The carnivore diet has taken over the pop culture space like a whirlwind, hot on the heels of other diets like the ketogenic and paleo diets. It has received extremely harsh reviews from some quarters while some proponents swear by it. Will it stand the test of time? Is it worth all the hype? In this article, we will explore its viability and its chances of soldiering on.
- Where did this diet come from?
The Carnivore Diet is a restrictive diet that only includes meat, fish, and other animal foods like eggs and certain dairy products. It excludes all other foods, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds. Its proponents also recommend eliminating or limiting the daily intake of foods that may contain lactose — a sugar found in milk and dairy products — such as butter and hard cheeses.
The Carnivore Diet stems from the controversial belief that human ancestral populations ate mostly meat and fish and that high-carb diets are to blame for today’s high rates of chronic disease.
The world has yet to produce a civilization that has eaten a vegan diet from childhood through death. Conversely, there are numerous examples throughout the recorded history of societies from a variety of cultural, ethnic and geographical backgrounds that have lived on mainly-meat diets for decades, lifetimes, and generations. What exactly did these carnivorous cultures eat, and how healthy or unhealthy were they?
Some of the ancient cultures that practiced carnivorism predominantly are:
- The Inuit of the Canadian Arctic thrived on fish, seal, walrus and whale meat.
- The Chukotka of the Russian Arctic lived on caribou meat, marine animals and fish.
- The Masai, Samburu, and Rendille warriors of East Africa survived on diets consisting primarily of milk and meat.
- The steppe nomads of Mongolia ate mostly meat and dairy products.
- The Sioux of South Dakota enjoyed a diet of buffalo meat.
- The Brazilian Gauchos nourished themselves with beef.
The studies on these communities strongly support claims that early man predominantly survived on meat. Although there is no dispute that our early ancestors ate meat, a meat-only diet is quite unlikely.
Anthropological evidence contradicts the carnivore claim about early humans not eating carbohydrates. There’s archaeological evidence from at least 30,000 years — that’s 20,000 years before the agricultural revolution — of stone tools that look like mortars and pestles that people used to grind up seeds and grain. It is possible that both Neanderthals and Paleolithic peoples ate barley, beans, and tubers.
In addition, copies of amylase genes, whose only purpose is to make enzymes that digest carbohydrates, are often highly selected for within our genome, suggesting that starchy foods were important throughout our evolutionary history. This contradicts an ancestral all meat diet, or even an ultra-low-carb one, as such replications are not strongly selected for within any carnivorous species.
That said, there is still some scientific debate about the diet of Neanderthals, who are partly-ancestral to some people of Eurasian ancestry. There are some exceptionally high levels of δ15N in some Neanderthal remains, which would indicate high levels of meat-eating: perhaps high levels of rotten meat-eating or perhaps not.
Who Is Shawn Baker and what’s His Role in the Popularity of the Carnivore Diet?
One of the earliest carnivore diet proponents, Shawn Baker is an orthopedic surgeon and a major leader in the carnivore diet movement. He authored a book that was released in early 2018 appropriately titled The Carnivore Diet.
However, Baker’s medical license has since been revoked. The New Mexico Medical Board ordered the “voluntary and permanent surrender” of his medical license in 2017.“This action was based on failure to report adverse action taken by a healthcare entity and incompetence to practice as a licensee,” the report reads. He still remains a central figure in the zero-carb, all-meat movement.
Does the current popularity of the carnivore diet stem from traditional practices? Is it solely based on the practicality of the diet solving some health issues and being a lifestyle of choice? These are still subjects that remain up for discussion.
- Why you should start this diet as early as today…
Proponents of this diet have lauded it for curing or helping them to manage pretty severe chronic conditions such as Type 2 Diabetes, brain fog, digestive issues, autoimmune issues, just to name a few. While most of this evidence is anecdotal, let us look at some benefits of adopting this diet:
- The Carnivore diet cuts out All Added Sugar– Sugar is bad for you, here’s why:
- It can glycate and stick to cholesterol particles, which can lead to atherosclerosis
- It’s highly glycemic. Sugar spikes insulin and can lead to insulin resistance over time.
