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The Carnivore Diet: Is It Healthy? What Do The Experts Say?

The carnivore diet is often promoted as the perfect panacea to solve health problems and aid weight loss, but is it actually healthy?

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5 Minutes Read

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.

Heart disease

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.

Animal foods ‘conclusively’ cause heart disease

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.”

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The Author

Maria Chiorando

Maria is the former editor for Plant Based News. She has been a newspaper reporter and features writer. Her work has been published by The Guardian and The Huffington Post, among others

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Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
1 year ago

We’re not carnivore’s, we’re not herbivores, we’re OMNIVORES, We were not designed, we EVOLVED. Eat accordingly.

Matt
Matt
1 year ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

Who told you we were omnivores? Where does that fact come from?

You know rabbits eat other rabbits. Would you call a rabbit an omnivore?

Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt

Matt, stop making a fool of yourself. Stick to subjects you understand.

Matt
Matt
1 year ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

We are not true omnivores like bears and dogs. We get compared to chimpanzees and bonobos. Well we split form that evolutionary line 3 million years ago when we lost the ability to synthesize the carbohydrate Neu5Gc. Since then eating mammal meat has been especially inflamitory.

Human beings are opportunistic eaters. But physiologically we are plant specialists. We can tolerate very small amounts of animal protein without seeing detrimental effects. But a whole foods plant based diet is shown to be the healthiest over and over again. You think that makes us omnivores or herbivores?

Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt

You never learn do you? Go away and look up “herbivore” and “common ancestor” (from a non vegan source) and then leave me alone.

Matt
Matt
1 year ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

Sure we separated from the common ancestor 3M years ago. That’s obviously what I meant by “evolutionary line”, although perhaps not obvious to you.

So at least you believe in evolution. So what do these mutations regarding multiple amylase gene copies and the inability to synthesize Neu5Gc mean for the human diet? I’ll break it down for you: It means human beings in particular amongst mammals are starch eating specialists, and find meat especially “red meat” and organ meats inflamitory. So what inference can we take from that? You go figure that out.

Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt

Oh dear Matt, you didn’t do very well on the homework I set you. You still don’t know what a herbivore is, and you’re about 4 million years out on the common ancestor. Try looking at a website called “The Vegan Biologist”. I don’t agree with everything he says, but it’s a good site and at least you may find out why we are not herbivores. You may also find out why attitudes such as yours are causing a problem for decent and tolerant vegans.

Matt
Matt
1 year ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

I’m tolerant of meat eaters. Some of my best friends are meat eaters. I just want you to admit the truth: Meat is unhealthy. Go on try it, you might feel better for it, the truth will set you free.

Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt

Firstly a couple of corrections on your homework.
( 1 The doubling of the amylase gene is not universal in modern man and is a modern adaption to agriculture and has played no role in human evolution over 7million yrs. Starch as a staple is an agricultural phenomenon, as is lactase with dairy.
( 2 Herbivores have the ability to digest and extract nutrients from corse vegetation ie. Grass, tree leaves, twigs, bark etc. we do not.
( 3 For an explanation of B12 see Jack Norris vegan RD. He’s an excellent nutritionist.
( 4 No such thing as a food that’s healthy or unhealthy in isolation.
Matt you come across as a well indoctrinated vegan who’s desperate to win every argument. Might I suggest you chill out, put your feet up, enjoy the occasional glass of wine and follow the advice of Michael Pollan, “ Eat food, not too much, and mostly plants”.

Matt
Matt
1 year ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

1) Humans range from 5 to 8 amylase gene copies. Making us the organisms best adapted to eating starches on the planet. Adaptations to dairy are relatively recent and centered mainly in northern Europe. It serves to make dairy less unhealthy for some but the consumption of dairy in general is highly problematic. In terms of estrogen consumption, IGF-1, saturated fat, and bovine leukemia virus laden milk. The best thing you can say about dairy is that it’s a source of calories. As you know in the past we ate, not for health, but simply to survive.
2) Herbivores consume different types of vegetation. In our case cooked starches have played a key role in our evolution as a species.
3) B12 is ubiquitous in a natural environment.
4) If food produces a net inflamitory effect it can be said to be unhealthy because it contributes to the overall burden of disease. If a food has a net anti-inflamitory effect it can be said to be healthy for the opposite reason. Just because you can derive energy and nutrients from a certain food it does not follow that that food is beneficial long term. If a food provides energy while promoting disease it is a sub-optimal or unhealthy (junk) food, and should be avoided.

