A few weeks ago, I was on Facebook scrolling through my timeline, and a particular post caught my eye. It was a picture of steak with the caption, “Trying the carnivore diet”. A bunch of thoughts ran through my mind: “What about the fiber?”, “No apples or strawberries?” and “This can’t be healthy!” I went to Google to see if this was really a thing; lo and behold, it is, and it comes with a few supposed health claims. But is the carnivore diet really a health savior or just savory?
The carnivore diet is a more extreme version of the keto diet, and, like the name suggests, involves eating only animal foods. You can eat all meat, including beef, poultry, fish, organ meats – such as liver and kidneys – and, if you’re feeling adventurous, entrails and brain. Also, the meat can only be seasoned with a little salt and pepper, no other seasonings are allowed. And while some variations of the carnivore diet allow for full-fat dairy, the most extreme followers omit dairy completely. While this sounds (and is) extreme, proponents of the carnivore diet say that consuming only meat helps with many health ailments, such as fatigue, obesity and digestive health.
The downside of the carnivore diet is that it is only meat, which means an entire macronutrient, carbohydrates, is completely missing from the diet. Carbohydrates are necessary for the body to properly function. They are the food source of the primary fuel (glucose) utilized by the brain and working muscles and contain nutrients that are nearly non-existent in meats, such as fiber, vitamins C and K, and folic acid. And while emerging research is heating up the conversation on dietary fats, a diet of only meat, especially meat high in saturated fat, may negatively affect cardiovascular health.
If the supposed benefits of the carnivore diet seem too good to be true, that’s because they are. The truth is that you can achieve better health on a well-balanced diet of meat, fruits, vegetables, legumes, dairy and whole grains. If you find that nutrition advice from social media leaves you confused or unsure of what to eat, talk to a registered dietitian in your area to help sort out the details. And if you’re still determined to try the carnivore diet, consider filling half your plate with non-starchy vegetables, such as broccoli and spinach, to add the vital nutrients that meat is missing.
And one last thing — proponents of the carnivore diet say that this is how we should eat because it’s how our ancestors used to eat. But this isn’t entirely true. Early humans ate according to what was readily available. If you lived in a cold climate with only seafood, you ate seafood. But if you lived in a lush jungle with a variety of fruits and vegetables, then your diet was a variety of fruits and vegetables (and maybe bugs). As in the past and today, there isn’t just one diet that humans can choose to follow.