Dr. Andrea Middleton - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Andrea Middleton

Is The Carnivore Diet Bad For You?

Also Known As: All-meat diet, Zero-carb diet



Short answer

The carnivore diet, which excludes plant-based foods, can potentially lead to nutrient deficiencies in Vitamin C, fiber, calcium, and phytonutrients, which are essential for overall health. It may also result in an increased risk of chronic diseases due to high intake of saturated fats and cholesterol. Long-term effects on gut microbiome diversity and heart health are concerns. However, some report weight loss and inflammation reduction. Sustainability, psychological impact, and environmental footprint must be considered. More research is needed to fully understand its long-term implications.



Long answer

Nutrient Deficiencies and The Carnivore Diet

Embarking on a carnivore diet, which is composed exclusively of animal products, often sparks concern among health professionals about potential nutrient deficiencies. While meat is rich in proteins, certain vitamins, and minerals, absence of plant-based foods can result in a lack of essential nutrients typically found in fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes. Let's uncover the nutrients that may be at risk and discuss what science says about these potential deficiencies.

Vitamin C: One common point of contention is Vitamin C, primarily found in citrus fruits and vegetables. Considering scurvy, a disease caused by Vitamin C deficiency, it would seem that a carnivore diet might pose a significant risk. However, some argue that the lower requirement for Vitamin C on a diet free from carbohydrates and high in fresh meat may mitigate this concern, although more research is necessary to substantiate this claim.

Fiber: Another nutrient notably missing from the carnivore diet is dietary fiber, crucial for gut health and regular bowel movements. Fiber plays a role in preventing colon cancer, reducing cholesterol levels, and aiding in weight control. Since it is found only in plant foods, its absence in a carnivore diet raises questions about long-term digestive and cardiovascular health.

Calcium: While certain animal products like cheese are rich in calcium, those who avoid dairy on a carnivore diet may not get enough, leading to potential bone health issues and an increased risk of osteoporosis, especially among women.

Phytonutrients: These plant compounds, which include antioxidants and other anti-inflammatory substances, are absent from a carnivore diet. Phytonutrients are thought to reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

It's crucial to consider that individual responses to diet can vary widely, and what causes deficiencies in one person may not affect another similarly. However, general consensus suggests that a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of food sources is the best way to prevent nutrient deficiencies. Studies addressing the long-term effects of the carnivore diet on nutrient status are limited, so the full implications are not yet fully understood. Health professionals often caution that restrictive diets pose higher risks for nutrient deficiencies unless carefully planned and possibly supplemented.

List of Nutrients Potentially Deficient in a Carnivore Diet:

  • Vitamin C
  • Fiber
  • Calcium (when dairy is not consumed)
  • Various B vitamins like Folate (B9)
  • Antioxidants and phytonutrients
  • Potassium (found in high amounts in fruits and vegetables)
  • Magnesium (predominantly present in nuts, seeds, and green leafy vegetables)

When considering a carnivore diet, it's essential to weigh the risks and benefits, and to consult with a healthcare professional to discuss individual nutritional needs. Supplementation and regular health checkups might be advisable to monitor for any developing deficiencies. Overall, nutritional balance is key to maintaining health, and extreme dietary patterns such as the carnivore diet should be approached with caution and under professional guidance.

Impact on Heart Health: Saturated Fat and Cholesterol Risks

The carnivore diet, consisting predominantly or exclusively of animal products, raises important questions regarding its impact on heart health. One of the primary concerns is the potential risk associated with high intake of saturated fats and cholesterol, which are found abundantly in many animal foods.

Critically examining the effect of saturated fats on heart health entails looking at their influence on cholesterol levels. Saturated fats have been traditionally linked to raising levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol—often referred to as "bad" cholesterol due to its association with an increased risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease. Research, including a significant study published in The Journal of the American College of Cardiology, suggests that replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat, particularly polyunsaturated fats, may be beneficial for heart health and could reduce cardiovascular disease risk.

However, the debate on dietary cholesterol and its impact on serum cholesterol levels is ongoing. Some recent studies indicate that the correlation between the consumption of dietary cholesterol and the increase in blood cholesterol levels is weaker than previously thought. A 2016 review in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition suggested that the response to dietary cholesterol may vary among individuals. 'Hyper-responders,' a subset of the population, experience a significant rise in serum cholesterol following dietary cholesterol intake, potentially increasing their risk of heart disease.

It is also essential to consider the source of the saturated fat. Not all animal foods have the same effect on heart health. For instance, grass-fed meat tends to have a more favorable fatty acid profile, including higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for the heart, compared to grain-fed meat.

