What the Heck is the Carnivore Diet?

October 11, 2022

It’s a common icebreaker: If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be? 

For people on the carnivore diet, the answer is “animal protein.” This latest extreme diet limits its followers to meat, fish, eggs, and a few select animal products—and as close to zero carbs as possible. Sound crazy? Read on to learn more about the carnivore diet, then decide for yourself.

What is the Carnivore Diet?

The carnivore diet is essentially an all-meat diet, based on the idea that our early human ancestors were carnivores. The carnivore diet involves eating animal products like beef, poultry, pork, fish, eggs, butter, and a few low-lactose dairy products. It excludes pretty much everything else, meaning fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. The carnivore diet does not provide specific guidance on target daily calories, protein, or fat grams. 

Within a general meat-based eating plan, there are a few nuances. For instance, the nose-to-tail carnivore diet focuses on whole-animal eating including organ meats, while the carnivore-adjacent diet allows for 10 to 20% of daily calories to come from a select group of plant-based foods. Perhaps the most extreme offshoot of the carnivore diet, the so-called lion diet limits followers to ruminant animals, water, and salt—that’s it.

The philosophy of the carnivore diet is similar to that of the keto diet: cut out inflammation triggers like sugar, boost protein and fat consumption, and enjoy the purported benefits, from weight loss to reduction in autoimmune disease. 

Carnivore Diet Food List

Asking yourself, what CAN I eat on the carnivore diet? Here’s a breakdown:

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Pork
  • Bacon
  • White fish
  • Lamb
  • Organ meats
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Bone marrow
  • Butter
  • Ghee
  • Lard 
  • Bone broth
  • Soft cheeses
  • Heavy cream (in small amounts)
  • Some hard cheeses (in small amounts)

Food excluded on the carnivore diet include:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Bread
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Beans
  • Potatoes
  • Sweets 
  • Tea
  • Coffee (FYI: This is a gray area on the carnivore diet. Some followers say it’s plant-based and therefore not allowed, while others believe its benefits make it worth including.)
  • Soda

Carnivore Diet Benefits

Quality research into the long-term effects of the carnivore diet is currently limited, leaving health experts skeptical of its claims. So, why would anyone opt to eat nothing but meat? Proponents of the carnivore diet tout benefits like:

  • Weight loss: More on this later, but the high-protein, low-carb carnivore diet may encourage weight loss.
  • Blood sugar stabilization: Excluding carbohydrates may help prevent blood sugar spikes and manage diabetes.
  • Fewer autoimmune disease symptoms: The carnivore diet may help reduce inflammation, which is linked to chronic autoimmune issues like psoriasis, arthritis, and celiac disease.
  • Improved brain clarity, mood, and mental wellbeing: Some followers of the carnivore diet report feeling energized and mentally sharp.

There are also drawbacks to following the carnivore diet. They include:

  • Nutrient deficiency: Excluding all plant-based foods means missing out on the vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial compounds they contain.
  • Heart health risks: Consuming a lot of saturated fat may raise cholesterol levels, and many foods encouraged on the carnivore diet, like bacon and cured meats, are high in sodium. Both sodium and cholesterol are linked to heart health issues.
  • Gut health issues: Lack of fiber (found only in plant-based foods) may lead to compromised gut health and digestive problems. 
  • Highly restrictive: Following the carnivore diet means severe dietary restriction, which can be risky for anyone with a history of disordered eating or an unhealthy relationship with food.

Carnivore Diet Meal Plan

Many carnivore dieters are also fans of intermittent fasting, in some cases limiting their food consumption to just one single meal a day. (That’s a lot of food in one sitting!) A day in the life of a three-meal-a-day carnivore might look a little something like this:

Carnivore Diet Snacks

On a plan as restrictive as the carnivore diet, you’ll need to eat a hearty amount of permitted food to meet your daily energy needs—and that means carnivore diet snacks will come in handy. Here are a few ideas:

  • Meat sticks
  • Sugar-free beef jerky and biltong
  • Pork rinds
  • Hard-boiled eggs 
  • Cured meats like prosciutto, chorizo, and salami 
  • Soft cheeses like brie and cream cheese
  • Bone broth
  • Deli meat
  • Sardines
  • “Bulletproof” coffee (if you are choosing to consume coffee on your carnivore diet eating plan) with butter, ghee, heavy cream, and/or collagen powder

Carnivore Diet and Weight Loss

While low-carb diets have been linked to weight loss, the carnivore diet is a highly restrictive eating plan. Similarly restrictive diets are difficult to follow in the long-term, making any resulting weight loss hard to maintain over time. 

The carnivore diet restricts sugar and most processed foods—meaning calorie-dense foods like candy, cookies, ice cream, chips, and soda are off the menu. Cutting out those foods may lead to weight loss. Studies show that eating a high-protein diet promotes weight loss by helping to control appetite and increase the body’s metabolic rate. 

Any diet that excludes carbohydrates commonly leads to some weight loss—at least at first. Some of the weight loss attributed to low-carb diets is due to the fact that carbohydrates retain water when stored in the body as glycogen; restricting carbohydrates often results in an initial loss of water weight.

Carnivore Diet vs. Keto

The carnivore diet and the keto diet are similar in that they both limit carbohydrates and encourage eating fat. The difference is that while a small amount of carbohydrates are permitted on the keto diet, the carnivore diet aims for zero carbohydrate consumption. 

Carnivore Diet vs. Paleo

Looking at the carnivore diet, the keto diet, and the Paleo diet, the latter is clearly the most flexible option. Of these three diet plans, Paleo is the least restrictive, allowing adherents to eat nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits, and many beverages along with animal protein. It still limits carbohydrates by cutting out grains and sugar, but incorporates plant-based foods that have been shown to benefit human health. 

Is the carnivore diet just the latest extreme eating trend, or a genuinely promising way to improve your health? Ultimately, the decision to experiment with this diet is yours. But if you’re going to make any major changes to your health routine—especially something as drastic as cutting out several entire food groups—talk to a doctor or health professional first. 

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before changing your diet or healthcare regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

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Kirby Stirland

Kirby Stirland is a writer, editor, and New York transplant living in Los Angeles.

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