Recently, a new fad diet has taken the online world by storm: the carnivore diet. Urged on by celebrity adherents, thousands of people have made the decision to try it. Most, if not all, of these people run the risk of developing severe gastrointestinal issues and dealing with high costs and a rude awakening.
What Is the Carnivore Diet?
Carnivores are animals that gain some or all of their nutrients from meat of other animals. The carnivore diet, if followed by a human, is a diet that is made up entirely of animal-derived foods. This means breakfasts of just bacon and eggs, with no toast or bagels; lunches made up of burger patties and cheese, with no tomato, lettuce or pickles; and dinners made up of roast beef with a side of salmon, with no potatos or rice. Though this is the heart of the carnivore diet, many adherents, such as Joe Rogan, do include some plant-based foods in their diets.
Why Is the Carnivore Diet Suddenly Popular?
In recent years the carnivore diet has risen to prominence as a more extreme version of other diets, known as keto diets, that place the body into a state of ketosis by limiting the consumption of carbohydrates. Ketosis occurs when the body has used up all of its glucose and begins to break down fat instead. Urging the diet to prominence are public figures such as Dr. Shawn Baker, author of the cookbook “The Carnivore Diet” and Jordan Peterson, psychologist and speaker.
What Do People Eat on a Carnivore Diet?
In one survey of 2,029 adults who had followed a carnivorous diet for six months or more and who self-reported on their diet, 85 percent of respondents consumed red meat daily while less than 10 percent of respondents said that they ate vegetables, grains or fruit more often than once a month. Respondents to this survey were recruited largely from social media groups aimed at carnivores, so the data is likely to be skewed accordingly. It is therefore possible that the number of self-proclaimed carnivores that consume plant foods more regularly is higher than they reported in this survey.
Is Eating a Carnivore Diet Healthy?
The most vocal adherents to a carnivorous diet proclaim the many health benefits that they experienced after starting to eat primarily meat and animal products. They claim that they have less pain and generally improved bodily function. However, Joe Rogan, who adheres to a diet made up exclusively of meat and fruit every January, has been open about the gastrointestinal issues and diarrhea he experiences while following the diet. Experts caution against following a fully carnivorous diet due to the severe health implications it can have.
Dietary guidelines based upon decades of research and knowledge gathering are unanimous in suggesting that people eat a variety of foods, with the majority made up of vegetables fruit, and grains, and only a small portion sourced from animals.
Can Humans Survive on a Carnivore Diet?
The human body is able to adapt and survive even when not provided with optimal nutrition. Whether humans can thrive on a carnivorous diet in the long term has not been settled through longitudinal research but everything that we know about human nutritional needs suggests that humans cannot survive healthily consuming a fully carnivorous diet. Eating only meat and other animal products significantly increases the risk of heart issues, gastrointestinal issues, and deficiencies in a variety of vitamins and minerals.
What Are the Risks of a Carnivore Diet?
Meat does contain many of the nutrients necessary to stay healthy but it is severely lacking in others. Eating a diet made up of all animal products could result in deficiencies in vitamins A, C and B9 unless one also takes supplements.
Even if supplements are included as part of a carnivorous diet, consuming meat, especially red meat, has been tied to an increased risk of developing heart disease. The risk is especially prominent with the consumption of processed meat. The evidence is so strong that the World Health Organization includes processed meat in the same cancer risk group as tobacco and asbestos.
Following a carnivorous diet also increases the likelihood of facing digestive issues. Fiber comes from plant sources, so if fruit, vegetables and grains aren’t making it onto your plate you’re likely to be deficient in fiber. Not consuming enough fiber can severely upset the gut biome and lead not only to short-term diarrhea and discomfort but long term mental and physical health issues.
What Kind of Results Do People See on a Carnivore Diet?
There has been little research done to determine what kind of results people can expect from following a fully carnivorous diet. What has been done relies on self-reported surveys or other subjective methods of data collection. Through these and other firsthand accounts, adherents report generalized improvements to their health, similar to other anecdotes given by adherents of new diets. Medical experts, however, remain skeptical due to the carnivorous diet going against most established knowledge that points toward the importance of a diet made up of a variety of foods, including mostly, if not exclusively, plant-based foods.
Why Is a Carnivore Diet Bad?
