Here’s What You Really Eat On The Carnivore Diet
There’s no shortage of different diets and nutrition philosophies in the world. In fact, if you’re trying to make healthy lifestyle choices, you may feel that there are just way too many to choose from. You could spend weeks wading through the science from all the experts and at the end of it all, you may end up more confused about which diet is actually healthy than when you started.
That’s where I come in. At my functional medicine telehealth clinic, I act as a filter between all the conflicting nutrition information in the world and what will actually work for my patients in real life.
One diet that’s been getting a lot of attention lately is the carnivore diet. So today, I’m going to dive into what this diet actually is, how it works, whether it’s healthy or not, and how it may be helpful to you.
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The Carnivore Diet: The Basics
The carnivore diet is a very low-carb diet. But unlike other popular low-carb diets, a carnivore diet takes out all carb-containing foods instead of just limiting them. It focuses on all things animal-based, which means no more vegetables, fruits, and even nuts and seeds.
If the thought of cutting out all fruits and veggies gives you pause, you’re not alone. As the author of a plant-based keto book, Ketotarian, I’m a huge fan of a veggie-centric way of eating. That said, after looking into the carnivore diet, I think it merits a second look, even from a plant-lover like me. I have no food tribalism other than finding out what works for my patients to move them along on their health journey.
The Carnivore Diet Benefits
The carnivore diet is relatively new, so hasn’t been studied extensively, especially when it comes to the long-term effects of a mostly animal-based diet. However, the research that has been done on similar very low-carb diets have highlighted a few interesting benefits, which mainly have to do with metabolic health.
For example, studies show that very low-carb diets can lead to weight loss and healthier triglyceride levels. And when compared to moderately low-carb diets, very low-carb diets like the carnivore diet lead to greater improvements (1) in metabolic markers. In my patients, I’ve also seen that the carnivore diet can lead to steadier energy levels, fewer cravings, and better focus.
This may have to do with the fact that the carnivore diet provides essential nutrients that the typical standard American diet is lacking. This includes vitamin A, vitamin K2, vitamin D, methylated B vitamins, and bioavailable forms of iron, all which are amply supplied with a clean, well-formulated nutrient-dense carnivore diet.
The Carnivore Diet Foods
Followers of the carnivore diet believe that the increase in carb-heavy processed food in our modern diets has contributed to the rise of health problems like diabetes and obesity. They also believe that the solution is to eat mostly animal products similarly to our ancestors, including foods like:
- Fish and seafood
- Bone broth
- Raw honey
As you can see from the list above, the carnivore diet isn’t JUST about meat — any animal product is on the table.
The Carnivore Diet: Is it Really Healthy?
Reading the list of foods above, you might be thinking: Cheese, honey, BUTTER? Dr. Cole, I thought these were foods I was supposed to avoid?!
The carnivore diet is definitely controversial. Overall, I think the carnivore diet can be a great tool to use for a period of time. I often suggest it for patients who are suffering from multiple food sensitivities or who are in an active autoimmune-inflammatory flare-up as a way to remove irritating foods. While they follow the carnivore diet, I work with my patients on healing their gut, rebalancing their immune systems, and reducing chronic inflammation. The carnivore diet does two things at once: It infuses the gut with the gut-healing benefits of bone broth while also eliminating harder-to-digest vegetables, legumes, grains, and nuts and seeds. In other words, it still allows a person to get beneficial nutrients while giving the gut a break from working so hard.
Once my patient’s symptoms are improving, I work with them to slowly reintroduce plant-based foods, which I don’t believe anyone should cut out of their diet in the long-term because of their content of polyphenols, antioxidants, and fiber.
A Day on the Carnivore Diet
Now that you know what you can eat and what you can’t, let’s talk about what a day in the life of a carnivore dieter might look like. The great thing about the carnivore diet is that a LOT of rich comfort foods are on the list of approved foods.
Breakfast: Bacon & egg omelet
Cook up a couple eggs with nitrate and sugar-free bacon for a classic breakfast that is also carnivore friendly. If you are including cheese in your carnivore plan, add some in for a little extra zing.
Lunch: Garlic butter salmon
Wild-caught salmon is a delicious source of healthy fats that are essential for hormone and brain health.
Any type of jerky — salmon, beef, or turkey — is a great choice for its portability and shelf-life.
Dinner: Bone broth chicken soup and liver pate
End your day with a gut-soothing soup made with nourishing bone broth. Throw some chicken breasts in a crockpot with the bone broth and desired seasonings, cook, shred the chicken, and save the rest for lunch or dinner the next day. Bringing in organ meats like grass-fed organic liver is a great idea from a mineral and nutrient-density standpoint.
There are so many diets in the world, and each seems to promise to be the solution to all of our health problems. At the end of the day, I’ve learned that there isn’t just one diet that works for everyone — and not everyone should follow the same diet for their whole lives. Sometimes, switching things up for a short period of time can be extremely beneficial, and that’s what I think is the real strength of the carnivore diet.
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- Harvey CJDC, Schofield GM, Zinn C, Thornley SJ, Crofts C, Merien FLR. Low-carbohydrate diets differing in carbohydrate restriction improve cardiometabolic and anthropometric markers in healthy adults: A randomised clinical trial. PeerJ. 2019;7:e6273. Published 2019 Feb 5. doi:10.7717/peerj.6273
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.