What are your thoughts on participating in a strict dietary challenge that promised substantial weight loss, better digestion, and increased energy (plus SO much more) after just 30 days (1)?
Tell me more…
What if I told you those 30 days would involve eating only meat (and fat)?
Would you do it?
I did. And it rearranged EVERYTHING I thought I knew about nutrition.
What is the Carnivore Diet?
The carnivore diet is pretty much as straightforward as it sounds. It involves eating all the animal parts. No fruits, vegetables, or carbohydrates. But all the steak and eggs you can stomach. This can be a tough sell because the USDA tells us that fruits and vegetables are essential components of a healthy diet and that eating too much meat is bad for our heart (2). Therefore, we would assume a carnivore diet couldn’t possibly be healthy for the human body.
I get it. Admittedly, I shared these beliefs.
When carnivore began gaining attention on Instagram and Facebook I thought, what a radically unhealthy way to drop a few pounds. Honestly, it wasn’t until Joe Rogan started talking about his experience with carnivore that my ears perked up (3).
Way to go on that celebrity endorsement! 😉
Beyond loving the Rogan Experience— the man clearly does his homework— perhaps it was time to do mine. But before diving on in, I had to address some serious apprehensions.
5 Common Carnivore Concerns
1. Doesn’t Carnivore Cause Constipation?
What about fiber?!
Honestly, this was my initial concern regarding the carnivore diet. Being prone to constipation, I was downright terrified of a fiber-free diet. So when I committed to the 30-day challenge, I had one big exception— if it made me constipated— game over!
But guess what? I’ve never been more regular in my entire life! During those 30 days, there was no sign of bloating, gas, or explosive diarrhea (guess that’s a thing on carnivore). And the best part— no constipation. My digestive system actually loved carnivore!
This seriously blew my mind! For years, I had been psycho about consuming enough water and fiber to stay regular. And as it turns out, all that fiber may have actually contributed to my constipation.
Hear me out.
Fiber: Is it Necessary for a Healthy Gut?
First off, there are two types of dietary fiber: insoluble and soluble. Insoluble fiber is the stuff we’re told to eat in order to “keep stuff movin,'” although insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water. In fact, it passes through our digestive tract virtually untouched. Not even the bacteria in our gut flora can easily digest it. It’s said to be good for us because it can “bulk up our stool,” but there’s mounting evidence to support that it can actually be detrimental to digestive health (4). Rather than aiding our bowels, it can elongate and irritate them. What’s more, studies have shown that reducing fiber consumption actually reduces constipation (5).
2. Isn’t Eating Too Much Meat Bad for the Heart?
For years public health officials have encouraged us to limit our consumption of red meat due to its connection with heart disease and cancer. However, despite popular opinion, there is no strong evidence linking the intake of meat, cholesterol, or fat to cardiovascular disease.
In fact, according to the New York Times, “In 2019 an international collaboration of researchers produced a series of analyses concluding that this advice, a bedrock of almost all dietary guidelines, is not backed by good scientific evidence.”
The analyses are among the largest such evaluations ever attempted and may influence future dietary recommendations. To no surprise, the analyses have already been met with fierce criticism from The American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, amongst others.
Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that revealing such findings carries the weight of responsibility. In a statement, scientists at Harvard warned that the conclusions “harm the credibility of nutrition science and erode public trust in scientific research.”
Perhaps so. But don’t we deserve to know the truth? Shouldn’t the people’s right to make educated dietary decisions trump the desire to save face?
The Bottom Line: I would encourage you to do your own research. Make your decision based on the evidence you feel most comfortable with.
3. How Will I Survive on Zero Carbohydrates?
Prior to my experience with carnivore, I enthusiastically shared the benefits of an ultra-low-carb diet, and yet poo-pooed the idea of a zero-carb diet. I couldn’t fathom how eliminating carbs could be healthy when the brain relies on glucose for fuel.
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that glucose is the brain’s preferred source of fuel. And this is true (to some extent). It’s estimated that the brain needs roughly 110-145 grams of glucose per day for optimal performance (6). Though keep in mind, such requirements assume your body is programmed to rely on carbohydrates as its primary source of fuel— as in the Standard American Diet (SAD) (7). Once an individual becomes “keto-adapted” the brain is able to use ketones (derived from fat) for about 50-70% of its every requirement (8).
So what about the other 30-50%?
This is where the misunderstanding occurs. Once your body is reliant on ketones for fuel, it’s no longer depends on glucose. However, the brain does require some glucose for optimal function. The good news is, your liver can make all the glucose it needs through a process known as gluconeogenesis (literally “making new glucose”) (9).