Focusing on your overall dietary pattern is paramount. The carnivore diet does not include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, or whole grains, which are foods known for their heart-protective properties due to the presence of fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and unsaturated fats. Eliminating these food groups could result in a lack of these beneficial nutrients, potentially compounding risks associated with a high intake of saturated fat and cholesterol.

When assessing the implications of following a carnivore diet for heart health, it is advisable to monitor blood lipid levels regularly, including LDL and HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, as well as other biomarkers related to cardiovascular health such as triglycerides and blood pressure. Additionally, it can be helpful to consult with a healthcare provider to tailor dietary choices to individual health profiles, needs, and risk factors.

As the fields of nutrition and cardiology continue to evolve, it's vital to stay informed about new research outcomes that shed light on how high consumption of animal products may influence heart health. Understanding one's genetic predisposition to cholesterol-related issues, embracing moderation, and seeking a wide variety of nutrient sources can be significant factors in mitigating health risks while pursuing a high-protein, meat-centric diet.

Potential Benefits: Weight Loss and Inflammation Reduction

When examining any nutritional strategy, it's essential to consider both sides of the coin. The carnivore diet, which is characterized by an all-meat and animal products regimen, has been reported by its proponents to offer significant benefits concerning weight loss and inflammation reduction. Here's a closer look at these potential benefits.

Weight Loss Through High Protein and Low Carb Intake

One of the hallmark features of the carnivore diet is its high protein content. Protein is known for its satiating effect, which can result in reduced appetite and a lower overall calorie intake. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that increasing protein intake can lead to a spontaneous decrease in food consumption and is associated with weight loss.

Additionally, the carnivore diet is naturally low in carbohydrates. This can push the body into a metabolic state called ketosis, where it starts burning fat for fuel rather than carbohydrates, as observed in ketogenic diets. The absence of carbs also reduces the insulin spikes that can lead to increased fat storage, thereby potentially supporting weight management efforts.

Anti-Inflammatory Effects of a Carnivore Diet

Inflammation is a natural response of the body to injury and infection, but chronic inflammation can become problematic and has been linked to multiple health issues, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. The carnivore diet's emphasis on eliminating plant-based foods considered by some as 'anti-nutrients'—like lectins and phytates—could hypothetically reduce inflammation.

A review in the Journal of Inflammation Research notes that certain dietary patterns, especially those high in red and processed meats, might be pro-inflammatory. However, the simplicity of the carnivore diet might reduce the intake of processed foods and additives that can contribute to inflammation. Furthermore, meat is rich in nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish, which have established anti-inflammatory properties as cited by the American Heart Association.

In understanding these benefits, it's crucial not only to consider the short-term effects but also the sustainability and long-term health implications. Weight loss and reduced inflammation might be attainable goals on the carnivore diet, but individual responses can vary significantly.

It's wise to seek guidance from a healthcare provider before undertaking such a restrictive dietary plan, especially for individuals with existing health conditions or special nutritional needs. Monitoring your body's response and adapting your approach to nutrition is key in achieving both healthful outcomes and a sustainable way of living.

The Carnivore Diet and Gut Microbiome Diversity

Whenever we talk about diet and nutrition, it's impossible to overlook the impact on our gut microbiota—those trillions of tiny organisms that call our digestive system home. These microorganisms play a giant role in everything from digestion to immune function, and their well-being is crucial to ours. So, let’s take a deep dive into how an all-meat diet might affect this important ecosystem within us.

To start, it's essential to understand that microbiome diversity is generally considered a cornerstone of gut health. A rich tapestry of microbial species contributes to a more resilient gut environment, enabling it to withstand and recover from disruptions more effectively. It's a bit like having a varied group of friends with different skills and insights—they can all offer you something unique when challenges arise.

Here's where things get meaty—quite literally. The Carnivore Diet, being exclusively animal-based, largely excludes dietary fibers and carbohydrates, which are known prebiotics. Prebiotics are like nourishment for your gut's good bacteria. Without them, these populations can dwindle, paving the way for less diversity.

A study published in the journal "Nature" discovered that dietary diversity is positively correlated with gut microbiota diversity. This suggests that a varied diet may be beneficial for maintaining a healthy microbiome. When considering the Carnivore Diet, its restrictive nature raises questions about its potential impact on gut flora diversity and long-term health consequences.

Another axis to consider is the balance between different types of bacteria. Diets high in protein and fat from red meat have been associated with an increase in the production of potentially harmful metabolites, such as TMAO (trimethylamine N-oxide), by certain gut bacteria. Over time, this can lead to a less favorable gut environment and has been linked to conditions like heart disease. The absence of other foods that would normally provide a counterbalance raises concerns about the sustenance of a wholesome microbiome profile.

