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What Is the Carnivore Diet? Benefits, Risks, Food Examples

  • There is no long-term research, only anecdotes about the purported benefits of the carnivore diet.
  • Meat is a good source of protein, vitamins, and minerals, but it lacks fiber and vitamin C.
  • Some people on the carnivore diet lose weight, likely due to its no-carb, high-fat eating plan.
  • Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more stories.

The carnivore diet is an eating plan where you cut your meals to only meat and animal products while eliminating carbohydrates and plant-based foods.

It’s similar to low-carb diets like the ketogenic and paleo diets, but since it restricts most or all sources of carbs, it’s much more extreme.

That said, there are personal accounts of the diet helping people


lose weight

, reducing inflammation, and improving blood sugar levels in those with


diabetes

Amy Goss, PhD, a registered dietitian and nutrition researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, says the reported benefits of the carnivore diet are interesting. However, she says, there’s not quite enough evidence to make any hard conclusions about health outcomes on the diet.

So is this diet right for you? Read on to learn more.

Carnivore diet meal plan

Foods that you mainly eat on the carnivore diet include:

  • Red meat including beef, pork, lamb, and goat
  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Animal products that aren’t muscle tissue, like bone marrow and organ meat
  • Seafood, such as fish and shellfish
  • Bone broth
  • Salt

Some proponents of the carnivore diet recommend avoiding processed meats, like bacon and sausage, but some people still incorporate it into their eating plan. Many proponents also say that folks trying the carnivore diet should only eat high-quality, grass-fed beef and should choose fattier cuts over lean cuts.

You can also incorporate these foods:

  • Low-lactose dairy (butter, heavy cream, hard cheeses)
  • Coffee and tea
  • Seasonings, like pepper and herbs

You’ll avoid these foods on the carnivore diet:

  • Alcohol
  • Sugar 
  • Carbohydrates like grains, some fruits, and starchy vegetables
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Processed carbohydrates, including fast food

Carnivore diet proponents aren’t usually concerned about counting calories. However, you should aim to meet your daily caloric needs, which range between 1,600 to 2,200 for women and 2,000 to 3,200 for men. Many proponents also say to try to eat a 1-to-1 ratio of fat to protein, though it varies depending on a dieter’s goals.

Nutrition on the carnivore diet

Dietitians say that, if you are going to cut your diet to only one food variety, meat is a nutrient-dense choice. 

“You’re getting all the amino acids you need, you’re getting other minerals, you’re getting iron, you’re getting lots of good nutrition from that. So it is a very rich source of nutrition if you’re eating only meat. The question comes in, like, what are you missing out on,” says Goss.

Lack of fiber is one such concern, says Megan Poczekaj, RDN, LD. High-fiber diets are linked with a lower risk of chronic disease and better GI health. 

Another concern is vitamin C and the risk of developing scurvy. Scurvy can become a risk if your vitamin C intake is less than 10 mg per day. Unless you’re eating organ meat, like liver, you’re likely getting very little or no vitamin C on the carnivore diet.

However, in a 2021 survey of more than 2,000 people on social media who said they were following the carnivore diet, few participants reported any symptoms of nutrient deficiencies. Goss says this could be because eliminating so many foods may make it easier for your body to absorb nutrients from what you do eat. But there are still nutritional gaps.

You can take vitamin supplements on the carnivore diet, but Fran Blackman, a registered dietitian at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, points out that vitamins in supplement form don’t absorb into your bloodstream as well as vitamins from food. 

Nutritionists recommend less restrictive diets — like the DASH or Mediterranean diet — which offer a more diverse array of nutrients including fiber, key vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients, which are only found in plant-based foods.

“Foods that are high in fiber, high in antioxidants, high in vitamins and minerals tend to be good for you, and you’re cutting out a lot of those things [on the carnivore diet],” Poczekaj says.

Can the carnivore diet help you lose weight?

The carnivore diet may help you lose weight for a number of reasons. One is that you’re eating more fat and protein. The proteins and fats help you feel fuller longer. Research has found that this, combined with the elimination of carbohydrates and many processed foods, can have a major impact on weight loss for people who are obese or have diabetes. 

In the 2021 survey, 46% of participants reported being


obese

or overweight. Of those struggling with these conditions, 41% said they saw improvements on the diet, and 52% said they had resolved the condition.

In addition to weight loss, low-carb, high-fat diets have been associated with regulated blood glucose in people with diabetes

Another possible reason people lose weight on the carnivore diet is that it may help the body enter a state of ketosis. Ketosis is when the body burns fat for fuel instead of carbs, and is the overarching philosophy behind the


ketogenic diet

Since the carnivore diet drastically reduces carbs  — similar to the


keto diet

— it’s possible that it could help people enter ketosis. In fact, that’s a key reason why some people in the 2021 survey said they tried the diet. 

