Hi everyone! I am back to chat about another health/wellness/diet trend. One of my favorite things to do on this blog is to examine scientific evidence to see what true risks and benefits different wellness trends carry. I’ve covered topics like celery juice, the keto diet, plant-based meat substitutes, supplements for immunity, etc,. And today, I’m going to be discussing the carnivore diet.
Now, as a general disclaimer, yes, I am vegan. That said, I do my best to remain objective when writing and creating content, to separate my own feelings and opinions from scientific evidence. In fact, I’ve pointed out some of the nutritional concerns of the vegan diet (including adequate B-12, DHA, zinc, iron, calorie, and protein consumption) in this post. So, all that’s to say, I will do my best to stick to the facts about this diet, regardless of my own dietary preferences.
*Disclaimer: As always, this is general information intended for healthy adults. Your needs may vary based on medical status, lifestyle, or life-stage. Please never replace generalized health information you’ve read online with individualized clinical care.
Furthermore, as I’ve mentioned repeatedly, there are many ways to have a healthy diet, and the best diet is the one you can maintain long-term that allows you to meet your nutrient requirements. And hypothetically, for most healthy people, all foods can fit into a healthy diet.
With all those disclaimers done, let’s dive into the science of the carnivore diet.
First of all, what is the carnivore diet?
The carnivore diet is a diet that consists entirely of animal products; namely, meat, eggs, fish, and other animal products. Different interpretations of the diet also allow cheese and things like butter.
What are some claims made about the carnivore diet?
Proponents claim that the carnivore diet leads to weight loss, general ‘healing,’ blood sugar regulation, reverses rheumatoid arthritis, improved cognitive function, digestion, and athletic performance, etc. Proponents also like to mention that it is free of ‘anti-nutrients’ including lectins and plant fibers, that may inhibit the absorption of certain nutrients.
It’s also touted as a supreme form of an elimination diet, and many claim it will ‘heal’ the gut, and lead to a longer more prosperous life.
What does the science say about the carnivore diet?
Well, the science is supremely lacking. I couldn’t find any scientific evidence that has tested a carnivore diet in humans and measured its ability to ‘heal,’ stabilize blood sugar, improve cognitive function, etc.
Because I could find no scientific studies on the carnivore diet, I read up on similar (but more inclusive) diets, including the Paleo diet and the ketogenic diet.
When it comes to anti-inflammatory claims made by the carnivore diet, a 2017 study on a small sample of mice suggested that a ketogenic diet may suppress inflammation.
However, these results should be interpreted with caution as ketogenic diets include a wider variety of foods than does the carnivore diet, and this study was done on animals, not humans.
When it comes to psychological illness, although there are no studies to support the use of meat-only diets, a 2017 review found that the use of ketogenic supplements may suppress anxiety and depression-related behaviors in rats and mice.
However, many of these studies had small sample sizes, and were short in durations. Furthermore, these animal studies are conducted in controlled environments, and extrapolating these results to humans should be done with caution.
Regarding improved digestion, there is no evidence to support that consuming a carnivore diet will prevent or decrease digestive ailments or symptoms. However, it could be argued that the elimination of fiber may ease IBS symptoms in some people.
One study that many advocates of the carnivore diet like to cite does support the idea of decreasing fiber intake for improved digestive symptoms; however, the study showed improved digestion upon lowering or stopping fiber intake in a sample of 63 people with idiopathic constipation.
This group of individuals was already experiencing severe constipation, therefore it is unclear if these findings are generalizable to the general population.
That said, a diet that only allows three meats is devoid of most fermented oli-, di- and monosaccharides, alcohols and polys (FODMAPs), which may cause or exacerbate IBS symptoms in some people; therefore, elimination of these foods may lead to improvement in functional gastrointestinal symptoms. That said, avoiding fiber may not be best for everyone.