What Compounds are Necessary for Gluconeogenesis to Occur?
There are 3 compounds the liver uses to synthesize glucose. (10)
- Amino acids from eating protein (or, under conditions of inadequate protein intake or periods of starvation, from muscle breakdown)
- Glycerol (part of a triglyceride molecule) from the breakdown of body fat or dietary fat
- Pyruvate and lactate, which are molecules created by the breakdown of glucose during energy metabolism that can be joined back together to re-create glucose
The Bottom Line: Your brain can satisfy its energy demands from stored glucose, gluconeogenesis, or ketone production— whether or not you eat any carbs at all.
4. What About Essential Vitamins and Minerals?
This was also a big concern of mine. I wasn’t experimenting with carnivore to fit into my skinny jeans. I was aiming for cellular restoration and optimal performance. And I knew damn well a nutrient-deficient diet wasn’t going to get me there.
As a keto enthusiast, I was aware that fruit was an unnecessary addition to my diet (as long as I was consuming the right vegetables). However, if vegetables were out of the picture, how would I possibly meet my nutritional needs without supplementing?
Much to my surprise, beef is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet— more nutritious than kale, blueberries, or any other well-known “superfood.”
Don’t believe me?
I was skeptical as well—until I saw the numbers. Fortunately, international bestselling author, Maria Emmerich has done the work for us. Within The Carnivore Cookbook Maria illustrates the nutritional breakdown of kale versus beef.
I’ve made a replica of the graph, so you can see the numbers for yourself.
The Bottom Line: if your carnivore diet is focused on consuming nose-to-tail. Meaning nutrient-dense meats (and all the parts) such as beef, liver, cartilage, collagen, and marrow then you’re covering your bases in terms of optimal nutrition.
5. Isn’t Eating Lots of Meat Bad for the Planet?
If you purchase beef from conventional factory farms then yes, you should be deeply concerned about your impact and the sustainability of our planet. The thing is, factory farms— or, in industry lingo— Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) such as Tyson, JBS, Cargill, Smithfield, and Perdue mass produce their meat at the expense of your body, the animal, and our planet.
So what are factory farms exactly?
Factory farms are large, industrial operations that are more concerned with the bottom line than animal or planetary welfare (11). Due to the horrific conditions of these commercialized slaughterhouses, the animals are often pumped full of antibiotics to ward off disease (12).
How Does Factory Farming Impact the Planet?
Factory farms contribute directly to global warming by releasing vast amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere—more than the entire global transportation industry (13).
What’s more, according to EcoWatch.com, “Factory farms indirectly contribute to climate disruption by their impact on deforestation and draining of wetlands, and because of the nitrous oxide emissions from huge amounts of pesticides used to grow the genetically engineered corn and soy fed to animals raised in CAFOs. Nitrous oxide pollution is even worse than methane—200 times more damaging per ton than CO2. And just as animal waste leaches antibiotics and hormones into ground and water, pesticides and fertilizers also eventually find their way into our waterways, further damaging the environment.”
Just so we’re clear, over 95% of farm animals in the U.S. are raised in factory farms. So shopping at Whole Foods or dining out at expensive restaurants doesn’t exempt you. I’m not saying you can’t find consciously sourced products at Whole Foods or select restaurants— I’m just saying— you better do your homework (14).
What Do the Food Labels Mean?
Just in case you’re not in the mood to do homework, I’ve done the work for you. First, you should know that words on a package mean basically nothing. Written words on packaged goods do require governmental approval (15). However, you can imagine how companies often abuse this. For instance, a product could claim “all-natural” because their livestock isn’t fed plastic. Labels, on the other hand, are far more significant. Labels require specific certifications, ensuring a higher-quality product.
How to Select High-Quality Meat
To ensure you’re doing right by your body (and the animal), you’ll need to pay attention to packaging labels. The following is a list of labels to look out for when purchasing meat.
Within the U.S. it’s illegal to use hormones in the production of chicken or pigs. So when you see pork labeled as “Hormone Free,” it basically means the company is complying with U.S. law (16).
What’s more, the reason for this legislative action has little to do with health and more to do with effectiveness. Hormones are not as effective at causing rapid weight-gain in pigs and chickens as antibiotics are.
Antibiotics wreak havoc on our gut microbiota. And our gut microbiota influences essential human functions including digestion, energy metabolism, and inflammation response (17).
The problem with “Antibiotic Free” labels is that they’re fully loaded, and largely unregulated. Meaning producers must send documentation to the USDA to support their claims, but there are no mandated inspections. And considering the statistics, I think it’s safe to assume that few are holding true to their word.
