The carnivore diet – a meat-only meal plan – is gaining in popularity.
Compared to other low-carb diets, such as paleo and keto, the carnivore diet eliminates all carbohydrates and plant foods completely. According to Healthline, the diet requires exclusively consuming meat, poultry, organ meat, fish, shellfish, eggs, bone marrow, as well as small amounts of lard, butter, and low-lactose dairy products. Proponents of the diet emphasize eating fatty cuts of meat to reach daily energy needs and encourage drinking a significant amount of water, but recommend against the consumption of tea, coffee, and other plant-derived beverages.
Former orthopedic doctor Shawn Baker, who claims that the diet resembles primitive ways of eating more closely than the paleo diet, has been a long-time proponent of the meal plan. Baker’s 2019 book, The Carnivore Diet, helped popularize some of the theories propelling this method of eating, such as high-carbohydrate diets being a major cause of today’s high rates of chronic disease.
Despite claims that the carnivore diet also helps stabilize mood and burn fat, evidence is merely anecdotal at this point. In 2018, Canadian clinical psychologist and author Jordan Peterson landed the carnivore diet on the map after claims that a steak-only diet cured his daughter Mikhaila of autoimmune ailments. Reporting by Men’s Health states the diet was recommended by a naturopathic doctor as a last resort treatment for her debilitating condition.
The elimination aspect of the highly restrictive diet – in other words what you don’t eat – may contribute to purported benefits such as reduced inflammation and improved blood sugar by removing highly-processed ingredients and allergens such as soy and gluten. Significant research has not been able to corroborate the various benefits touted in testimonials.
RISK VS. BENEFIT
Quality meat products do provide nutrition such as protein and fat, but it’s clear that a carnivore diet cannot supply all essential nutrients. Vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts and seeds are all characterized by a valuable make-up of phytonutrients necessary for nutritional adequacy, which meat alone can’t provide.
According to an article published in Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Obesity in 2020, “[the] carnivore diet is a newly popular, but as yet sparsely studied form of ketogenic diet in which plant foods are eliminated such that all, or almost all, nutrition derives from animal sourced foods. Ketogenic diets are already nutritionally controversial due to their near-complete absence of carbohydrate and high dietary fat content, but most ketogenic diet advocates emphasize the inclusion of plant foods.”
Following a carnivorous diet leads to fiber deficiency, and can result in elevated LDL (‘bad’ cholesterol) as well, as stated in Healthline.
Certified Prenatal Dietitian and Industry Consultant, Shyamala Vishnumohan, PhD, told The Food Institute, “There is so much research out there demonstrating the benefits of fiber on gut microbiome and I would think there could be a compromise on your gut health in the long run. The long-term consequences are unknown.”
Other well-documented risks of a diet high in red meat, as reported by Insider, include: increased risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, colon cancer, and various gastrointestinal cancers.
SHOULD COMPANIES HARNESS THE TREND?
Because of the negative health effects associated with a plant-free diet–not to mention the expense, the Carnivore diet is unlikely to be a sustainable trend for most consumers.
Vishnumohan told FI: “Diet trends come and go, but from a nutritional and planetary health perspective, what will matter in the coming years will be less but better meat. It will be important that food companies reward farmers for producing regenerative livestock products and open doors to conscious meat eaters irrespective of whether they follow a [specific] diet and who knows what’s next.”
Eric Ridenour, Men’s Health Researcher with Launch Medical told FI: “I am not sure if there is a huge market for the diet, and my personal opinion is that it is a passing fad that will be gone within 2-3 years.” Ridenour suggests that some consumers may be pleased to see a carnivore option on a restaurant menu but wouldn’t advise food companies to make plant-free trends a major part of their overall strategy.