This All-Meat Eating Plan Sounds Too Good To Be True Because It Is.
Eggs for breakfast, fresh grilled fish for lunch, and a juicy steak for dinner. If repeating that delicious trifecta of meals daily appeals to your protein-loving sensibilities, the latest diet trend—the carnivore diet—might sound pretty good. But what is the carnivore diet, exactly? And should you try it?
Like other popular diets of late, the carnivore diet kicks processed foods to the curb. Plenty of diets—including the keto diet, low-carb plans, the Paleo diet—have taken this approach, limiting or completely cutting out processed carbohydrates and junk food.
But the carnivore diet takes cutting out trash foods to the extreme, eliminating essentially anything other than meat and other forms of protein. So we asked registered dietitians for their thoughts, and researched the science behind this meaty plan.
What Is the Carnivore Diet?
“The carnivore diet is basically an extreme low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet,” says Amber Pankonin, MS, RD, LMNT, registered dietitian and owner of Stirlist.
One of the all-meat movement’s biggest proponents is podcaster Joe Rogan, who has touted the diet’s benefits for himself and currently follows the eating plan. (Although he announced in January 2022 on Instagram that he has since added fruit to his all-meat diet.)
What Can You Eat on the Carnivore Diet?
The carnivore diet is pretty much a meat fest that aims for zero carbs per day. You eat only meat, fish, eggs and some animal products, including low-lactose dairy (since lactose is a sugar).
All other foods, including fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and most dairy products are considered off limits.
Red meats, especially fatty cuts like ribeye, are considered the top choice, since on the carnivore diet, your body relies on fat as its main source of energy (as opposed to carbohydrates). Other foods you can eat on the plan include:
- Organ Meat
- Salt and Pepper
- Low-lactose cheese (like hard, aged cheeses including Swiss and parmesan)
The list of what you can’t eat is pretty, well, meaty:
- Nuts and seeds
Related: 10 Protein Myths Busted By Science
Is The Carnivore Diet Healthy?
There are several health claims linked to the all-meat eating plan. “The diet claims to lower inflammation in the body and assist with mood regulation and weight loss,” says Pankonin.
“Cutting back on junk food, sugar, and foods that are heavy in additives and preservatives does have a weight loss benefit,” says Panokin, but the research on the diet is pretty slim in general, and there’s not a lot of evidence it delivers on its purported health fronts:
One small 2013 study (1) by Boston University on 55 obese men and women who went on a high fat, low carb diet for 12 weeks reported significant reductions in certain inflammation markers. However, the sample size was super small, and they weren’t technically on a carnivore diet (and the one high-fat, low carb diet was not regulated).
Claims about the diet balancing out moods might actually be linked to blood sugar. Swinging blood sugar levels can cause mood swings, and “lowering added sugars in the diet from refined carbohydrate sources can certainly help balance blood sugar levels,” says Pankonin.
Studies have found (2) that high protein, low-carb diets have been found to help with weight loss. “Both protein and fat can certainly help with satiety, so consuming foods like meat can assist with fullness,” says Pankonin.
One study published in December 2021 in the journal Current Developments in Nutrition surveyed 2,029 adults on the carnivore diet showed some positive outcomes. Nearly 95 percent of participants reported high levels of satisfaction and improvements in overall health, and those with diabetes reported lower body mass indexes (BMI), blood sugar levels and reduced diabetes medication use while on the diet. However, the study noted that “long-term effects of this dietary pattern require further study.”
Some research does suggest that saturated fat intake correlates with increased testosterone levels (3), and the carnivore diet is high in saturated fat. But saturated fats can raise cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease, says Jonathan Valdez, RDN, owner of Genki Nutrition and spokesperson for New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. That’s a risky trade-off.
Another small study that evaluated the effects of a very low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet on testosterone levels showed an increase in hormone levels for the men following this diet plan (4). But the participants were only studied for about three months.
“A carnivore diet isn’t beneficial to testosterone. People have the misperception that more protein is better for testosterone, when that’s not true,” says Valdez.
Related: Foods That Boost Testosterone
Saturated fats can raise cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease.
What Are The Risks of the Carnivore Diet?
Unfortunately, there may be more downsides to the carnivore diet than positives. For one, the plan is very restrictive, so if you have a history of disordered eating, cutting out entire food groups could trigger a relapse, says Pankonin. Among the other downsides:
It’s high in saturated fat
“Meats in the diet may be processed and filled with high amounts of sodium which can also lead to hypertension, kidney disease, heart problems, and more,” says Valdez.
And in the small study (5) published in December 2021 published in Current Developments in Nutrition, in a subset of participants that reported cholesterol levels, LDL cholesterol levels (the bad kind) were elevated.
It’s low in fiber
Since the carnivore diet cuts out fiber-rich sources like whole grains, fruit and vegetables, you might find yourself having digestive issues, like constipation, says Pankonin. (That’s because fiber adds bulk to stool, which makes your time on the toilet much easier.)
You may miss out on vitamins and nutrients
If you are cutting out grains, fruits and veggies, you also may be missing out on important vitamins, nutrients, and non-vitamin antioxidants that keep the body healthy, notes Pankonin.
Related: The Best Food For Men
You may lack energy due to restricted carbs.
If you are an active person, busy professional, or athlete, filling your face with bunless burgers could influence your performance in the gym, the boardroom or during your game.
“The body relies on carbohydrates as its primary fuel source, and for those that are especially active, this could interfere with energy levels and performance,” says Pankonin.
It can wreak havoc on your heart and kidneys
“The carnivore diet should be avoided for those with chronic kidney disease due to its high protein content,” says Valdez. “You also should not follow this diet if you have any history of cardiovascular diseases, such as heart failure or stroke, due to its high saturated fat and sodium content.”
It might interfere with other conditions
If you have diabetes, pre-diabetes or other chronic diseases, the carnivore diet could interfere with your medications or treatment plan, says Pankonin.
She also adds that while there are benefits with blood sugar, there are other ways to balance insulin and blood glucose levels without giving up carbohydrates entirely.
According to Pankonin, there is very little research that would support an all-meat diet.
“Protein foods like red meat, poultry, fish and eggs are nutrient-dense foods, but should be balanced with foods like fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy to ensure you’re nourishing the body properly both physically and mentally,” she says.
The Bottom Line
- The carnivore diet is a meat-centric diet that claims to help you lose weight, build muscle faster, and even reverse chronic illness.
- The carnivore diet is also high in saturated fat, which has been linked to heart disease, and is low in fiber and many critical nutrients.
- Do not start any diet, including the carnivore diet, without speaking to your physician.