line, the nose-to-tail carnivore diet, whether it appeals to many or not, relies on a hard-to-combat argument: eating a whole animal brings to the table a wider set of nutrients than eating the same cuts of muscle again and again. Needless to say, nutrients are just one of the many benefits of all-meat menus.
What are the benefits of the carnivore diet?
Aside from liking the taste of meat, people who opt for a carnivore diet have many other reasons. As mentioned, part of them were forced to try it because of certain health issues. And a number of them was tempted by its potential benefits on losing weight and building muscle mass.
The benefits of the carnivore diet derive, on one hand, from the nutritional properties of the meat and, on the other hand, from the limited amount of on-the-plate options.
The carnivore diet relies on nutritious foods
Packed with proteins, essential amino acids, minerals and vitamins, meat covers most of the body’s nutritional needs. In fact, it contains all of the nine types of essential amino acids that the human body needs but cannot produce by itself. For this reason, it is considered a complete form of protein.
Due to its protein intake, meat satisfies your hunger, makes you feel less hungry during the day, and makes you want to eat less frequently, thus helping you to keep weight under control. At the same time, proteins are the building blocks of the muscle cells, contributing to your efforts of staying fit.
The zinc, iron, and selenium in meat help boosting the immune system. And those who follow the path of a carnivore diet including seafood will also benefit from the omega-3 fatty acids, again, great for strengthening the immunity.
The carnivore diet limits food choices and calories
As already indicated, those who follow the carnivore diet by the book do not have too many food choices. These limited options have a couple of positive cascade effects, such as:
- You get used to the taste of the food and the brain stops seeking rewards in it;
- You eat less and you eat foods with fewer calories;
- You get to experience a caloric restriction without too much effort;
- You start losing weight effortlessly;
- Your body enters a reparatory process – due to reduced levels of growth hormone, insulin and IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1), it starts eliminating old cells and repairing damaged cells.
The carnivore diet goes easy on the gut
The high amounts of protein and fat contained by meat are processed and absorbed higher in the gastrointestinal tract. Adding the lack of fibers, the ones that usually end up undigested and that make up stool, it all results in low intestinal residues. The fewer residues end up in the intestines, the less it solicits the gut. In other words, a low-residue diet, like the carnivore diet, significantly reduces bloating and gas, diarrhea or abdominal pain, not to mention the irritable bowel syndrome or the inflammatory bowel disease.
The carnivore diet directly impacts the gut microbiota
The gut microbiota has a significant effect on an individual’s health and immunity. People with chronic inflammatory disease or with autoimmune diseases often need an intervention on the gut microbiota. And just like shown above, the way that meat is processed inside the intestines brings a significant change for the gut.
As fibers are removed from the diet, the concentration of microbes responsible for metabolizing plant fibers also drops down. Things can change in terms of gut microbiota as fast as within 48 hours, just by focusing on an all-meat diet. And this is one of the reasons why people with severe chronic health problems found extraordinary relief with the carnivore diet.
The carnivore diet helps the body break down fat into energy
It all happens through ketosis, a metabolic state that shifts the body’s energy sources from blood glucose to blood ketone bodies. A “normal” diet leads to the increase of blood sugar levels, sugars that the body breaks down to produce energy. With a low-carb diet or a zero carb diet, however, the blood sugar levels drop down. Instead, the concentration of ketone bodies starts to grow. And when the body needs energy but lacks the glucose, it will use these ketone bodies (derived from fatty acids), to produce energy. This way, you eat fat and the body doesn’t turn it into fat deposits but rather burns it for everyday use.
More importantly, ketogenic diets, like the carnivore diet, were proven to bring significant improvements in patients suffering from diabetes, multiple sclerosis, or certain neurological conditions, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases included.
But if meat has proteins, how is the carnivore diet a ketogenic diet?
The concerns regarding the high intake of protein on a ketogenic diet stem from the fact that the liver is known to break down protein into glucose. And it does so because it actually needs a minimum amount of glucose for certain processes and cells. Knowing that this transformation is possible, some people are worried that an increased intake of protein can lead to high levels of glucose into the blood stream.
