I first stumbled across the carnivore diet in early 2018 and gave the diet my first attempt just a few months later. Since then I have used the diet as a tool several times and have found that the carnivore diet gives me more strength in the gym, improves my productivity, decreases my hunger, improves my body composition, and even increases my ketone levels.
A concern about carnivore dieting is that we do not have data from clinical studies to neither support nor refute the diet. Research moves slow. What we do have is studies to point us in the right direction and explain some of the benefits reported by those following the diet.
What is Carnivore?
The carnivore diet is an animal-based diet. The concept is pretty cut and dry, eat meat. However, there are several variations of carnivore that can be used for different health goals. I classify them as such:
Meat Only Carnivore: Likely the most popular variation of carnivore, only meat and typically primarily red meat.
Animal Based Carnivore: Eating only animal products including eggs and dairy products like cheese and butter. Some may even have honey on animal-based carnivore.
95% Carnivore: Some carnivore dieters may make small exceptions to the animal-based rule and allow for non-carnivore oils like coconut oil and avocado oil or may even slide in an occasional avocado. I call this 95% carnivore.
Cyclical Carnivore: Consuming carnivore during the week but having plants on the weekend. Some people following this diet may choose to eat carbohydrate cheat meals on the weekend. The best approach would be sticking to “cleaner” plant sources like leafy greens and tubers.
Choosing which variation of carnivore is right for you depends on your health goals. If you are following carnivore to treat an autoimmune disease, you may want to stick to meat only carnivore. If your main goal is weight loss, you may do just fine with 95% carnivore.
Benefits of Carnivore
While the health benefits of carnivore have not been extensively studied in the clinical setting, there are many anecdotal stories of the diet’s benefits and mechanisms of action to support many benefits.
Let’s go over some of the benefits of carnivore that I believe have the most supporting evidence.
Weight loss has become a big reason why the carnivore diet has blown up in popularity. Carnivore is a variation of a low carb diet and it is no secret that low carb diets are superior for weight loss.
It’s a very simple formula. When you restrict your carbohydrate intake your insulin levels lower. When insulin levels are low, your body burns more fat. Following a low-carb diet actually puts your body in prime fat-burning mode.
Due to some of the upcoming benefits, carnivore also tends to lead to calorie restriction. While research has shown us that calories are not the only determining factor of weight loss success, they do still play a role and caloric restriction as a result of carnivore dieting is a contributor to the weight loss potential of the diet. This is why we are hearing more carnivore success stories in obesity medicine.
We will also get into the anti-inflammatory benefits of carnivore and improvements in gut health in this article which are additional contributing factors to the weight loss experienced on this diet. To learn more about the weight loss potential of the carnivore diet, check out this video from Dr. Anthony Gustin and I.
This benefit is the most interesting to me. We know that keto in general has a potent ability to reduce hunger through several different mechanisms such as improved appetite signaling, reductions in hunger hormones, and stability of blood sugar (*). While these mechanisms would also be in play for carnivore, there is something else going on.
A carnivore diet is not hyper-palatable, meaning there is not a ton of flavor. Even a keto diet can be hyper-palatable. Just think of a cobb salad with all of its variety; steak, eggs, greens, blue cheese, and nuts. All of this flavor can stimulate additional hunger.
On a 100% carnivore diet, you are only eating meat. While meat is delicious, it lacks variety and flavor, it’s not hyper-palatable which can prevent hunger and overeating.
While this lack of hunger can be beneficial for those who are trying to calorie restrict or control their hunger, it can make it hard to eat enough at times. Calorie restriction is good but chronic severe calorie restriction is not which is why I recommend tracking your calories when following first following carnivore.
Low Blood Sugar:
Low carb diets lead to a decrease in blood sugar and carnivore is no exception. Like weight loss, the formula here is easy. Less carbs = lower blood sugar. Carnivore is essentially a zero-carb diet which is why we are starting to hearing carnivore success stories from individuals with type 2 diabetes.
Those familiar with a keto diet may have concerns about the high protein nature of carnivore and its impact on blood sugar. This is because of gluconeogenesis, a process that converts protein into glucose. It is important to note that this process is demand driven and not supply driven meaning the body does not ramp up gluconeogenesis because we eat more protein.