“Some 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are given to animals—not people—in their feed or water, mostly to promote growth and/or prevent disease,” says Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union, the advocacy division of Consumer Reports. “And that’s a major contributor to the public health threat of antibiotic resistance, which is when the bacteria that cause infections become resistant to the effects of the drugs designed to kill them (18).”
The Bottom Line: Antibiotic-free alone isn’t enough. Pay extra for organic— or even better— spring for Animal Welfare Approved.
Organic meat is a good place to start considering routine antibiotic use is prohibited (19). However, keep in mind that an organic label tells us nothing about animal welfare or additional “natural” additives such as sugar or MSG. So it doesn’t necessarily ensure that we’re practicing conscious carnivorism.
Certified Humane is an even better choice than organic (20). The Certified Humane label ensures continuous outdoor access for ruminants (21). Although, outdoor access is not required for birds and pigs unless the words “free-range” or “pasture” also appear on the packages. What’s more, Certified Humane prohibits cage confinement, hormones, and subtherapeutic antibiotics. Certified Humane represents a significant improvement over conventional standards.
Animal Welfare Approved
Currently, the “Animal Welfare Approved” label is as good as it gets. Under this seal, animals are ensured continuous access to pasture or range, which means, there are no feedlots (22). What’s more, Animal Welfare Approved prohibits cage confinement, hormones, and subtherapeutic (preventative or growth-promoting) antibiotics (23). Even better, these standards extend to the breeding, transport, and slaughter of animals. And just to be sure the farm is in compliance, every Animal Welfare Approved farm is subject to audit.
What about conscious carnivorism?
Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t show up today to bash farming practices as a whole. There’s a whole movement of folks doin’ it right! According to FoodPrint.org, “Sustainable livestock farmers use a wide variety of practices, not only to raise animals humanely, produce better products and provide a living for themselves and their families but also to build soil and sequester carbon, mitigating the effects of greenhouse gases.” In fact, properly raised ruminants such as cows that graze on grass actually help remove carbon from the environment (24).
6 Health Benefits of Carnivore
Now that we’ve dispelled some common misunderstandings regarding the carnivore diet. Let’s discuss some reasons why you may want to consider carnivorism.
1. Reduces Inflammation
The carnivore diet cuts out inflammatory sugars, grains, and fats. Sugar (whether natural or refined) is one of the biggest causes of inflammation within the body. By cutting out sugar, half the work is done.
What’s more, carnivore eliminates all grains and starches, thereby reducing compounds such as gluten that contribute to leaky gut.
Finally, the carnivore diet removes vegetable and seed oils. Such oils are referred to as polyunsaturated fatty acids or PUFA’s. PUFA’s are high in omega-6 fatty acids, and omega-6’s are easily oxidized (25). When they become oxidized, they cause inflammation and damage to free radicals (26).
2. Heals Leaky Gut Syndrome
What is Leaky Gut?
We’re all aware that the gut refers to the abdominal region (27). Specifically, the gut is a long tube that begins at the mouth and ends at the anus. The gut is responsible for digestion as well as the absorption and expulsion of food. 90% of digestion and nutrient absorption occurs in the small intestines. A healthy small intestine maintains a semi-permeable membrane, inhibiting harmful materials such as gluten, proteins, bad bacteria, and toxins from leaking into the bloodstream. In individuals with leaky gut syndrome, the small intestines develop larger holes or passageways for these harmful substances to enter the bloodstream (28).
There are a number of foods that contribute to leaky gut syndrome such as (29):
- Conventional (inorganic, pesticide-laden) produce
- Gluten: wheat and other un-sprouted grains
- Conventional dairy (derived from conventional meat + pasteurized) (30)
- Tap water (containing fluoride and chlorine)
- Conventional meat (antibiotic and hormone pumped) (31)
Conscious carnivorism serves to eliminate ALL of the foods contributing to leaky gut syndrome (32).
3. Reverses Insulin Resistance
Insulin resistance is essentially the dysfunction of insulin signaling in the body (33). The most common cause of insulin resistance is excess fat within the body. The carnivore diet is highly effective at shedding weight— making it a great treatment option for type 2 diabetics, as well as pre-diabetics.
4. Eliminates Cravings
Cravings are simply our body communicating its needs. Often when we crave sugar, what our body is actually asking for, is more fuel (34). Carnivore satiates our body in a way most diets can’t— both nutritionally and calorically. And you’ll find, when your body is satiated, your cravings will naturally diminish.