There are many reasons that health and nutrition experts don’t suggest following a carnivorous diet.
Increased Disease Risk
Consuming a diet made up primarily of meat increases the likelihood of developing heart disease and high blood pressure. Further, because meat does not have high levels of some necessary nutrients, some diseases caused by vitamin deficiencies, such as scurvy, could develop.
High in Fat, Cholesterol and Sodium
Meat is high in fat, cholesterol and, with processed meats, sodium. Having an entire diet focused on meat means that these are being consumed in extremely high quantities, which is likely to lead to health issues.
Does Not Provide Fiber
Fiber is a necessary part of our diet that comes purely from plant sources. Not consuming enough fiber has been linked to severe physical and mental health issues as well as diarrhea and indigestion. Among the diseases that eating enough fiber makes less likely are diabetes, heart disease and even some forms of cancer.
Could Harm Liver and Kidneys
Eating a carnivore diet may come with serious consequences for the liver and kidneys, especially if they are already damaged, diseased, or stressed. A diet high in protein, especially animal-derived protein, can lead to hypertension which in turn may lead to several different kidney issues. Those already experiencing kidney issues are at greatest risk. Meanwhile, eating a large amount of animal protein can also lead to fatty liver disease, especially in those that are already overweight or elderly. Protein derived from plants does not share the same connections to liver and kidney disease.
Difficult To Maintain
Eating a fully carnivorous diet is expensive, particularly if it is made up primarily of fresh, unprocessed meats. This is especially true in the present economic downturn, when the cost of eggs has skyrocketed not only because of inflation but also the mass killing of chickens on factory farms to prevent the spread avian flu. Even before the price of meat and other animal products reached the levels that they have now, following a plant-based diet was cheaper than eating a traditional, Western diet heavy with meat. Trying to stay on a high-protein diet is difficult for most people simply due to the cost, especially if they are trying to stay away from processed foods.
A carnivorous diet is expensive both at the supermarket checkout, but also in our tax bills. The meat industry is the primary recipient of farm subsidies, which are financed with taxes and government borrowing.
Could Increase How Much Ultra-Processed Food You Eat
Meal options that are made up entirely of animal products are limited. Following a carnivore diet could make it tempting to start eating ultra-processed foods (such as ham, sausages, hot dogs, and many burger patties), simply as a means of adding some variety to the diet.
The Meat Industry
In addition to the many health issues associated with consuming animal products exclusively, there are also a number of problems with the meat industry when it comes to the environment, animals and workers.
Eating meat has serious implications for the environment. The biggest driver of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest is cattle ranching. Meat consumption is connected to 60 percent of biodiversity loss and consumes massive amounts of water while also making a major contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.
Consuming meat contributes to a vast amount of animal suffering. Not only are millions of animals killed every day in order to feed the global taste for their flesh and other products, they also experience constant suffering while being raised in factory farms.
There are a number of labor issues associated with meat production. Firstly, in the U.S. a large proportion of the employees within the meat industry are immigrants, who often don’t speak the same language as their managers, making training difficult. Further, the hours are long and there are a number of hazards associated with working on a farm raising animals for food, including the animals themselves who can weigh in at thousands of pounds.
Carnivore Diet Versus Vegan Diet
It would be hard to find two dietary patterns further apart than a carnivorous and a vegan diet. There are several key differences to be aware of, many of which are highlighted below.
|Type of Diet||Vegan Diet||Carnivore Diet|
|Source of Food||Plants only||Animals only|
|Heart Disease||Lowered risk||Significantly increased risk|
|Fiber||Rich in fiber||Likely to lead to a deficiency in fiber|
|Animal Welfare||Does not contribute to animal suffering||Responsible for a massive amount of animal suffering|
|Cost||Can cut grocery costs by a third when compared to a standard Western diet||Likely to be more expensive than a standard Western diet|
What You Can Do
Eating a carnivorous diet is not only bad for you, but also bad for animals and the environment. Instead of opting to eat all meat, consider shifting toward a more plant-based diet, and check out our Take Action page for more ways to make an impact.
Grace is an avid writer and advocate with a passion for exploring animal rights from a social justice lens. She brings almost a decade of varied experience within the animal rights movement to her work as staff writer at Sentient Media.