Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
7 min read
The carnivore diet is a fairly new and interesting fad. Championed by the former orthopedic surgeon Shawn Baker, the carnivore diet includes only meat, fish, and other animal foods, such as dairy products. All other foods – foods like vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, seeds, and nuts – are excluded from the carnivore diet. Yes, that’s right: You exclusively eat meat and other animal products for every meal.
Proponents of the carnivore diet maintain that it can help with weight management, mood improvements, bone strength, and blood sugar regulation. They claim that high-carb diets are the source of most health problems and that removing carbs entirely from your diet is the best path forward.
This is all a tad extreme, but many people are trying out the carnivore diet these days. If you’re one of those people, you should know that there are some risks involved. At this stage, there is no sound research to support claims about the health benefits of this diet. Of course, you can still point to the anecdotal testimony of those who swear by it. In any event, by cutting so many foods out of your diet completely, you will end up with some nutrient gaps; after all, you’re eliminating all carbs and fiber. In what follows, we’ll be taking a look at some of the dietary gaps associated with the carnivore diet and some strategies for filling them.
There are some obvious pros to the carnivore diet. These include the fact you eliminate all processed foods and high-sugar foods; you eliminate alcohol; and you eliminate many foods to which people have sensitivities, such as wheat, corn, and soy.
There are important cons to consider, as well. These include the fact that the carnivore diet is bound to be high in fat, cholesterol, and salt, while being low in fiber – a combination that can have a negative effect on your bowel movements. Furthermore, the carnivore diet will inevitably be low in antioxidant foods, since you’re eliminating fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds. You should also consider the consequences of restrictive eating on your mental health. Studies show that restrictive diets can cultivate unhealthy eating habits and challenging relationships with food over time.
If you’re still on the fence about starting the carnivore diet, be sure to talk to your doctor – especially if you have any pre-existing conditions. Your medical team may recommend that you get a baseline of lab values to determine the risks of taking this drastic step.
You may also want to consider mapping out a food plan, making sure you know what you’re going to eat and when. You should avoid the carnivore diet if you are pregnant or experiencing any cardiovascular or kidney issues. Consuming too much meat has been shown to lead to heart issues.
Since the carnivore diet dramatically limits what foods you can consume, you’re bound to experience some nutritional gaps. Here’s a look at some of what you’ll be missing from your diet.
Omega-3s are a family of essential fatty acids that support your body’s health in a number of key ways. Your body doesn’t produce them on its own, however, which means you have to get them in your diet. While some of the foods richest in omega-3s are prohibited by the carnivore diet, you can still get close to the recommended daily allowance by eating enough fatty fish. The key, though, is getting the right balance of omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. The average American diet has about 10-20 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3s, but those on the carnivore diet will likely get even more omega-6 fatty acids. This can throw off your body’s proper ratio (3-5:1).
In other words, if you’re on the carnivore diet, you may want to up your omega-3 intake in order to keep your body in proper balance. Studies have shown that grass-fed and pastured raised foods may have higher omega-3 content; adding more of these foods into your diet can go a long way. You may also want to try omega-3 supplementation, such as Care/of’s Veggie Omega.
Magnesium is a major mineral in the body. It’s found in more than 300 enzyme systems – systems that regulate a whole range of important biochemical functions in the body, including blood pressure regulation, muscle and nerve function, and blood glucose control. People on the carnivore diet eliminate most magnesium-rich foods, including green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Of the foods available to those on the carnivore diet, your best bet for upping your magnesium intake may be fatty fish. Bone broth is also permitted on the carnivore diet, and studies show that making your own bone broth, cooked over 6 hours, can provide some additional magnesium in the diet. Still, you may want to consider supplements, such as Care/of’s Magnesium supplement, to help get you to the recommended daily intake.
Vitamin A is vitally important for the functioning of your eyes, heart, lungs, kidneys, and other organs. With a recommended daily intake of 700-900 mcg per day, deficiency in this vitamin can cause health challenges, including challenges with vision. Vitamin A levels may be low for those eating the carnivore diet. One way to address this is to pay close attention to the quality of the beef you’re consuming: Grass-fed beef may have higher levels of carotenoids, which are a precursor to vitamin A. Beef liver can also be a great source of vitamin A.
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is a nutrient your body needs, but doesn’t produce on its own. This water-soluble, antioxidant vitamin is necessary for the biosynthesis of collagen, L-carnitine, and certain neurotransmitters; it is a key player in forming blood vessels and cartilage. The fact that your body doesn’t produce vitamin C on its own presents a unique challenge for those on the carnivore diet, because most foods rich in vitamin C aren’t permitted on this diet. With a recommended daily allowance of 75 mg-90 mg. Vitamin C is mainly found in fruits and veggies and is hard to get from animal products. One study suggests that vitamin C can be found in raw fish, liver, fish roe, and raw clams. Still, supplementation might be an easier bet, and you may want to try Care/of’s Superberry.
Vitamin K comprises a family of compounds of similar structure and helps our bodies maintain healthy blood clotting factors and bone health. For those 19 years of age and above, the recommended daily allowance is 90-120 mcg. Since green leafy vegetables are the main dietary form of vitamin K, those on the carnivore diet will likely be deficient. The MK-4 version of vitamin K can be found in chicken, but not as abundantly as it can be found in plant-based votes. Consuming dairy products can help with vitamin K levels, and so can eating grass-fed beef and chicken. Nonetheless, a vitamin K supplement might be a good call.
Vitamin E is a fat-based vitamin that exists in 8 forms and is essential to managing oxidative stress. Many of the foods with highest vitamin E, such as seeds and nuts, aren’t permitted in the carnivore diet. You have some options available to you, though, including: Atlantic salmon, goose meat, and rainbow trout. To get to the recommended daily allowance of 15 mg, though, you may want to consider a supplement.
Dietary fiber is vitally important for maintaining a healthy digestive system. It feeds your gut bacteria (microbiota) and helps with digestion, bowel movements, feeling satiated, and more. This represents a problem for people on the carnivore diet, though, because fiber is mainly found in plant-based food. To achieve the recommended daily allowance – 25g for women and 38g for men – you’ll almost surely need to incorporate a fiber supplement.
If you do decide to stick with or try out the carnivore diet, you may want to incorporate supplements for the nutrients described above. Lacking proper scientific support, the carnivore diet remains a risky proposition and potentially unhealthy in the long term. Proper supplementation can help offset some of the risks and help your body fill the gaps created by this diet.