What is the carnivore diet?
What do you eat on the carnivore diet, and is it healthy? Dietician Emer Delaney breaks down the basic points, potential benefits, and downsides to be aware of with this diet.
What is the carnivore diet?
Made up primarily of animal products such as meat, fish, eggs, animal fats and small amounts of low-lactose dairy products, the carnivore diet is high in fat and protein, and very low in carbohydrates. As such, it excludes all other foods, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds.
Due to the lack of robust evidence, the carnivore diet is largely considered to be unhealthy and unbalanced. As it goes against many of the healthy eating messages we commonly hear, such as 'eat more fruit and vegetables', 'eat a plant-based diet' and 'limit red meat to once a week', this diet is not recommended for long-term use.
How does the carnivore diet work?
The diet works by eliminating all plant-based foods and solely eating meat, fish, eggs and small amounts of low-lactose dairy foods. Chicken, turkey, pork, lamb, beef, organ meats, oily and white fish, hard cheese, butter and cream are all allowed. Advocates encourage fatty cuts of meat to ensure daily energy needs are met.
Are there health benefits to the carnivore diet?
Followers of the diet may experience weight loss due to the high protein and low carbohydrate content. In a study of 105 adults, there was higher weight loss in the high-protein diet group in comparison to the standard protein intake group. This is due to the fact that protein keeps you feeling ‘fuller for longer’, which may cause you to consume fewer calories, thus leading to weight loss. In another study, 59 participants followed a low-carbohydrate diet, and after one year, they showed greater weight loss than their counterparts who followed a low-fat diet. With that said, it’s important to remember that eliminating carbohydrates completely is not necessary for weight loss, as per NHS recommendations. Simply reducing refined carbohydrates such as biscuits, sweets, sugar, pastries and fizzy drinks is beneficial.
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What are the downsides to the carnivore diet?
There are a number of downsides to this diet, and completely eliminating carbohydrates is not recommended or healthy.
- Essential micronutrients and antioxidants found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes are lacking in this diet, which can lead to deficiencies in key nutrients
- There is a significant lack of fibre in the carnivore diet. Fibre is an important part of a healthy diet, as it is essential for gut function and healthy bowel movements, as well as being associated with a lower risk of heart disease, bowel cancer and type 2 diabetes.
- The diet is not suitable for some populations, including those with chronic kidney disease, children, pregnant or lactating women. This is because the diet is very high in protein, which can affect kidney function. Furthermore, it is not balanced, and therefore does not provide all of the vitamins and minerals our bodies require for healthy functioning.
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This article was published on the 20 October 2020.
Emer Delaney BSc (Hons), RD has an honours degree in human nutrition and dietetics from the University of Ulster. She has worked as a dietitian in some of London’s top teaching hospitals and is currently based in Chelsea.
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