The Carnivore Diet: Is It Right For You?
- Written By:Dr. Will Cole
Keto. Blood type. Atkins. Paleo. So many diets that promise to be the solution to all of our health problems. But here’s the thing with diets, and why so many people hop around from one diet to the next with little results, is that there is no “one-size-fits-all”. The truth is, there is no magic diet that will suddenly erase extra pounds and restore your health.
The carnivore diet is one of these diets rising in popularity, and one I actually utilize as a tool for some people for a time in my functional medicine telehealth clinic. Yes, even the author of the plant-based keto book, Ketotarian, has seen the benefit of this way of eating for some people. So, let’s take a look at what this diet actually is, if it can be useful for you, and why it merits a look at by a plant-lover like me. I have no food tribalism other than finding out what works for my patients to move them along on their health journey.
What is the carnivore diet?
At its core, a carnivore diet is a low-carb diet. However, unlike other popular low-carb diets such as a ketogenic diet, rather than just limiting carbohydrates, a carnivore diet takes out all carb-containing foods. Instead, it focuses on all things animal-based. Yes, that really means no more vegetables, fruits, and even nuts and seeds. It is certainly a far cry from the vegan and vegetarian diets that have been touted in the wellness world as the embodiment of a healthy lifestyle.
The carnivore diet came into focus out of the belief that the increase in carb-heavy processed food in our modern diets has contributed to the rise of health problems including diabetes and obesity. Therefore, the answer is to eat mostly animal products similarly to our ancestors.
What foods are allowed?
Now, the carnivore diet isn’t just meat, meat, and more meat. Since a carnivore diet is an animal-based diet, really any animal product is on the table:
- Fish and seafood
- Bone broth
- Raw honey
There is some debate however regarding some of these foods. Although dairy products like cheese, butter, and yogurt are allowed as well as raw honey, not everyone following a carnivore diet agrees that these should be included. Part of the reason is that lactose found in dairy products is technically considered a sugar and the dairy protein casein is something that many people can have sensitivities too. And while it is an animal by-product, honey is also a sugar. It ultimately depends on how “pure” of a carnivore diet you want to follow.
What are the benefits?
There haven’t been many studies done on a carnivore diet as it is a newer diet in the wellness world that hasn’t allowed for enough long-term research to be done. However, we can see a few benefits — mainly surrounding metabolic health — when looking at more general studies of extreme low-carb diets as these would look most similar to a carnivore diet.
Studies have shown that low-carb diets can greatly reduce metabolic and cardiovascular risk factors including weight and high triglycerides. When comparing various forms of low-carb diets, studies have shown that those who follow a very low carb diet had the greatest improvement in these markers compared with those who just went low-carb or moderately low-carb.
The modern western diet is very low in bioavailable nutrients like true vitamin A (retinol), vitamin K2, vitamin D, methylated B vitamins, and bioavailable forms of iron all of which are amply supplied with a clean, well-formulated nutrient-dense carnivore diet.
A typical day of meals:
You might be surprised to find that a lot of your favorite meals are still on the table. With a few adjustments (mainly side dishes) the entreé portion of the meal can look pretty similar to what you already eat each day.
Breakfast: Bacon & egg omelet
Cook up a couple eggs with nitrate and sugar-free bacon for a classic breakfast that is also carnivore friendly. If you are including cheese in your carnivore plan, add some in for a little extra zing.
Lunch: Garlic butter salmon
Wild-caught salmon is a delicious source of healthy fats that are essential for hormone and brain health.
Any type of jerky - salmon, beef, or turkey - is a great choice for its portability and shelf-life.
Dinner: Bone broth chicken soup and liver pate
End your day with a gut-soothing soup made with nourishing bone broth. Throw some chicken breasts in a crockpot with the bone broth and desired seasonings, cook, shred the chicken, and save the rest for lunch or dinner the next day. Bringing in organ meats like grass-fed organic liver is a great idea from a mineral and nutrient-density standpoint.
What’s the verdict?
Overall, the carnivore diet can be a great tool for some people on their healing journey for a period of time. I use it for patients who have many food sensitivities or who are in active autoimmune-inflammatory or digestive flares as an ultimate elimination diet approach. During this time I work with my patients to actively heal their gut and balance their immune system to work on slowly reintroducing foods.
While the polyphenol, antioxidant and fiber-rich health benefits of vegetables can’t be denied, for some individuals with severe gut dysfunction who can’t handle digesting vegetables and fruits, those with blood sugar issues, or severe carb sensitivity, a carnivore diet makes a lot of sense.
Since the carnivore diet combines the gut-healing benefits of bone broth and eliminates harder-to-digest vegetables, legumes, grains, and nuts and seeds it still allows for a person to get beneficial nutrients while giving the gut a break.