5. Improves Digestion
Believe it or not, humans are not actually built to consume large amounts of plant matter (35). The human small intestine is much larger than that of other plant-based animals, and the colon is much smaller. Large colons are built to handle large amounts of plant matter such as leaves, stems, stalks, and fiber.
Beyond that, humans don’t have a cecum large enough to ferment plant matter (cellulose or fiber) (36). Meaning we’re incapable of turning fiber into energy (fatty acids), which is why insoluble fiber goes right through us. Our human biology indicates we are primarily carnivores. This doesn’t mean that we can’t digest plant foods or aren’t meant to eat them. It just means we’re not designed to digest significant amounts of them.
The carnivore diet is eating in biological alignment, which means that (after the initial adaptation phase) digestion on carnivore should feel better than ever.
6. Simplifies Eating
The carnivore diet is actually SUPER simple to implement. Most people don’t have to worry about macros, portion control, or calorie counting because you can only eat so much meat. The whole idea is that you eat until you’re satisfied. I have a big appetite, with big cravings, but I was actually shocked at how little I was eating on carnivore.
Implementing The Carnivore Diet
The carnivore diet consists entirely of animal foods. Meaning, if your meal had parents at some point— it’s fair game.
If you’re up for one hell of a challenge, you might consider the lion’s diet.
The lion’s diet involves consuming water, salt, and beef (including organs, collagen, and gristle). This is the strictest form of carnivore because it doesn’t allow for anything else (no seasoning, no dairy, no anything else).
If you’re not up for the lion’s diet (don’t worry, I wasn’t either) you could consider adding or eliminating any of the following foods listed below.
All animal meat is fair game. Although ruminants (beef, elk, bison, lamb, etc.) are generally favored on carnivore, pork, chicken, seafood, and fish are not off-limits.
Aim for nutritionally (and calorically) dense cuts such as ribeyes or New York strip steaks— don’t shy away from fat.
Processed meats such as bacon and sausage are on the table as well. Be sure to purchase high-quality brands, and keep a lookout for additives and preservatives.
Processed cold cuts, on the other hand, are worth avoiding. Most are pumped full of sodium and nitrates to retain their shelf-life. Not to mention the antibiotics and hormones. Oh my!
Animal-derived fats and lards are a-go! Beef or bison tallow, pork lard or bacon grease, duck fat or rendered chicken fat— have at it.
Dairy products such as milk, cheese, yogurt, and butter all come from animals and are technically admissible. Although, you’d be wise to omit some and limit others.
For example, milk contains heaps of lactose— the same goes for yogurt— both are best avoided. Alternatively, cheese and butter are rather low in lactose— making them acceptable additions to your carnivore diet. However, it’s best practice to limit dairy on the carnivore diet.
Organs, Collagen, Marrow and Eggs
Organs, collagen, marrow, and eggs are a MUST on carnivore! The ideal carnivore eats nose-to-tail— ensuring all their nutritional needs are met. Organs are the ultimate superfood! In fact, liver is one of the healthiest foods under the sun. Collagen supports bones, joints, and muscles. Bone marrow contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a type of fat that may decrease inflammation and enhance immune function, plus it’s a rich source of collagen. And beyond the fact that eggs are delicious, they’re also high-quality brain food!
There are a few supplements worthy of investing in while on the carnivore diet. I’d recommend the following (especially if you’re unwilling to eat the organs, marrow, and collagen).
It’s up to you to draw the line on which sorts of exceptions you’re willing to consider. Here are a few exceptions I made for myself.
- Homemade blue cheese dressing
- Epic pork rinds
- Sugar-free spices
- Homemade mayonnaise
- The New Primal Buffalo Sauce
- Don Julio tequila
Ready to Go-Carnivore?
Keep in mind, “going carnivore” is an extreme dietary decision and one that will certainly come with challenges (especially in the adaptation phase). Committing to a thirty-day challenge is an excellent way of trying carnivore on for size. It can be a great way of identifying inflammatory foods or breaking a weight-loss stall.
If you’re coming off a ketogenic diet, carnivore should be a relatively seamless transition. However, if you’re accustomed to a Standard American Diet, you’ll likely experience some unpleasant side-effects such as fatigue, digestive upset, headaches, cravings, etc.
Another thing to consider would be investing in a cookbook. At times, carnivore can feel boring and limiting. Having recipes at your disposal may inspire you to cook in new and inventive ways, making the whole process much more exciting. I’d recommend, The Carnivore Cookbook by Maria and Craig Emmerich. This book has been super helpful throughout my 30-day challenge.
Good luck to you, and please don’t hesitate to comment below about your experience with the carnivore diet! 😊
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This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Katie Rodriguez nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.