The carnivore diet is often touted as a ‘natural’ way of eating that aids weight loss, improves your mood, and can solve a plethora of health issues.
It has been propelled into the mainstream by the likes of Joe Rogan – who regularly promotes the diet on his podcast.
But is it healthy? And what does the science say?
What can you eat on the carnivore diet?
Firstly, it’s important to note that definitions of the carnivore diet appear to differ slightly between different sources. Some adherents rely entirely on raw meat, others cook it.
Some followers of the carnivore diet choose to include small amounts of low-lactose dairy products in their meals, as well as eggs. However, many stick to exclusively to chicken, pork, lamb, beef turkey, organ meats.
Tea, coffee, and other drinks made from plants are typically not allowed on the diet. Neither are beans, legumes, starches, fruit, or vegetables.
What do the experts say?
Leading plant-based health expert Dr. Neal Barnard regularly speaks out about the carnivore diet. In an exclusive interview with Plant Based News, he branded the diet ‘even more stupid than keto’.
Dr. Barnard made his comments about the diet with speaking to PBN Klaus Mitchell, in a quickfire-style interview format.
“Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, people came up with something even stupider [than low carb diets including Atkins and Keto],” Dr. Barnard said of the carnivore diet.
“These things won’t last, but they come up. They don’t stay popular for very long, and that’s because a low carbohydrate diet eliminates more than half of what you normally eat.
“Carbohydrates are fruits and starchy vegetables, and starchy grains, and beans – all these things your body is designed for. They are all gone. So if you stop eating so many foods, you’re going to lose weight. But as time goes on, people can’t live with that.
“And it’s lucky they can’t live with [the restriction] because the risk of all the animal products over the long run include heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, among others.
“And they’ve been kind of sneaky with it. It used to be when they did studies on low carbohydrate diets they would more honestly describe when people had adverse reactions, like massively high cholesterol levels. Now they just report averages, so the average cholesterol only went up about 10 points.
“What actually happened was that some dropped because they were losing weight, for others they went through the roof and they’re hiding that from you.”
Is the carnivore diet safe?
Most concerns surrounding the carnivore diet are in relation to lack of vitamins it provides, particularly vitamin C.
In an online interview Cardiologist Dr. Joel Kahn criticised people who ‘cling’ to the carnivore diet ‘as a panacea’.
“The big puzzle is…one of the things that plant-based eaters…get way more than anyone else is Vitamin C, which builds healthy walls, builds healthy immune systems…Vitamin C has so many benefits to the body.
“Where are these people – where every chart says meat has no Vitamin C – getting it? Are they eating raw meat that may contain it? Are they eating organ meat?”
Last year, celebrity singer James Blunt revealed he once got scurvy after adopting a carnivore diet ‘to annoy vegans’.
Scurvy, which is caused by extreme vitamin C deficiency, causes symptoms including bleeding gums, rotting teeth, and fatigue among others.
Is meat healthy?
Most health organizations advocate for low consumption of meat, particularly red meat which The World Health Organization classifies as a Group 2A carcinogen.
This means products such as pork, beef, and lamb ‘probably cause cancer’.
Moreover, the WHO says the strongest evidence for an association with eating red meat is for colorectal cancer. However, there is also evidence of links with pancreatic and prostate cancer.
Diets consisting solely of animal products will most likely be high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Dr. Joel Kahn says excessive amounts of saturated fat ‘conclusively’ cause heart disease.
The cardiologist spoke to Plant Based News‘ Klaus Mitchell about how a new publication sheds light on the debate about dietary saturated fat and cardiovascular health.
The paper, titled Reduction in Saturated Fat Intake for Cardiovascular Disease, was published by the Cochrane Database, which is considered by many to be the most respected research group in the world.
Discussing the paper, Dr. Kahn told Mitchell: “This new super review by the Cochrane Database…looked at 16 of the best studies, 59,000 people, very detailed information about their diet. Some had high saturated fat diets by design of the study. Some had low saturated fat diets – more meat, more butter, more cheese, less meat, less butter, less cheese.
“At the end of the day, they found that within two years, we can enjoy a 21 percent reduction in our risk of heart attack, stroke, of congestive heart failure, dying of heart disease. And if we do more than the average, if we change our diet more than just average, so there’s essentially no meat, butter, cheese, turkey, and pork, we’ll see even bigger results.”
Are humans designed to eat meat?
A popular argument for the carnivore diet is that humans are designed to eat meat. However, a slew of medical professionals have debunked this claim.
Dr. Justine Butler, from Viva!, says: “Carnivores have sharp teeth and claws that help them to rip their prey apart, tearing off chunks of raw meat and ‘wolfing’ them down without the aid of a knife and fork.
“Their acidic stomachs help to digest flesh quickly and their short intestines allow the rapid expulsion of rotting meat remains.
“Herbivores, such as rabbits, horses, and sheep, chew from side-to-side and have longer intestines to absorb nutrients. Their saliva (and ours) contains amylase, an enzyme that helps digest starchy carbohydrates found in bread, rice, and other whole grains.
“Carnivores don’t spend as much time chewing nor do they consume many carbohydrates, so there is no need for amylase in their saliva.
“Their strong jaws can only open and shut and are incapable of moving from side to side as ours do.”