Nevertheless, studies have shown that even when eating more protein than the normal level required for staying in ketosis, this metabolic state will still be maintained. That is why a protein-rich diet can be a ketogenic diet at the same time.
By definition, a ketogenic diet is a moderate-protein and high-fat diet. To be more specific, a ketogenic diet should provide up to 70% of energy from fat and up to 30% of energy from protein. It also leaves room for anything between 5 to 10% of energy from carbs, if the food contains a bit less fat or proteins.
The carnivore diet is far from providing these macronutrient ratios. Nevertheless, the extra intake of protein does not normally translate into glucose. And the ketosis state can be triggered and maintained by simply giving up on the carbs that normally generate glucose and, of course, by eating meat as fat as possible.
How about the negatives of a carnivore diet?
Even those who love meat cannot help but wonder… Can a carnivore diet be healthy? Giving up on fiber, won’t the carnivore diet leave me fiber deficient? Won’t I need other supplements on the carnivore diet? In other words, what are the risks that may come with eating exclusively meat?
The most common negative aspect of the carnivore diet is actually encountered with any other restrictive diet. By eating only one group of foods, certain nutrient deficiencies can be triggered. So far, this is just an assumption based on a logical deduction. Nobody really knows the long-term effects of a carnivore diet, as there are no long-term studies involving large groups of carnivore dieters.
The fact remains that, as nutritious as meat is, it certainly cannot cover all the needs. We’ve already mentioned the lack of fiber and glucose, and that’s just not all. If a dieter is flexible enough to include organs and dairy in the menu, there will probably remain two important vitamins that need to be supplemented – vitamin E and vitamin C.
Taking out the dairy, the lack of calcium and vitamin K2 becomes a concern. And if organs are not an option either, the list of missing important nutrients would include magnesium and manganese, folate and vitamin A.
Then again, just because meat contains specific nutrients, it doesn’t mean that an all-meat diet would precisely cover the basic needs or allow the body to create reserves for major stress situations. And while nobody can predict the negative effects of an all-meat diet in the long run, the rule of thumb remains: anyone who is on a restrictive diet should go through periodic check-ups and blood works.
As a zero-carb diet, the carnivore diet raises some questions about the side effects that it might have on the thyroid function, but also on fertility and hormonal balances. The thyroid might be at risk because it lacks insulin, the hormone supposed to stimulate the conversion of the inactive thyroidal hormone T4 into its active form, T3.
Last but not least, the liver itself may be at risk, especially when eating too much lean meat, if it exceeds its maximum capacity of processing calories from protein (35-40%). While the liver breaks protein into glucose through a normal gluconeogenesis process, this can be done within certain limits and everything that exceeds it can be harmful.
All the possible biological negatives left aside, there is still one major disadvantage remaining. And it takes struggling to eat the same foods again and again to really understand it. The not so obvious disadvantage would have to do with fighting the temptations of going off the path of carnivore diet during social encounters. People who try to eat meat and only meat will find it difficult to attend parties and other kinds of social events where food is an essential part…
What can I eat on the carnivore diet?
As mentioned in the beginning of this zero-carb diet guide, a carnivore diet doesn’t have to be exclusively all-meat. Some dieters rely on the fatty dairy to help their bodies enter the ketosis state. Other dieters indulge into adding certain herbs (as in spices). While there are even all-meat eaters who don’t feel ashamed drinking coffee, which is still considered a plant-derived.
Chicken and pork – the fattier the better (read this as “bacon is allowed without limits”) – served as steaks or burgers, but also fish, eggs, cream, and cheese are the most popular options among carnivore dieters. The purpose is to fill the belly with food that will make you feel full and that will also give you a significant number of calories from fat.
Nevertheless, the goal of the carnivore eaters is to only eat when they feel hungry, as much as they need, from the limited range of options they have at hand, without worrying about reaching certain protein or fat intake targets.
