If you’ve been paying attention to the nutrition world lately, you’d have heard of the carnivore diet (a.k.a. all meat diet). The baton holder at the moment is Dr Shawn Baker, an US orthopaedic surgeon and accomplished athlete. Dr Baker sells his fitness and nutrition plan at his website
The all meat diet seems to be popular with Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs/biohackers. The reason? My guess is that this is the crowd that seems to jump on the new trends, no matter what they are. Second, this is a male-dominated industry and meat (particularly red meat) continues to be a very “manly” thing to do in people’s minds.
What can you eat in the carnivore diet?
As outlined by Dr Baker, you can eat any meat, fish, butter, eggs, cream plus some other dairy products. I realised I had actually done the carnivore diet back in the early 90s (it was called “la dieta de las grasas” or “the fat diet” in the magazine I found it). I remember it being more enjoyable than the typical low-fat diets but my gall bladder/liver didn’t cope well with the switch. I might have done it for a week or so and then abandoned it.
Is the carnivore diet healthy?
Nutrition science has studied tribes like the Massai of central and southern Kenya and northern Tanzania and the Inuit of the Arctic regions of Greenland, Canada and Alaska. People from these and other tribes are the original low-carbers and they have been found to be free(er) of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, etc.
So does that mean that we should mimic their diets in order to be healthy? Well, not necessarily, unless you have a similar ethnic background, participate in similar daily life activities (such as hunting, gathering, herding, etc.) and live in a similar environment (this includes same latitude or distance from the Equator). If you don’t tick all the boxes, I’m afraid you cannot tell this diet will be the silver bullet for you.
Will the carnivore kill me?
As said above, it’s impossible to say. There are clearly many people following an all meat diet who haven’t dropped dead and are, in fact, thriving.
It is important to note that individual requirements and tolerances vary from person to person. Some people are very resilient and can live on a diet of cigarettes, chips and Coke. This doesn’t mean this is a healthy option for most of us.
Having said that, governments and nutrition professionals are compelled to advocate for diets that are likely to benefit most of the population. This means, among other things, 5+ serves of vegetables per day and a wide variety of foods of plant and animal origin.
Pros of the carnivore diet
- Good for people who like meat/fish/eggs/dairy and don’t care about vegetables
- Good for people who suffer from decision fatigue and are happy to eat a limited variety of foods
- This diet is likely to provide essential nutrients such as vitamins B12 and vitamin K (MK-4 form), as well as highly available complete protein, iron, zinc and calcium. Also omega-3 if fatty fish and/or grass-fed meat and/or enriched eggs are consumed.
- There are a number of people following a carnivore diet that have reported improved body composition and athletic performance, including Dr Baker himself. I have also heard Dr Baker speak about improvements in a number of health markers, including testosterone levels and blood lipid composition (modest increase in HDL and decrease in triglycerides; no change in total cholesterol). This is, of course, anecdotal evidence that needs to be taken with a grain of salt.
Cons of the carnivore diet
- Lack of variety, not only taste-wise, but also nutrient-wise. A diet that excludes vegetables, fruits and other plant foods lacks important nutrients such as fibre and phytochemicals that are likely to play an important role in the prevention of chronic disease. A varied diet also ensures a more widespread exposure to potential food toxins.
- Low sustainability (i.e. ability to follow it for life)
- Low environmental sustainability
- High cost if quality is a concern (and, in my opinion, it should be)
- Difficulty navigating social situations
- Potential issues for people with gall bladder/kidney issues or more rare nitrogen metabolism disorders
What if you want to give it a try?
You are free to do whatever you want but it would be a good idea to talk to your dietitian and/or physician (particularly if you suffer from a health condition) beforehand.
Please don’t expect to become as ripped or athletically accomplished as Dr Baker or any other carnivore ambassador. There are more things than just diet that play a role in body composition, athletic performance and health.