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The carnivore diet: your complete guide

You’ve heard about the carnivore diet. You may have even tried an all-meat menu. But does the science support it as a healthy way to eat? Here’s everything you need to know before you sharpen that steak knife

The carnivore diet has emerged as a topic of significant interest and debate among nutritionists, scientists, and health enthusiasts alike. This approach to eating, predicated on the consumption of animal products to the exclusion of everything else, presents a return to a more primal form of eating. But why should this matter to you? Beyond the allure of simplicity and the promise of health benefits, the carnivore diet challenges our conventional wisdom about nutrition and wellbeing. Here’s what you need to know before you give it a try.

What is the carnivore diet and how does it work?

The carnivore diet is a way of eating that consists solely of animal products — meat, fish, eggs, and certain dairy products, eschewing all forms of plant-based foods. It operates on the premise that human beings can thrive on a diet similar to that of our ancestors, prioritising protein and fat over carbohydrates. This shift in macronutrient intake can lead to significant metabolic changes, encouraging the body to utilise fat as its primary energy source, similar to ketosis in the ketogenic diet.

Can you explain the science behind the carnivore diet?

Scientifically, the carnivore diet is fascinating due to its impact on metabolism and the body’s biochemical pathways. By eliminating carbohydrates, the diet forces the body into a state of ketosis, where fat is converted into ketones for energy. This process can lead to improved insulin sensitivity, reduced inflammation, and enhanced fat burning. Moreover, the diet’s high protein content supports muscle synthesis and repair, potentially offering benefits for body composition.

What are the potential health benefits of following a carnivore diet?

Adherents report a myriad of health benefits, including weight loss, improved mental clarity, increased energy levels, and diminished symptoms of autoimmune diseases. The high intake of protein and fats can satiate hunger more effectively than carbohydrates, potentially leading to a natural reduction in calorie intake. Additionally, the elimination of processed foods, sugars, and most allergens can contribute to reduced inflammation and better overall health.

Are there any risks or drawbacks associated with the carnivore diet?

Despite its benefits, the carnivore diet does potentially carry risks and drawbacks. Nutritional deficiencies, such as fibre, vitamins C and E, and certain phytonutrients found in plants, are a concern. Some carnivore devotees, such as Dr Shawn Baker, who we spoke to exclusively and at length about the diet, don’t think that there are automatic health risks associated with reduced or non-existent consumption of nutrients such as fibre. There may be the risk of increased cholesterol levels due to the high saturated fat intake, but the events of that are disputed among nutrition experts. There’s also the risk that the diet’s restrictive nature may lead to social isolation and difficulties in maintaining it long-term.

How does the carnivore diet compare to other popular diets like keto or paleo?

The carnivore diet is more restrictive than both the ketogenic and paleolithic diets, focusing exclusively on animal products. While keto emphasizes fat over carbohydrates, and paleo eliminates processed foods and dairy, the carnivore diet takes it further by excluding all plant-based foods. This extreme elimination approach distinguishes it in its simplicity and the profound metabolic shifts it proposes.

How can someone get started on the carnivore diet?

Transitioning to the carnivore diet requires a phased approach, gradually eliminating plant-based foods while increasing the intake of meats and animal products. You may also want to consider variety, including different types of meat and organ meats, to cover nutritional needs. Consulting with a healthcare provider before starting is advisable to address any potential health risks or nutritional deficiencies.

What are the common misconceptions about the carnivore diet?

Common misconceptions include the belief that it leads to nutritional deficiencies, heart disease, and that it is unsustainable. While these risks can’t be ruled out, careful planning and monitoring can mitigate them.

Can the carnivore diet meet all of your nutritional needs?

While challenging, it is possible to meet most nutritional needs with a well-planned carnivore diet, especially by incorporating a variety of animal products, including organ meats which are rich in vitamins and minerals. However, supplementation may be necessary for some nutrients, such as vitamin C and fibre.

How does the carnivore diet impact gut health?

The impact of the carnivore diet on gut health is a topic of ongoing debate. Traditional dietary advice often highlights the importance of fibre from plant-based foods for maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. However, proponents of the carnivore diet argue that reducing fibre intake can lead to a decrease in gut inflammation and an improvement in symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive disorders. The theory goes that removing potentially irritating plant fibres and compounds can allow the gut to heal. Nonetheless, long-term impacts on gut microbiota diversity and function are still under research, with some studies suggesting that a diverse microbiome, supported by a variety of plant and animal foods, is crucial for optimal health.

What are the long-term effects of following a carnivore diet?

The long-term effects of adhering strictly to a carnivore diet are not yet fully understood due to the lack of long-term studies. Potential concerns include increased risk of cardiovascular disease, the possibility of nutrient deficiencies, and impacts on gut health due to lack of fibre. However, anecdotal reports from long-term followers often highlight positive outcomes, such as sustained weight loss, improved metabolic health, and reduced inflammation. It’s essential for anyone considering this diet long-term to monitor their health closely with medical professionals.

How can the carnivore diet affect athletic performance and muscle growth?

The carnivore diet can positively affect athletic performance and muscle growth due to its high protein content, which is essential for muscle repair and growth. Additionally, the diet’s emphasis on fat as a primary energy source can enhance endurance by providing a steady supply of energy. Some athletes report improved recovery times and reduced inflammation when following a carnivore diet. However, individual responses can vary, and some may find the lack of dietary carbohydrates challenging for high-intensity activities that rely heavily on glycogen stores.

Can the carnivore diet help with weight loss?

Yes, the carnivore diet can aid in weight loss. The high protein and fat content promotes satiety, potentially leading to reduced calorie intake without the need for counting calories. The shift to fat as a primary energy source can also enhance fat burning. However, weight loss outcomes can vary based on individual metabolism, activity levels, and adherence to the diet.

How does the carnivore diet influence mental health and cognitive function?

Anecdotal evidence suggests that some individuals experience improvements in mental health and cognitive function on the carnivore diet, including enhanced clarity, focus, and mood stability. These effects may result from the elimination of sugar and processed foods, stable blood sugar levels, and the high levels of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and meat, which are beneficial for brain health. However, scientific research in this area is limited, and more studies are needed to understand the diet’s impact on mental health comprehensively.

What advice do you have for someone considering the carnivore diet for the first time?

For those considering the carnivore diet, it’s crucial to approach it thoughtfully and preferably under the guidance of a qualified nutritionist or healthcare provider. Start by gradually reducing carbohydrate intake and increasing your intake of a variety of animal products. Pay attention to your body’s feedback and be prepared to supplement if necessary to prevent nutritional deficiencies. Prioritise quality sources of meat and animal products, focusing on grass-fed and organic options when possible. Finally, monitor your health through regular blood work to ensure the diet is meeting your nutritional needs and not adversely affecting your health.

Photography Justus Menke

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