On the flip side, there are anecdotal reports of individuals on a Carnivore Diet experiencing relief from digestive issues, which might indicate a positive change in their gut microbiome. However, experts caution that anecdotal evidence should not trump scientific research, which tends to support a more diverse diet for a healthier gut.

It's important to note that while the Carnivore Diet may reduce the diversity of your gut microbiome, the question of whether this is "bad" for you isn't black and white. Microbiome research is complex, with individual variation playing a huge role. The effects of a carnivore-like diet can vary greatly from one person to another, underscored by factors such as genetics, environment, and lifestyle.

What we do know is that nurturing a diverse microbiome is generally seen as beneficial, and this typically involves consuming a variety of plant-based foods. It might be wise to consult with a healthcare provider before embarking on any restrictive diet, especially if you have existing health concerns.

In summary, while the Carnivore Diet could potentially alter the gut microbiome in ways that warrant caution, more research is needed to fully understand the implications. In the meantime, cultivating gut microbiome diversity through a varied diet is a sound strategy supported by current scientific evidence. Listening to one’s body and seeking professional guidance is paramount when exploring dietary changes that significantly depart from conventional wisdom.

Long-Term Sustainability and Potential Health Complications

Embarking on a carnivore diet, which consists exclusively of animal products and eliminates all carbohydrates, can raise concerns about its long-term sustainability and the potential for health complications. Below, we explore the various dimensions of the diet's sustainability and the potential health risks or benefits it may entail.

Nutrient Deficiencies:

  • Vitamin C: Commonly found in fruits and vegetables, Vitamin C is essential for immune function and skin health. While the carnivore diet advocates argue that the body’s requirement for Vitamin C decreases with a very low-carb intake because of reduced need for collagen, this claim lacks robust evidence.
  • Fiber: A lack of dietary fiber, which is absent in animal products, may lead to digestive issues such as constipation and long-term gut health problems.
  • Antioxidants and Phytonutrients: These important compounds, found predominantly in plant foods, play a role in preventing oxidative damage and may protect against chronic diseases. Their absence in a carnivore diet is a potential concern.

Risk of Chronic Diseases:

  • Increased consumption of red and processed meats has been associated with higher risks of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain forms of cancer, according to studies like the one published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
  • New research, including a 2019 review in the Annals of Internal Medicine, has questioned the strength of the association between red meat intake and health risks. However, this remains a highly contested area, with many experts advocating moderation.

Impact on Gut Microbiota:

The gut microbiota plays a significant role in overall health, and diets rich in diverse plant foods contribute to a healthy gut ecosystem. The high-fat, high-protein, and no-fiber nature of the carnivore diet could disrupt the balance of the microbiome, potentially impacting immunity, mood, and more.

Psychological and Social Factors:

  • This restrictive diet might be psychologically taxing, leading to feelings of deprivation or isolation due to the difficulty in maintaining social eating norms.
  • Adherence over time can be challenging without variety in the diet, which may lead to decreased satisfaction and potential diet abandonment.

Environmental Considerations:

  • The environmental impact of a heavy meat-based diet isn’t directly a health issue, but it’s important to acknowledge that sustainable health practices also consider the wider ecological footprint.
  • High demand for animal products increases greenhouse gas emissions, land use, and water use, and it is argued that more sustainable diets include a higher proportion of plant-based foods.

Expert Recommendations:

Despite individual anecdotal success with the carnivore diet, many health experts and organizations, including the World Health Organization, continue to recommend a balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins for long-term health and prevention of chronic diseases.

Comparison with Plant-Inclusive Diets: A Balanced View

When examining the carnivore diet, it's essential to weigh it against plant-inclusive diets to understand the potential trade-offs. Plant-inclusive diets, such as Mediterranean, vegetarian, or vegan, embrace fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Let's delve into a balanced view of how these diets stack up in terms of nutritional content, health outcomes, and sustainability.

Nutritional Diversity

One of the cornerstones of a balanced diet is nutritional diversity. Plant-inclusive diets often boast a wide range of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants due to the variety of foods consumed. The phytonutrients found in plants, such as flavonoids and carotenoids, have been linked to reduced risks of chronic diseases. Conversely, the carnivore diet, while rich in protein and certain vitamins like B12, may fall short in providing a full spectrum of nutrients that plants typically offer.

