People who follow the carnivore diet eat only meat and other animal-based foods.
This article reviews the foods that are allowed in the carnivore diet and explains how to follow the diet, including a 5-day sample menu.
It also reviews the risks and drawbacks of the diet and asks whether or not it has any benefits.
The carnivore diet consists almost exclusively of animal-based foods, such as meat, fish, eggs, and low lactose dairy. A person following the diet may also use honey, salt, pepper, and zero-carb seasonings.
Dietitians often refer to such diets as low carb, high fat (LCHF) diets, whereas they would categorize the carnivore diet as an animal-sourced foods (ASF) diet.
The carnivore diet is based on the controversial theory that human ancestors long ago ate diets rich in meat. It assumes that human bodies function best when fueled by high levels of protein and fat.
One high profile advocate of the carnivore diet is Shawn Baker, a former orthopedic surgeon.
On his website, he shares some success stories of followers of the carnivore diet. They claim that the diet has benefits such as weight loss, better health, and pain reduction.
However, there is no scientific evidence to back up any of these claims.
In 2017, the New Mexico Medical Board revoked Baker’s medical license, citing concerns about his competency.
Advocates of the carnivore diet claim that it has numerous health benefits and helps optimize the body’s natural functions.
Its proponents claim that it can improve:
- body weight
- skin complaints
- digestive issues
Many people who decide to try the carnivore diet want to lose weight.
According to an article in the European Journal of Nutrition, low carb diets work on the principle that reduced blood sugar levels cause the body to enter a state of ketosis, or fat burning. This is thought to lead to weight loss.
However, it may be that the carnivore diet works for weight loss in the same way that many other diets do — by excluding certain unhealthful foods.
Because the carnivore diet excludes carbs, followers should not eat unhealthful foods such as cakes, pastries, fries, or cookies.
Any healthful eating plan will advise against eating calorie dense foods such as these, which have very little nutritional value.
Cutting them out is likely to encourage weight loss and overall health gains, regardless of whether or not a person follows an animal-based diet.
The restrictive nature of the carnivore diet leaves entire food groups out of a person’s diet, thereby excluding most of the vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients they provide.
A further health risk may stem from the type of meat that a person eats.
For example, some meats are high in saturated fat, which can raise cholesterol levels in the blood. Research has found that eating a lot of saturated fat over the long-term can increase a person’s risk of coronary heart disease.
Other unpleasant side effects of ASF and LCHF diets include constipation, headaches, bad breath, and flatulence.
Followers of the carnivore diet vary in what they allow themselves to eat. The core rule of the diet is that a person can only consume foods from animal sources.
At one end of the spectrum, some people eat one type of meat only. At the other end, people include a variety of meat and certain dairy products in their diet.
The following sections will look at which foods to include and which foods to avoid.
Foods to eat
A person following the carnivore diet might consume:
- meat, such as lamb, beef, chicken, turkey, pork, or organ meats
- fish and seafood, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, herring, crab, or oysters
- other animal products, such as eggs, bone broth, bone marrow, or lard
- low lactose dairy, such as butter, heavy cream, or hard cheese such as Parmesan
Some followers also consume salt, pepper, and other seasonings that do not contain carbs.
Honey is not allowed in a strict carnivore diet, but some proponents include it because it comes from an animal source, despite being high in glucose.
Foods to avoid
Any foods that do not come from animal sources are excluded from the carnivore diet. These include:
- fruits, such as bananas, berries, citrus fruits, apples, or avocado
- vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots, broccoli, spinach, or peppers
- grains, such as rice, wheat, bread, quinoa, cereals, or pasta
- nuts and seeds, such as almonds, pecans, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, or sesame seeds
- high lactose dairy, such as soft cheese, milk, or yogurt
- legumes, such as beans, lentils, peanuts, or soybeans
- alcohol, such as wine, beer, or liquor
- sugars, such as table sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, or agave syrup
- plant-based oils, such as sunflower oil, olive oil, coconut oil, or canola oil
- beverages other than water, such as soda, tea, coffee, or fruit juice
For people who wish to try the carnivore diet, here is a 5-day sample menu:
- Breakfast: Boiled eggs and bacon.
- Lunch: Chicken breast or a Parmesan omelet.
- Dinner: A beef burger patty with sliced turkey and sour cream.
- Snacks: Beef jerky or sardines.
- Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with butter.
- Lunch: A lamb burger with cheese.
- Dinner: Sausage, egg, and cheese casserole.
- Snacks: Prawns or grilled bacon slices with Parmesan.
- Breakfast: A chicken omelet.
- Lunch: A fatty cut of rib-eye steak or scrambled eggs.
- Dinner: Fish with sour cream or beef liver.
- Snacks: A small amount of hard cheddar cheese or bone broth.
- Breakfast: Smoked salmon or mashed boiled eggs.
- Lunch: Pork chops with honey or a small glass of heavy cream.
- Dinner: Beef meatballs or a cheese omelet.
- Snacks: Turkey jerky or bone marrow.
- Breakfast: Turkey sausages with eggs.
- Lunch: Crab cooked in lard or scallops.
- Dinner: Filet mignon or chicken liver.
- Snacks: Chicken wings or bone broth.
The carnivore diet may be popular, but it is an extremely restrictive eating regimen with no scientifically supported benefits.
It may produce fast results such as weight loss, but many people will probably find it difficult to stick to over the long-term.
Excluding entire food groups as part of the carnivore diet might lead to malnutrition.
People interested in trying a high protein diet may want to consider a Paleolithic and ketogenic diet instead.
Proponents of these diets claim that the benefits are similar to those of a purely carnivorous diet. Paleolithic and ketogenic diets also have fewer restrictions and have several potential science-backed health benefits.