People will follow all sorts of crazy diets in the pursuit of health or losing weight. They range from the ridiculous to the simply boring, but all are unsustainable.
There’s the Cabbage Soup Diet, the Baby Food Diet, and the Grapefruit Diet, all of which are self-explanatory and sound equally miserable. Then you have the Cotton Ball Diet, where people would eat cotton balls soaked in orange juice or lemonade in order to “feel full”.
The diet we’re discussing today isn’t quite eating wads of bleached cotton crazy, but it’s definitely up there: The Carnivore Diet.
The Carnivore Diet is just like it sounds: a diet consisting entirely of animal foods and completely devoid of all plant foods.
In many ways, the Carnivore Diet has a lot in common with the Keto Diet, in that they are both typically very low-carb diets.
Milk, another food on the Carnivore Diet list, has enough natural carbs in the form of lactose to add a fair amount of carbohydrate calories. More often than not however, those following the Carnivore Diet eat little more than meat, like beef or lamb, butter and other animal fats, and occasionally fish, poultry, and organ meats like liver. In other words, another very low-carb diet.
Jordan Peterson, a former Canadian university professor turned philosophical lecturer and author, has gained a lot of attention in recent years for his and his daughter’s adoption of the Carnivore Diet. He’s spoken at length about his diet consisting of nothing but beef (in the form of steak), salt, and water.
Peterson, and many proponents of the diet, claim that a meat-only diet can be a cure for a number of autoimmune diseases and other health conditions. They claim that by completely removing all sources of plant allergens and toxins, like gluten, oxalates, and lectins, a persons’ gut is able to heal and fix the cause of the autoimmune condition.
We now know that all autoimmune conditions begin in the gut. Problems arise when the walls of your intestines become permeable, or “leaky”, and allow undigested proteins and toxins to enter into your bloodstream. This is what is commonly referred to as leaky gut, and can be caused by a number of factors.
When undigested proteins and food toxins enter directly into the bloodstream, the body sees them as foreign invaders and begins attacking them. Often, organs and tissues like the thyroid or pancreas get caught in the crossfire and people develop issues surrounding their normal functioning.
It’s easy to see why people are willing to adopt such extreme diets, like one that excludes all plant foods, in the name of becoming healthy. People are suffering from serious diseases that are impacting their lives and are willing to try just about anything in order to feel better.
Certain substances in some plants can actually damage the intestinal lining of the gut. Human beings have on some level known about this for thousands of years and have prepared their foods in a way that negates the harmful effects of these substances.
Every culture on Earth has traditionally rinsed, soaked, and well-cooked all of their beans, for example. Soaking and rinsing the beans significantly reduces their oxalate content, and cooking them thoroughly in a pressure cooker destroys much of the lectins they contain as well.
Many cultures will soak, sprout, and/or ferment their grains before cooking them. Populations that don’t soak or sprout always remove the outer bran layer of the grains they eat before cooking them, as the outer bran layer is where most of these compounds are stored. There’s a reason why Asian cultures have been eating white rice, not brown, for thousands of years.
For a diet that is touted as being so good for gut health, the Carnivore Diet is completely devoid of one critical component: fiber. Other than the obvious function that fiber has in acting as a broom for your intestines, an even bigger function is creating a diverse microbiome.
We’ve all heard of the benefits of probiotics for healing your gut, but those good bacteria need food to eat to thrive, and that food is fiber. A diet based only on animal products will eventually lead to a depletion of healthy intestinal bacteria and cause further gut issues.
Perhaps one of the most obvious flaws in following a strict Carnivore Diet is the harm caused by excess protein consumption.
Carnivore dieters like to put their heads in the sand on this one. They’ll say that there are no studies that show the harmful effects of high protein consumption on renal function (not true).
If you talk to any nephrologist, or kidney specialist, they won’t hesitate in warning against the strains that excess protein consumption puts on your kidneys. Anyone with kidney disease or that is on dialysis is put on a strict low-protein diet. Why? Too much protein can stress their already stressed kidneys to the point of kidney failure and death.
While these people already have compromised kidney function, it’s obvious that even a healthy person can develop these issues over time by chronically stressing their body with excessive amounts of protein.
Besides the other issues caused by very low-carb diets, the Carnivore Diet also has some very obvious nutritional deficiencies. You’d be hard-pressed to find a carnivore dieter that is taking in even close to the recommended amounts of calcium, potassium, magnesium, vitamins C, E, and K, and other nutrients.
Remember that a true carnivore, like a wolf or a lion, eats every bit of the animals they eat, save for some of the bones and fur.
Every single organ, bit of cartilage and ligament tissue, and even the partially digested plant matter inside their prey’s stomach gets eaten. Carnivores do this because it’s their instinct to. They won’t get near the nutrients they need to survive if they simply ate the muscle meat. Most carnivore dieters eat little more than ground beef/steak, butter/animal fat, a few eggs and a bit of liver every now and again.
Human beings and true carnivorous animals have very different basic nutritional needs. Even so, most “carnivore dieters” are eating a significantly nutritionally inferior diet compared to real carnivores.
Proponents of the diet are quick to dismiss these concerns, saying that they aren’t consuming any of these gut-harming anti-nutrients, so they are absorbing more of the nutrients they do eat and everything is balanced out as a result. This seems unlikely.
Carnivore Diet promoter and YouTuber Shawn Baker posted his blood test results recently, and not surprisingly, they were alarming. Again, proponents dismiss away these concerns by saying that healthy blood levels of xyz nutrient are going to be different than what is really healthy, because those numbers are based on results from unhealthy people. More attempts at rationalizing the irrational.
Like most things in life, finding and maintaining balance is key. The Carnivore Diet is the perfect example of an unbalanced, extreme diet that may bring temporary relief to a few problems and soon create a dozen more.