Health Outcomes

Research across the board suggests that diets high in fruits, vegetables, and fiber are associated with lower risks of heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers. A 2019 review published in the Lancet highlights the notable health benefits of dietary fiber and whole grains, which are absent from a carnivore diet. However, proponents of the carnivore diet report anecdotal benefits such as improved digestion and resolution of autoimmune issues. It's important to note that the long-term health outcomes of a strict carnivore diet are not yet well-documented in scientific literature.

Sustainability and Environmental Impact

When considering the impact of our diet choices on the environment, plant-inclusive diets tend to have a lower carbon footprint. A study by Poore and Nemecek (2018) in Science magazine concluded that plant-based diets can significantly reduce environmental impact by lowering greenhouse gas emissions and land use. Relying solely on animal products, as with the carnivore diet, typically requires more resources and has a greater ecological footprint.

Balancing Amino Acids and Essential Fatty Acids

Protein quality is a significant consideration. Animal proteins contain all essential amino acids, making them complete proteins. Plant-inclusive diets often require combining different plant proteins to achieve a complete amino acid profile. Additionally, the carnivore diet typically provides ample essential fatty acids such as omega-3s found in fish, which are important for brain health. In contrast, plant-based diets might need to include specific sources like flaxseeds or supplements to meet these needs.

Considerations for Digestive Health

Gut health is another pivotal factor in evaluating diets. Plant-based diets are rich in dietary fiber, which supports a healthy gut microbiome. A fiber-depleted diet, like the carnivore diet, could potentially alter gut flora balance and function. Yet, some individuals on the carnivore diet report improvements in digestive symptoms, which may suggest that a one-size-fits-all approach to dietary fiber is not ideal for everyone.

To summarize, when comparing the carnivore diet with plant-inclusive diets, it's important to consider the complex interplay of nutritional adequacy, health outcomes, sustainability, and personal digestive health. While the carnivore diet may provide certain benefits and conveniences, it lacks the nutritional diversity and established health benefits associated with a varied intake of plant foods. It's always wise to consult with healthcare providers and consider individual health needs when evaluating the appropriateness of any diet for long-term health.

Frequently asked questions

Some individuals on a carnivore diet report relief from certain digestive issues, which could be due to the elimination of problematic plant compounds or a simplification of their diet. However, this diet severely lacks dietary fiber, a key component for a healthy gut microbiome, and could lead to long-term detrimental effects on gut health and diversity. Ongoing research and consultation with a healthcare provider are essential before considering such a restrictive diet, to weigh its effects on one's personal digestive health.

While the carnivore diet provides certain nutrients from animal sources, omitting plants from your diet excludes important vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that are crucial for optimal health. Most health experts advocate for a varied diet that includes both animal and plant sources to maintain nutritional balance and health over the long term. If considering a carnivore diet, careful planning and possible supplementation, along with regular consultations with a healthcare provider, are necessary to address potential nutrient gaps.

A carnivore diet may lead to insufficient calcium intake if dairy products are excluded, raising concerns for bone health and an increased risk of osteoporosis over time. Bone health relies on a balanced intake of nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, and magnesium, which are often abundant in dairy, leafy greens, and legumes, so careful monitoring and supplementation may be needed to prevent deficits and maintain healthy bones.

Vitamin C is predominantly found in fruits and vegetables, and while some advocates of the carnivore diet argue that the body's requirement may be lower without carbohydrate consumption, there's limited research to support this claim fully. To prevent scurvy and ensure adequate Vitamin C intake without fruits and vegetables, it may be necessary to consume fresh organ meats like liver, which contain some Vitamin C, or to consider appropriate supplementation after consulting with a healthcare professional.

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Possible short-term side effects

  • upset digestive balance
  • increased cholesterol levels
  • possible constipation due to lack of fiber
  • potential scurvy risk if vitamin c is insufficient
  • reduced gut microbiome diversity

Possible long-term side effects

  • increased risk of heart disease
  • potential increased risk of certain cancers
  • increased risk of osteoporosis (especially if avoiding dairy)
  • possible chronic digestive issues from lack of fiber
  • decreased gut microbiome diversity
  • potential increase in harmful gut metabolites like tmao

Ingredients to be aware of

  • saturated fat
  • cholesterol
  • lack of fiber
  • lack of antioxidants and phytonutrients
  • absence of essential vitamins found in plants


  • high protein may aid in weight loss
  • reduced appetite from high protein
  • possible reduction in inflammation
  • may result in fewer insulin spikes

Healthier alternatives

  • mediterranean diet
  • plant-inclusive diets like vegetarian or vegan
  • diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • balanced diet with variety of nutrient sources

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Desmond Richard
Published on: 04-19-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Desmond Richard
Published on: 04-19-2024

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