Matt
Matt
1 year ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

BTW for humans get most of their calories from cooked grass seeds (wheat and rice), we eat leaves of many kinds (leafy greens are possibly the healthiest food of all), not sure where you got twigs, but anyway. We eat bark, it’s called cinnamon.

Humans specialized in digging up and cooking corms. And grinding grass seeds to make flatbreads. This strategy had it’s advantages. Potatoes can’t run and they are a reliable source of calories and vitamins. It was a niche unexploited by other animals. We ate meat from time to time, it was our junk food.

Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt

Wow! wheat, rice and potatoes in the Rift Valley and herbivores that cook? Matt, i’ve never met anyone that’s as clueless on human evolution. You’re living in some kind of vegan dream time. It’s a bit like talking to a Jehovah Witness, They seem to have a monopoly on the truth as well. BYE!

Matt
Matt
1 year ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

Herbivores that cook. Yes, you just described the human race. Look up “The Importance of Dietary Carbohydrate in Human Evolution”. They found evidence of humans cooking and eating starchy tubers in South Africa 120,000 years ago. You see the ability to locate dig up and cook starches as you travel across the land makes for a very reliable source of calories. While hunting parties can often come back empty handed. If you don’t understand these concepts there are many articles you may want to read. Perhaps your concept of human evolution relies on believing some long standing falsehoods.

Matt
Matt
1 year ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

Not rice and potatoes in the rift valley, more like kaffir potatoes and teff. Cultivated from prehistoric times. But you get the idea.

Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt

Nothing was cultivated prior to 10,000 years ago. Bye!

Matt
Matt
1 year ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

You should update your knowledge. We’ve been cooking plants for at least 120,000 years.

Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt

Homo Erectus was cooking plants 750,000 yrs ago. No cultivation before 10,000 yrs ago. Bye!

Matt
Matt
1 year ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

According to Dr. Patrick Roberts humans were cultivating plants 45,000 years ago.

Matt
Matt
1 year ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

You can also read the article “First evidence of farming in Mideast 23,000 years ago”. Seems the belief that farming started 10 or 12 thousand years ago is subject to question.

Matt
Matt
1 year ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

I looked up your boy “The Vegan Biologist” he’s got some obvious errors in there in his “Humans are Not Herbivores” article.

“An herbivore is an organism that feed exclusively or mainly on plants.” Right like human beings and how most of the population to this day lives exclusively or primarily off plants. Such as the poorest 4 billion on the planet. And how we have historically lived overwhelmingly primarily off plants. We built empires off eating plants.

“Herbivores typically have adaptations towards a specialization of eating and digesting plant matter.” Such as multiple copies of the amylase gene in the saliva to break down starch. Something like that maybe?

“This could include but is neither limited to nor has to have flatter teeth to grind plant matter, long intestines, gut microbiome to digest cellulose and other hard-to-digest parts of plants.” Right yes we have that, sounds like he’s describing humans as herbivores to me.

And how about this: “Humans are not able to synthesize sufficient b12 in the gut, neither can humans acquire b12 from any other source than animal origin or artificially fermented” ahh the whole B12 thing. Perhaps the thing you and buddy here don’t get is that B12 is ubiquitous in the natural environment. It’s in soil, it’s in water, it’s everywhere. That’s why we have no need to synthesize our own when living in a natural environment. We need a B12 supplement because we live in houses and drink treated water.

I don’t see any debunking here. If I didn’t know any better I’d say this guy wasn’t vegan at all just a concern troller. To sooth the prejudices of someone such as yourself.

Matt
Matt
1 year ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

And how about this from the same article: “Additionally humans absorb iron form heme-sources most efficiently. That food that contains blood” yeah heme iron is absorbed more readily, and is a source of inflammation. Heme iron is one of the substances found it meat that makes it a class 2b carcinogen (probably carcinogenic) according to the WHO. So this would be part of an argument supporting humans being herbivores, not debunking it. It also makes me doubt his nutrition knowledge. Someone blogging about nutrition online really should know better than this.

Matt
Matt
1 year ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

And I think it goes without saying: We sure as Hell are not carnivores.

Brad
Brad
2 months ago

Little details can be endlessly used to argue about what types of food humans are “meant” to eat. That doesn’t matter to me. Just look at the facts for the available food choices, and go with what works the best for the health of our bodies, the planet and the animals. Sheesh, people… quit arguing about pointless stuff.

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