So you want to start a carnivorous diet? Maybe you are interested in weight loss, or improving an autoimmune issue, a gut issue or a skin condition. Maybe you are looking to improve glucose control or reverse metabolic syndrome or diabetes with a low-carb diet that results in less cravings and better compliance than a typical ketogenic diet. Well, you’ve come to right place!
What is the Carnivore Diet?
Let’s start by defining what the carnivore diet is. Simply put, this is a way of eating in which we are eating only animals, no plants. Does this sound crazy? If you’re wondering about fiber, “phytonutrients,” and other things from plants that you might be missing eating this way, I would recommend listening to some of the podcasts I’ve been on where I discuss this at length. This one with Ben Greenfield, and this one Dr. Steven Gundry are particularly popular. For a list of all the podcasts I’ve been on, check here. Once we accept the notion that animal foods represent the best source of nutrients for humans without any plant toxins, we are ready to dive in to what to eat on a carnivore diet. First, however, let’s talk about the safety of the carnivore diet.
Is a Carnivore Diet safe?
You bet it is! Your ancestors have been eating animals for the entirety of human evolution, beginning approximately 4 million years ago when Australopithecus began walking more upright and hunting animals. There’s a pretty strong argument to be made that it was the hunting of animals that allowed our brains to grow in size and complexity in the years that followed. Analyses of 80,000 year old collagen samples from neanderthals and homo sapiens show that these humans were carnivores, possessing stable nitrogen isotope levels in bones that were greater than other carnivorous animals, like Hyenas. This suggests that our recent ancestors were eating animals, lots of animals. I strongly believe that a carnivorous diet is THE ancestral human diet, and that eating this way is the best thing we can do for health and longevity. There’s a lot to unpack about such a bold claim, I know. Read on.
Perhaps you’ve heard that you’ll get scurvy or hurt your kidneys if you only eat animals or are on a ketogenic diet. These claims are simply not true. I’ve talked about both of these issues in detail on my podcast, and I’ll write a whole post about vitamin C in the future. One of the little known facts about animal foods is that they DO contain vitamin C. Fresh meat is known to cure scurvy. Rest assured that eating animals nose-to-tail (as I describe below) will provide plenty of vitamin C, and will not hurt your kidneys, liver, or heart. In fact, this way of eating will most likely make you much healthier. Let’s talk about that!
Health benefits of a Carnivore Diet
To really appreciate the health benefits of a carnivore diet, I would recommend checking out meatheals.com. On this page you’ll find hundreds of testimonials from people who have experienced incredible improvements in their health by transitioning to this way of eating. One of the most profound benefits is weight loss. We know that obesity itself can be a source of inflammation, and that losing weight universally results in better blood pressure, insulin sensitivity, inflammatory markers, and overall health. Because animal food are incredibly nutrient rich, they are also very satiating. This means that it’s much easier to lose weight while NOT being hungry, and getting more bioavailable nutrients than on many other diets. I hesitate to even call this way of eating a “diet,” it’s more of an overall lifestyle change, and I think it’s best thought of in that way. You shouldn’t feel like you are deprived of foods eating this way. When you are eating animal foods nose-to-tail, you are eating the most nutrient rich, bioavailable foods on the planet!
As you’ll see on meatheals.com, other benefits of a carnivore diet are profound improvements in mood, energy, libido, and conditions like fibromyalgia, autoimmune illnesses and arthritis. It’s truly an incredibly healing lifestyle change. Sound like something you’d like to try? Let’s talk about what people eat on a carnivore diet.
What can you eat on a Carnivore Diet?
In its most basic form, a carnivore diet consists of eating only animal meat and not eating plants. This simple approach to the diet has helped many people, but I think there is a better way to construct a carnivore diet that allows for more variety (making it more sustainable) and a richer nutrient profile. I believe our ancestors would have eaten the ENTIRE animal after a successful hunt, not only meat (there is a lot of evidence for this in the anthropologic record, check out the work of Vilhjalmur Stefansson, like “The Fat of the Land”). This is what I would call a “nose-to-tail” carnivore diet. A nose-to-tail carnivore diet certainly includes high quality red meat (preferably grass fed, read about grass fed vs grain fed meat here), but it also includes organ meats, connective tissue (a good source of collagen), and some consideration of the fat to protein ratio. I’ve done a separate blog post about how to construct a “nose to tail” carnivore diet, and what to eat on a carnivore diet, which you can find here. In general terms, most carnivore diets consist of animal products without any plants. The animal foods are things like fatty cuts of meat (ribeye is a perennial favorite), grass-fed ground beef, eggs, seafood, sources of animal fat like butter, tallow or suet (beef kidney fat) and for some people, dairy.
A word about dairy: For many people, dairy can be a trigger, often worsening skin conditions, autoimmune issues, or causing mood changes and weight gain. If you are going to consume dairy, I would only recommend A2 dairy. I go into more detail about A1 vs A2 dairy in my post on what to eat on a carnivore diet, but the quick version is that A1/A2 refer to variants of the casein protein found in dairy products. As you can see here, there’s evidence that the A1 variant of casein could trigger immune issues. Most cows produce A1 dairy, however a few breeds produce A2. Goat, sheep, and buffalo sources of dairy are all A2. I’ve found personally that I can’t tolerate A1 or A2 dairy, as both cause my eczema to flare. If you are someone who doesn’t seem to have a problem with dairy, you might include it in your diet, but if so, I would still opt for A2.