- When metabolized, it produces AGEs which lead to aging, chronic disease, and diabetes
- Glucose is oxidatively stressful, causes inflammation and can produce reactive oxygen species. Oxidative stress plays a role in almost every disease.
- The Carnivore Diet Can Cure Leaky Gut- Leaky gut is a condition when the tight junctions of the small intestine open and allow proteins and toxins into the bloodstream. This diet resolves leaky gut by:
- Reducing inflammation, which reverses gut microbiome imbalances
- It is arguably the most nutrient-rich diet on earth, which heals the gut.
- It removes foods that pry the tight junctions in the small intestine open like Lectins and Gluten
- The Carnivore Diet Eliminates Refined Carbohydrates
Because all the fiber has been removed from refined carbohydrates, they are digested very rapidly and cause major blood sugar spikes.
This can lead to insulin resistance over time, especially when consumed with fat. They also damage the gut. Sugar and carbohydrates are fermented by the gut and colon which can exacerbate GI issues and lead to leaky gut, which is why a well-established treatment for IBS recommends low carbohydrates to starve your bacteria.
Over time, refined carbohydrate consumption has been linked to inflammation and obesity. The carnivore diet completely cuts off carbohydrates and may reverse these effects over time.
- Why you should not board this bus…..
The carnivore diet has been condemned by medical experts as dangerous and unscientific. The carnivore diet is based on anecdotal evidence; there is no scientific evidence to support it. Eating only meat deprives the body of necessary nutrients and causes vitamin deficiencies.
While carnivore dieters reject and ridicule dietary fiber which they claim is unhealthy and not necessary, in reality, greater dietary fiber intake has been shown to lower the risk of both cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers including bowel and colon cancer.
There are many other health benefits from fiber consumption including improvements in digestive health and weight management. Lack of dietary fiber is dangerous to the bacteria in the colon. Growing evidence suggests that in the absence of adequate fiber, the bacteria in the colon consume and thin the protective mucus lining, which then leads to impaired immune function and inflammation.”
Some negative health effects are suspected High levels of LDL cholesterol which can increase the risk of heart disease, Constipation from lack of dietary fiber, Folate (vitamin B9), vitamin C and E deficiencies and scurvy.
Eating a high quantity of red meat could increase the chances of one getting colon cancer and kidney failure.
- Trash it or keep it?
If you are suffering from severe or incurable conditions with poor therapeutic possibilities, the carnivore diet can be an option you try out. In the absence of any good scientific evidence pro or con, the benefits to you might be well worth the trip.
Short-term, it is unlikely to cause any harm. However, longer trials could cause some health issues for some people — so it is important that anyone considering doing this should pay close attention to their individual responses. If one does not note remarkable improvement over weeks or a few months, it’s very likely not helping and they can return to a more varied and less restricted low-carb ketogenic diet, knowing that they gave it a shot.
- Diagnosis Diet (2019): The History of All-Meat Diets. Retrieved from https://www.diagnosisdiet.com/all-meat-diets/
- Rational Wiki (2019): Carnivore diet. Retrieved from https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Carnivore_diet
- Diet Doctor (2019): Sinking our teeth into the carnivore diet: what’s known, what’s not. Retrieved from https://www.dietdoctor.com/low-carb/carnivore
- Carnivore Aurelius (2019): Carnivore Diet | 16 Reasons It Works. Retrieved from https://carnivoreaurelius.com/carnivore-diet/
- Healthline (2019): What is the Carnivore Diet? Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/carnivore-diet#what-it-is
- Everyday Health (2019): On the Carnivore Diet, People Are Eating Only Meat: Here’s What to Know. Retrieved from https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/diet/carnivore-diet-benefits-risks-food-list-more/