To avoid sugars and their interference with the production of ketones, water is the drink that most dieters recommend. Coffee, considered a drug instead of a food or a drink, is allowed. For the same reasons, sweeteners and sauces are not recommended either.
Don’t the carnivore, Keto and Paleo have so many in common?
So far, we have seen that the carnivore diet is a zero-carb diet and that one of its many versions is actually called PKD (Paleolithic Ketogenic Diet). This observation alone would make the connection with both the Ketogenic and the Paleo diets. What are the differences between the three of them? Why should one choose a carnivore diet instead of any of the other two, especially after we have explained how a carnivore diet can induce a state of ketosis?
The particularities of Keto diets
Some would think that a Keto diet is just a low-carb diet. In reality, for a diet to be ketogenic, it would have to help maintain a high level of ketosis, a specific level of ketones in the blood. Medical research has showed, however, that not all ketogenic diets would help bring up the ketones to the ideal level. That happens, partially, because ketosis is influenced by many other factors apart from diet, intermittently fasting, taking ketone supplements or maintaining a high level of activity included.
Simply put, by taking out the carbs from the diet, ketosis can be induced. But some people may eat fewer carbs and not stay in ketosis while others can actually eat more carbs, work out more, and still stay in ketosis!
Now, despite the numerous health benefits deriving from keto diets (fighting diabetes and obesity, in particular), there is still a great peril to look at: the trap of choosing the wrong foods, foods that don’t provide all the necessary nutrients, for the sake of getting as many ketones as possible.
The particularities of Paleo diets
The adepts of the Paleo diet claim that our bodies are not quite capable to adapt to the modern environment. And in order to avoid many health problems and even diseases, we should try to replicate, in terms of food, the original environment from where our species evolved.
Replicating the paleolithic eating style would therefore rely on eating meats and fruits and seeds in an unprocessed form. Cereals are rejected because agriculture is something that humans only started approximately 12,000 years ago (like very recently, on the scale of our evolution) and also the vegetable oils that became available in the last century.
Some Paleo dieters reject potatoes, eggplants, peppers, and other vegetables coming from across the ocean, from the New World of America. The reason? The human species wasn’t adapted to them in particular. Dairy products and legumes are also rejected, for the same reason that they weren’t available back then.
While the principles of what to eat and what not to eat seem straightforward, problems may occur in the practice of choosing what foods to enjoy.
Right when it started to seem simple, it becomes obvious that Paleo is not just about the source of food. It’s also about its form, what you eat, on what seasons, and how much you eat!
In other words, some fruits have changed, through time, after controlled crosses between varieties of fruits. And from those that might have remained relatively in the same form, we can certainly say that, back then, they were certainly smaller, perhaps even less sweet, and available in limited amounts, during specific periods. So, the number of factors to take into account when trying to eat by Paleo rules is, all of a sudden, a tad overwhelming.
Where does the carnivore diet stand?
Between Keto and Paleo, it seems obvious that Paleo has the most principles in common with the carnivore diet. As shown above, the Keto diet can be more restrictive if the dieter makes the mistake of focusing on the ketone levels alone. And while someone who adheres to the carnivore diet may still be in ketosis, it makes sense opting for this diet and having access to important sources of proteins, aside from fats.
Paleo, on the other hand, has a lot more in common with the carnivore diet. The Paleo eaters try to avoid eating foods that weren’t available in the past and the carnivore eaters try to avoid eating plants as much as possible. With just one major limitative rule in mind, the two of them can interfere in many ways. But as practice shows, there is a tendency among Paleo dieters to consume too many carbs, many of them with the intent of avoiding the ketosis state.
To draw the line, the carnivore diet has the main benefit of relying on a highly nutritious food base, which is meat. It also makes it much easier to stay in ketosis. And it helps its dieters stay away from the challenges that normally come with either Keto or Paleo. Without pretending to be flawless, the carnivore diet remains a viable option for those who want to make a significant change for their digestive system and overall body. Sure, it lacks the support of controlled studies, but it all has to start from some point. And the more individuals show interest in it, the more will the researchers be tempted to study it.
The Carnivore Diet Book
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