We know keto is an incredible diet for lowering inflammation (*) by both producing less reactive oxygen species and increasing natural antioxidant production. Carnivore seems to possess an even more potent ability to reduce inflammation which has been reported by many including Chris Bell who uses the diet to manage his arthritis. Anecdotally, I can say that after following carnivore for 8 weeks, I measured the lowest c-reactive protein reading, the most common inflammatory marker, I have ever registered on any diet.
This benefit is not well accepted because we have been taught that eating red meat will increase inflammation. However, this is not what is found in the research. In fact, one group of researchers had 60 participants replace carbohydrate-rich foods with 200g/d of red meat per day for 8 weeks. The results demonstrated lower markers of oxidative stress and inflammation in the meat group. These researchers concluded that increases in the intake of red meat is unlikely to increase oxidative stress or inflammation and may even offer a protective effect (*).
Additionally, I would speculate that some of the inflammation lowering potential of the diet could also be a result of improved gut health, which is next on the list.
In my opinion, this may be one of the strongest benefits of a carnivore diet and one of the many reasons why so many people are reporting improvements in their autoimmunity symptoms on the diet.
A carnivorous diet is essentially an elimination diet because you are cutting out all foods that aren't meat. Due to antinutrients and other compounds found in high amounts in plant foods that can cause digestive flare-ups, this allows for a type of gut reset that can be just what the doctor ordered if you have digestive issues.
The gut microbiome plays a big role in nearly every area of our health, which is why we are hearing so many anecdotal stories of people using the carnivore diet to heal their chronic health conditions, especially digestive and autoimmune.
While research is still limited, a study published in 2020 found that five out of six subjects improved SIBO with a carnivore diet (*).
High-fat diets tend to lend themselves to improved hormonal production due to the importance of fat in this process. Since a carnivore diet tends to be high in red meat, saturated fat intake is increased. Saturated fat, despite getting a bad reputation, is important for the production of hormones and is one of the reasons why many report better energy and sexual function from being on a carnivore diet.
We also know from research that lowering fat intake and increasing fiber intake results in a decrease in testosterone (*) and that a ketogenic diet can provide a boost in testosterone levels (*) which translates well to carnivore.
It is important to note that while carnivore can improve hormones, that doesn’t mean it will. Due to the possibility of severely undereating calories on the diet as mentioned earlier, it is possible to experience hormone impairments if this is not properly accounted for.
The same study mentioned above that demonstrated increases in testosterone on a low carb high-fat diet also displayed decreases in fat mass and increases in lean body mass supporting the fact that low carb high-fat diets can stimulate muscle growth.
This makes it no surprise that increased lean body mass, or muscle growth, are amongst the most commonly reported outcomes from people following the carnivore diet.
In addition to the improved hormone levels previously mentioned, an additional culprit for more muscle on carnivore is an increase in high-quality protein intake. Meat is rich in protein and in particular the essential amino acid leucine. Leucine is an amino acid important for stimulating muscle protein synthesis which is the anabolic process your body needs in order to increase muscle mass and support muscle recovery. Having a diet rich in high-quality protein gives your muscles the fuel they need to rebuild.
Another reason for improved muscle mass and recovery on carnivore may be attributed to circulating ketones. Ketones have previously shown to be “muscle sparing” meaning they prevent the breakdown of leucine (*). Additionally, there is some research suggesting that ketones may be able to stimulate muscle protein synthesis as well (*).
Better Exercise Performance:
It is now becoming widely accepted that low-carb diets can be great for exercise performance, especially endurance performance (**). The idea is that when we restrict our carbohydrate intake, our bodies are forced to tap into fat for fuel, which we have much more of.
While there is not a lot of research looking directly at the carnivore diet’s impact on exercise performance, there are a lot of anecdotal stories reporting improvements. Here is a quote from Carnivore advocate and health coach William Shewfelt:
“The Carnivore Diet in my experience has been an absolute performance enhancer. When I transitioned to carnivore—a few things happened. My satiety increased. My strength increased, without changing my training. My lean mass went up and my fat mass went down. I subjectively felt stronger, faster, and a lot more energetic throughout the day.
I believe the removal of plant antigens and the increase in protein and nutrients thanks to red meat, eggs, and seafood helped my body repair from the training stimulus better than ever.
My training is based around both aerobic endurance and strength. Aerobically, I’m in the best shape of my life thanks to ketones. Strength-wise, I’m stronger than ever. Red meat is the poor man’s steroids.”
This quote summarizes much of what we already talked about. The increase in high-quality protein and hormone production on carnivore as well as the ability to tap into stored fat and produce ketones on the diet is a big reason why so many people are reporting improved exercise performance on the diet.
