What is the carnivore diet?
by Tobias • 5 minutes read
Last updated: 29 Aug, 2022
One of the fastest growing diets in the world at the moment, following the release of "The Carnivore Diet" the best-selling book by Shawn Baker. Does this diet live up to the hype? Find out here.
What to eat on the carnivore diet
As the name implies, the focus of the diet is on animal based foods. Some consider the carnivore diet as an extension of the ketogenic diet, with a similar eating strategy of zero carbohydrates.
Meat is the main focus of the diet, whether this is red meat, organ meats, meat from poultry or fish and seafood. Essentially if something had to die for you to eat it, then it's on the menu. The inclusion of organ meats is the most unusual addition on this list, until 100 years ago they were eaten commonly before falling out of favour in the 60's and 70's. Organ meat is having something of a resurgence and advocates of the diet state the large amount of vitamins and minerals from organ meat balances the lack of fruit and vegetables within the diet.
Eggs are included within the carnivore diet, but keeping in line with the principles of the diet, mix up the sources. Nowadays when someone mentions eggs they are usually referring to chicken eggs. But there are also duck eggs, with their telltale blue hue, or goose eggs, quail eggs, pheasant eggs, guinea fowl eggs, the list goes on. Depending on how adventurous you are feeling you could even eat Ostrich eggs, though I hope you have a large appetite as they can weigh as much as 2kg, which is roughly equal to 24 hens eggs!
There is some controversy whether or not dairy products, such as milk, cream and cheese, should be allowed within the carnivore diet. Shawn Baker himself suggests that it should be based on each individual person, as in his own words "some people can handle milk, some can't". He is more emphatic about including cheese in the diet as it has lower levels of lactose and lactates when compared to milk. These molecules are normally responsible for people's intolerance of dairy. The largest argument against adding dairy into the diet is this is often where carbs and sugars enter the diet, which goes against the aim of the diet.
As an animal product based diet, all seed oils and margarines should be replaced with animal products such as butter, and animal fats such as lard and tallow.
Due to the new nature of this diet, there are limited scientific studies into whether any health benefits exist for the carnivore diet. Anecdotal reports from carnivore diet advocates have reported a reduction in inflammation, stronger "mental acuity" and weight loss. The latter likely being caused by the almost complete reduction of carbohydrates in the diet, though there is limited evidence whether these benefits are maintained over the long term.
As with the keto diet, the reduction in the intake of carbohydrates in the carnivore diet means that the dieter's blood sugars levels are reduced significantly and could even lead to ketosis. The state of ketosis is a time when the brain changes fuels from glucose to "ketone bodies" that are produced on the liver. For more information please read our article on the Keto diet.
Those with chronic disease are most likely to benefit from the carnivore diet. The high profile case of Mikhaila Peterson, daughter of famed clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson, brought a lot of attention to this aspect. Mikhaila claims that the carnivore diet has reversed her rheumatoid arthritis and even her depression and anxiety. Again, this isn't an evidence based benefit but for those with similar issues there could be some benefit in the carnivore diet.
One of the most common issues that people have with the carnivore diet is the high amount of saturated fats. In the past these have been linked to an increase in cholesterol and blood pressure. However, recent studies have shown no link between saturated fats and an increased risk of coronary heart disease, stroke or myocardial function.
In a report from the WHO, they state that processed foods, such as bacon and reconstituted animal products are carcinogenic. They also state that unprocessed meats, such as beef mince and chicken breast are "likely carcinogenic" but by their own admission this is based on "limited evidence".
For those that follow this diet by including a large amount of fish in their diet, they should be aware of the high levels of mercury found within the tissue of apex predator fish such as tuna, swordfish and marlin. This study investigates the link between the consumption of these fish and the increase in blood levels of mercury in pregnant women.
The jury is still out on this diet. As with most diets the devil is in the details. Eating nothing but grass-fed steaks and organic eggs could be beneficial. But if your wallet only allows you to eat processed meats such as bacon and sausages then this diet is probably not for you. As with most eating strategies, aim to eat as much unprocessed food as possible and you should have a better time.
- The Effect of Fish Consumption on Blood Mercury Levels of Pregnant Women - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2687748/
- Saturated Fat Consumption and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease and Ischemic Stroke - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5475232/
- IARC Monographs evaluate consumption of red meat and processed meat - https://www.iarc.who.int/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/pr240_E.pdf
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