However, it’s important to note that the carnivore diet involves high amounts of protein whereas the keto diet does not. For this reason, Goss says that it may be difficult to enter a constant state of ketosis on the carnivore diet. Moreover, she says you don’t have to be in ketosis 24/7 to lose weight.

Carbohydrates also have an effect on fluid retention in the body. Replacing them with fat and protein can cause you to quickly lose water weight after starting the diet.

Can the carnivore diet be good for you?

What you don’t eat on the diet — mainly processed foods and carbs — plays a big role in many of its potential benefits. 

“In the sense of lowering carbohydrates and reducing processed foods, I have a lot of clients that come back and they say they feel better, but it doesn’t have to be extreme,” says Blackman.

In the carnivore diet survey, participants reported improvements in energy, sleep, mental clarity, and focus. Blackman says that these effects may also be related to a lower carbohydrate intake.

“Some people say that they have more clarity, probably because they’re going from a really high-carb diet to a really low-carb diet. So they’re going to see changes and improvement in their insulin health and blood glucose,” she says.

The elimination aspect of the carnivore diet also helps people avoid any allergens or irritants that they may have been eating before. So, people with specific food allergies or intolerances that might be causing, for example, skin rashes or GI discomfort, will see benefits from eliminating whatever foods are triggering the reaction. 

Just remember that everyone is different and “just because it’s worked for this person does not mean it’s going to work for me,” Poczekaj says.

Potential side effects and health risks

Those who adopt a carnivore diet and make broad eliminations in their diet will experience side effects as their body reacts and adapts.

Poczekaj says that one of the most noticeable reactions is a temporary decrease in energy levels after first starting the diet, because your body is used to getting energy from carbohydrates instead of protein and fat.

According to the carnivore diet survey, other possible side effects as your body adapts to the diet include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Weight gain
  • Muscle cramps
  • Trouble sleeping

Research has also connected a diet high in meat, and in particular red and processed meat, with negative health outcomes, including:

“I’m not saying that animal protein is negative, because there is room for it in moderation with a balanced meal plan,” Blackman says. But, she says, red and processed meat are more associated with inflammation.

A diet high in meat and animal fat also raises concerns around cholesterol. Eating more red meat means that you’re also eating more saturated fat, which is associated with increased cholesterol and triglyceride levels, as well as a higher risk of heart disease

Case in point, participants in the carnivore diet survey saw their total cholesterol go up, and their LDL (known as “bad cholesterol”) levels also spiked. 

“I think one of the main concerns with the carnivore diet is that typically what you see is that LDLs go up really high. So that alone would be concerning to a cardiologist or your physician,” Goss says.

However, since there are no long-term studies or randomized controlled trials focusing on the carnivore diet, Goss says it’s hard to know if people’s “risk truly is elevated for


heart disease

.” 

On the flip side, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly can lower heart disease risk and improve cholesterol. So if the carnivore diet helps you with that, then the benefits may outweigh the risks. Ultimately, more thorough research is needed to know for sure.

Due to the risk of heightened cholesterol, Poczekaj recommends that anyone trying a carnivore diet talk to a healthcare professional to monitor your cholesterol levels and other health markers to see how your body reacts to it.

Because of the risks associated with high meat intake, Blackman says she would be more comfortable with people doing a modified version of the diet that incorporates more fruits and vegetables, healthier fats, and less restrictions that makes it more sustainable for the long term.

Who should not try the carnivore diet?

You shouldn’t try the carnivore diet if you: 

  • Are at elevated risk for heart or kidney disease 
  • Are a child or elderly adult 
  • Have a history of disordered eating 

People with diabetes who try the carnivore diet should talk to their doctor and ask them to monitor markers for diabetes, heart, and kidney health, Goss says. Also, if you’re on any prescription medications, it’s best to consult with a doctor before starting a new diet.

Insider’s takeaway

The carnivore diet is an extremely restrictive eating plan that cuts out all plant-based foods and instead focuses on meat and other animal products like dairy. 

Anecdotally, it’s been associated with benefits like weight loss and blood sugar control. Meat is high in some nutrients and minerals, and it’s a source of complete protein.

However, research connects diets high in meat with heart disease, obesity, and some cancers. 

Dietitians say more research is needed to understand the long-term effects of eating a carnivore diet. But, when it comes down to it, there’s no perfect diet for everyone, and a carnivore diet may have more benefits than drawbacks for some people. 

When it comes to making lasting changes to improve your diet and health for the long term, dietitians say sustainable lifestyle changes are your best bet.

“The most important thing for people to try to focus on is having sustainable practices that they can maintain long term to improve their health,” Goss says.

If you do try the carnivore diet, you should consult with a doctor and monitor markers, including cholesterol levels, to make sure they stay within a healthy range.