Better Exercise Recovery:
In addition to better exercise performance, many carnivore dieters also report better recovery from that exercise.
The higher protein intake and subsequent stimulation of protein synthesis are conducive to better muscle repair following exercise. Additionally, the ketogenic diet is a great diet for reducing inflammation (38). Together these two mechanisms make for a great recipe for optimal exercise recovery.
Improve AutoImmune Symptoms:
I first heard about the possibility of carnivore for autoimmunity when I stumbled across Mikhaela Peterson’s story. Mikhaela suffered from severe autoimmunity since she was a child. She dealt with incredible pain and even had to have joints replaced when she was just a little girl. Mikhaila reported that carnivore was able to remove many of her autoimmune symptoms including depression and fatigue that accompanied her condition.
Admittedly, I will say there is not a lot of research on this topic yet but the anecdotal evidence that is coming from individuals like Mikhaela and thousands of other people tells me there is something to the carnivore diet for autoimmunity.
One of my favorite times to use carnivore is when I am working on a big writing project. I have found that the lack of hunger on carnivore combined with the stable blood sugar and ketosis makes it easier to focus, be creative, and get quality work done,
What’s the Deal with #meatheals?
Since carnivore has blown up, I have started seeing many people use the hashtag #meatheals on social media. While I do believe that meat does have an ability to heal and can provide a ton of benefits, especially for people suffering from autoimmunity, I want to point out that some of the benefits of carnivore are a result of what you are avoiding on the diet. A quote I have adapted from Dr. Georgia Ede is, “Do not mistake a diet for something because of something it is not.”
When the Inuit people, who were previously eating primarily meat, were first introduced to carbohydrates, researchers demonstrated increases in hypertension and diabetes (39). This wasn’t necessarily because the meat they were eating was keeping these diseases at bay, it was because they were not eating carbohydrates.
This isn’t to take away from the power of carnivore but rather to point out that some of the benefits come from the plant foods and other junk that we are taking out of our diet.
Is Carnivore Safe?
To no surprise, this is the most common carnivore question. The way our governing health agencies, the media, and the general population has demonized meat, especially red meat, has led many to thinking this diet is a fast track to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, constipation, and other health issues and side effects.
The truth is that there is not reliable evidence supporting the notion that meat is unhealthy. In fact, if we look at human physiology and biochemistry, we see how important meat is for us.
Meat provides us with essential amino acids, important fats, and micronutrients that are required for a healthy lifestyle. There is a misconception that eating just meat would lead to nutrient deficiencies but research has found that a carnivore diet can meet the nutrient demands of the human body including vitamin C(*).
To read more about the safety of the carnivore diet, check out my article Is Carnivore Safe?. If you are looking to use carnivore for medical treatment, seek advice from a licensed physician trained in low carb and carnivore dieting.
How to Do Carnivore
If you are looking to get started with carnivore, check out my Carnivore Reset program that helps walk you through your first few weeks of the diet and provides a meal plan to get started. If you are looking for a little extra guidance, check out working with our team of coaches and dietitians.
Carnivore is a meat diet which is pretty straight forward so feel free to do it yourself by following an approved food list like the one below. Be sure to get some variety to prevent carnivore from feeling like a restrictive diet.
Carnivore Food List
Steaks (ribeye steak, sirloin, chucks)
Organ meat (heart, liver, kidney)
Chicken wings, thighs and drumsticks
Cream (contains more lactose, avoid for certain gut health issues)
Foods to Avoid- Grains/Whole Grains
Where you get your food at matters. Not all animal agriculture practices are great for the environment or treat the animals well. Sourcing meat from local farmers is a great way to ensure that you are supporting animal agriculture practices that are more ethical and better for the environment.
We do not have a lot of research for or against this but I believe that food quality makes a difference on any diet and carnivore is no exception. There is a nutritional difference between a grass-fed burger from the farmer's market and a fast-food burger covered in fluorescent cheese. There is also a big difference between unprocessed and processed meat. Opt for meat that you can get close to the source and less processed.
The carnivore diet is an animal-based diet that can provide numerous health benefits including helping managing symptoms of several chronic diseases. To learn more about using the carnivore diet as a digestive reset, check out the Carnivore Reset program and to get help with calculating your macronutrients or getting a carnivore diet meal plan, check out our coaching services.