If I told you that you should only eat bacon and burgers for the rest of your life would you?
The newest fad diet, the carnivore diet, is an all meat diet plan that has people talking! Some people think it’s crazy, and others can’t wait to sign up...but is an all meat diet healthy?
As a registered dietitian, I am not a fan of diets, however I am open to the fact that different ways of eating work for different people. But, before you start filling your fridge with steaks and rib eyes, let’s break this diet down.
1. WHAT IS THE CARNIVORE DIET?
- Also known as the zero carb diet.
- Diet consists strictly of meat, fish, and whole eggs.
- No Calorie Restrictions
- No Counting Macros
The carnivorous diet, also known as the carnivore and zero carb diet is gaining popularity. In this all meat diet there are no calorie restrictions, counting macros, or a certain time of day when you should or should not eat. In fact the only real rule is that you can only eat animal products. That’s right, the only thing you eat on this diet is meat, fish, and whole eggs. Dairy products are allowed, however some carnivore dieters choose to exclude it from their diet because it contains the sugar lactose.
2. POPULARITY OF THE CARNIVORE DIET
While everyone starts a diet for different reasons, the carnivore diet is gaining popularity due to people believing that it will be beneficial for the following reasons:
- Weight loss
- Cardiovascular Health
- Energy Levels.
There are some carnivore diet enthusiasts that also believe it will help their athletic performance. However it is important to note that none of these claims are supported by any studies or research.
In fact, one of the biggest proponents of the carnivore diet is a former orthopedic surgeon named Shawn Baker, who had his medical license revoked in 2017.
Shawn Baker and other carnivorous diet enthusiasts claim that switching to an all meat diet has cured them from long-term ailments such as tendinitis and arthritis. They also state that they feel less sluggish, their workouts have improved, and that “meat contains all of the nutrients that you need.” Many individuals believe their testimonies, but are they true?
3. CAN YOU GET ALL YOUR NUTRIENTS FROM MEAT?
Have you ever heard of sailors getting a disease called Scurvy?
Scurvy is one of the first diseases ever discovered that was caused from a vitamin deficiency. To be specific, Scurvy is caused from a Vitamin C deficiency, which is why 18th century sailors who ate a diet primarily based on meat and fish would get it fairly often.
One of the most common misconceptions regarding the carnivore diet is that you can get all of your nutrients from eating only meat.
- Fact: You need 13 vitamins in order to live.
- Meat only diets provide vitamins, however the most crucial vitamins are ingested through a variety of foods; including fruits and vegetables.
- Meat only diet side effects include destroying healthy gut flora.
- Folate, Vitamin E, and Vitamin C are Vitamins that are primarily found in green leafy vegetables, and citrus fruit.
Another important thing to remember is that vitamins and minerals work synergistically.
For example, though meat is high in Vitamin K, your body can’t really use it without sufficient Vitamin E.
Therefore you can eat all the steaks in the world, but without a little Vitamin E, which is primarily found in veggies, your body won’t be able to use all of the Vitamin K that you ate.
This brings up another big issue with an all meat diet.
- Meat has no fiber.
- Fiber promotes a healthy gut microbiome.
- Research continues to show the impact that microbiome has on everything from digestion to your immune system, and even your mood.
- The bottom line is that you body needs fiber, and there is no fiber in meat.
Fiber and vitamin supplements are not as effective as natural foods, and they do not contain phytonutrients. There is no amount of supplements that can replace the beneficial effects that eating plants can provide. With that being said, eating solely meat is not nutritionally complete and it will not provide your body the proper nourishment that it needs to function yet alone perform at an optimal level.
4. WHAT ABOUT FRUITS? VEGETABLES? GRAINS?
There are a lot of diets and fads on the market however; the carnivore diet takes on a whole new level of restricting food groups.
Many carnivore enthusiasts believe that foods such as grains, legumes, and seeds contain “anti-nutrients,” which are compounds that interfere with the absorption of nutrients. Furthermore, many also believe that fruits and anything that contains carbohydrates are toxic.
- Carnivore diet proponents believe that animal products are nutritionally complete.
- Fruits, Vegetables, and Grains are seen as unimportant.
- Animal products are purely made up of protein and fat, which means that consuming plants for nutrients or calories are irrelevant in this meat only diet.
Plants contain phytonutrients, which are natural substances found only in plants shown to be beneficial for our health.
Phytonutrients have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which can support our health and help prevent diseases.
Many people could argue that you can take supplements for vitamin deficiencies that eating an all meat diet would bring on. However, most meat enthusiasts don’t take any supplements because they believe that meat is nutritionally complete.
Though better than nothing, supplements are not as good as real whole food. Supplements do not provide the same vitamin bioavailibity as real food does and it simply cannot mimic the benefits of real food.
5. WHAT DOES THE SCIENCE SAY?
The plain truth is that the carnivore diet has yet to be studied, therefore all of the health benefits that people are claiming are anecdotal personal experiences, and it is not based on science. If you are worried about anti-nutrients, don’t be. There is actually very little evidence that supports the claim of anti-nutrients having any negative health effects .
In a nutshell, this means that while certain foods may contain anti-nutrients, they are not harmful and the health benefits of eating these foods outweigh any potential negative effects.
To address the claim that fruits and carbohydrates are toxic, let me tell you this. Our body’s primary source of energy is glucose, which is a sugar that is broken down from carbohydrates.
Our body needs carbohydrates to function and work properly. While certain sources of carbohydrates are better than others (fruits and whole grains vs. processed sugar), carbohydrates are not toxic.
THE BOTTOM LINE
- Eating an all meat diet puts you at risk for developing vitamin deficiencies and other serious diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer .
- Diets that restrict food groups are typically not sustainable.
- Healthy diets consist of consuming a wide variety of foods.
- Healthy diets include meats, whole grains, seeds, nut, fruits and vegetables.
- Restricting food groups is not only stressful, but it may also be harmful to you physically and mentally.
Eating is a lifestyle, and that means different things to everyone. There is no one size fits all healthy diet. While it is true that some people may be more sensitive to saturated fats or different ratios of macronutrients than others, it is always good practice (and wise) to examine any science behind a diet.
The food you eat affects your health. So before you start packing on the steaks, think about what your body really needs- variety of minimally processed, wholesome, nutritious food.wholesome, nutritious food.
- Are anti-nutrients harmful? (2019, February 15). Retrieved April 5, 2019, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/anti-nutrients/
- Geraci, J. R., & Smith, T. G. (1979). Vitamin C in the Diet of Inuit Hunters From Holman, N.W.T. Arctic,32(2). doi:10.14430/arctic2611
- Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). What's the beef with red meat? Retrieved April 5, 2019, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/whats-the-beef-with-red-meat