How much to eat on a Carnivore Diet?
This is going to vary from person to person based on your individual metabolism, physiology and goals – whether you are interested in weight loss, athletic performance, gaining muscle, or looking to address a medical condition. Generally, I recommend people let satiety be their guide. Animal foods are an incredibly rich source of micronutrients, especially when we are eating nose-to-tail. There are probably a few things which cue our bodies to be hungry, and lack of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) appears to be one of these. Many people find that by including organ meats, specifically liver, in their diets, they are less hungry.
Here’s a basic template of what I would suggest in terms of macronutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrates). For a more in depth discussion of what to eat on a carnivore diet check, check my blog post here.
- If your goal is weight loss, I would minimize carbohydrates and dairy. Aim for 1g of protein per pound of your GOAL body weight and then add high quality animal fat to this until satiety. This will usually end up being about a 1:1 protein to fat ratio in terms of grams. Remember that 1 pound of meat has about 100g of protein. Those looking to lose a large amount of weight may include supervised fasting in this plan, and to temporarily increase protein and decrease fat a bit more. High protein, low fat, and low carb is not a good strategy long term, however.
- If your goal is athletic performance, and you are already at your desired body composition, I would increase the amount of fat in your diet. Aim for .8 grams of protein per pound lean body mass, and about 1.5x this for fat (in grams). What are good sources of fat? I prefer suet and trimmings from grass fed animals rather than “liquid” fats like ghee, butter or tallow.
- If your goal is weight gain, you’re going to have to create a caloric surplus. Contrary to popular belief, it is totally possible to gain muscle mass and strength on a keto diet (like the carnivore diet), but there must be an excess of calories and an anabolic stimulus, such as weight lifting. You’ll want to be sure to get about 1g-1.2g protein per pound of lean body mass and create a caloric surplus with good sources of fat.
What’s the scientific evidence for a Carnivore Diet?
This is a HUGE topic and too big for just this blog post. It is especially clear from the evidence we have gathered from thousands of people eating this way that a carnivore diet is a great way to lose body fat and to reverse autoimmune disease. Again, check out meatheals.com for many of these stories or look at published case reports like these 1,2,3,4,5,6.
Mainstream thinking would suggest that eating a lot of red meat would lead to cardiovascular disease, but this just isn’t true. Prior to returning to medical school, I practiced as a physician assistant in cardiology for four years, so I have a keen interest in the topic of heart disease. I’d recommend you listen to a few episodes of my podcast if you are interested in why eating read meat will NOT contribute to cardiovascular disease — You can find my interviews with cardiologist Nadir Ali, MD here and Dave Feldman here. The cliff notes version is that the evidence that LDL is directly toxic to our blood vessels is very shaky. What appears more likely is that insulin resistance (which eventually leads to metabolic syndrome and diabetes) is probably the main driver of plaque formation in our arteries (by making them more sticky) rather than LDL itself. As you’ll learn from the podcast with Nadir Ali, MD, LDL has many vital and valuable roles in the human body, including immune functions, transport of cell wall components and hormone precursors. Why would nature design LDL to be something so crucial to human health and at the same time damaging to our arteries? This doesn’t make much sense to me, and I believe the hypotheses suggesting this is wrong.
With any dietary intervention, I do think it is important to check blood work regularly. If you’d like to know which labs to check prior or during a carnivore diet, you should listen to the upcoming episode of my podcast on bloodwork. It should be out in late August. Stay tuned.
What kind of results do people see on a Carnivore Diet?
Perhaps the best place to begin answering this question would be by examining the health of the cultures that have historically eaten carnivorous diets for portions of the year. The best known of these cultures is the Canadian Inuit. High up in the arctic circle, there is essentially no plant matter to be eaten during the winter season. In the summer, the Inuit may consume a small amount of plant matter, but this group of people have historically preferred animal foods when animal foods can be obtained. The Inuit enjoy robust health in all seasons and rarely suffer from nutrient deficiencies. Historical accounts of their foods, way of life, and profound health can be found in the work of Vilhjalmur Stefansson, particularirly The Fat of the Land.
More recent evidence of people thriving on a carnivore diet is evident by looking at early proponents of this diet including Shawn Baker, Jordan Peterson and his daughter, Mikhaila Peterson, all of whom have appeared on Joe Rogan’s popular podcast. Both Jordan Peterson and Mikhaila have been able to reverse severe autoimmune disease with a carnivore diet. Shawn Baker continues to break world records in rowing events at the age of 52, and is clearly thriving on a diet that consists of just meat. As mentioned earlier, meatheals.com is a great collection of hundreds of success stories on a carnivore diet.
I hope this “start here” post has been helpful. There’s so much more to discuss about the carnivore diet, it’s my hope that this website can serve as a valuable resource for those interested in this way of eating. Check out the links in this article and my other blog posts as well as my Podcast, Fundamental Health, to learn more. There is also an index of all the podcasts that I have been on here. If you’d like to get all the insider information, subscribe to the Fundamental Health Insider. See you in the next blog post!