dnaMD Nutrition- the Carnivore Diet
The Carnivore diet is a hotly contested nutritional plan that has garnered a lot of media attention. Some loyal carnivores claim the diet has cured them of symptoms like depression, arthritis, psoriasis, while also allowing them to significantly decrease their body weight. In reality, this diet only works for a very loud, very slim number of participants who try the diet.
Most people who try the carnivore diet are left nutrient deficient with no noticeable weight loss and none of the other promised benefits. But why does the carnivore diet remain so enticing for so many people? And why does it actually work for some?
Carnivore Diet 101:
While there is no “official” definition of the carnivore diet, it basically cuts out every other food group aside from animal products. The scientific reasoning behind the carnivore diet can be compared to an extreme version of the keto diet. Theoretically, in cutting out all glucose, you can turbocharge the body’s fat-burning abilities in an effort to replace the lost fuel- a process called ketogenesis. While entering ketogenesis may be useful for some, it often results in a nutrient deficiency. Further, protein often causes an increase in blood sugar and insulin levels, which kicks you out of ketosis.
It is important to note that the creator of the carnivore diet, Shawn Baker, had his medical license revoked in 2017. The New Mexico Medical Board ordered the “permanent surrender” of his license due to an “incompetence to practice as a licensee.” This was in part due to his constant promotion of the carnivore diet. Since 2017, Baker has only strengthened the carnivore diet movement and has gained followers around the world. But you will be hard-pressed to find a licensed medical professional promoting this diet.
On the carnivore diet, you can eat:
Red meat (beef, pork, lamb)
Salt and pepper
There is some discussion as to whether one can eat other dairy products on the carnivore diet, some continue to consume cheese and cream while others do not.
On the carnivore diet, you cannot eat:
Supposed benefits of the carnivore diet:
One of the proven benefits of the carnivore diet is the lack of appetite between meals due to high protein consumption causing you to feel more full. Obviously, this calorie depletion will have some effect on your overall food consumption, which may result in lower calories. While lab studies have demonstrated the benefits of high-protein diets to be favorable for weight loss, the carnivore diet has not been analyzed.
Some people claim the carnivore diet has the potential to act as an anti-inflammatory diet for people with an autoimmune condition. Because most autoimmune issues “start in the gut”, significantly altering your diet may offer some symptom relief. An unhealthy gut is commonly caused by an imbalanced gut microbiome. One way to give your microbiome a hard reset is to eliminate the source of bad bacteria- many of which are found in plant foods like gluten. Eating an only animal product diet will alter the microbiome, but insufficient research has been performed to determine whether these changes are beneficial.
Several carnivores claim that the diet cured them of rheumatoid arthritis. But most research performed on alleviating arthritis was done on the Mediterranean diet and omega-3 supplementations. A small study on the Keto diet found no significant benefit. There has only been one study that suggests a high-protein, gluten-free diet can be useful for rheumatoid arthritis patients. A study on the carnivore diet’s effects on rheumatoid arthritis has not been performed yet.
For people with hypothyroidism, the carnivore diet might be used as a dietary intervention alongside other diets like paleo, Primal, and keto. Gluten-free diets have been demonstrated to reduce symptoms and improve the quality of life for people with Hashimoto’s. But eating a carnivore diet will still result in a nutrient deficiency without proper supplementation.
Risks of the Carnivore Diet:
Unlike the benefits of the carnivore diet, the risks of the diet are real and have been scientifically proven.
The carnivore diet offers little to no natural fiber- as it is largely found in vegetables, fruits, and grains. Dietary fiber is essential for healthy digestion. Research has also suggested dietary fiber can protect against colon cancer and colorectal adenoma.
Multiple studies have linked eating red meat and processed meat to an increased risk of coronary artery disease and diabetes. This is because some meats can raise cholesterol levels in the blood due to high saturated fat content.
Following a high protein diet may be especially harmful for people with chronic kidney disease. Research has suggested less protein intake can slow the progression of chronic kidney disease and delay the need for dialysis therapy.
Cutting out all animal products will likely leave you deficient in many nutrients, including most vitamins and minerals. The importance of eating a diet full of micronutrients cannot be overstated, as nutrient deficiencies can lead to the cease of DNA repair. When DNA repair is ceased, you are at a higher risk of developing degenerative diseases that accompany aging, such as cancer, immune dysfunction, strokes, cardiovascular disease, and cognitive decline.
A diet high in red meat and processed meats has also demonstrated to increase the risk of developing gastric cancer. Specifically, the researchers suggested red and processed meat will increase your likelihood of developing colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancer. However, these studies did not differentiate between grass-fed, pasture-raised meat and meat from commercially processed facilities.
Red meat intake has also been strongly associated with an increased risk of developing end-stage renal disease- the loss of normal kidney function. While a balanced diet likely won’t lead to kidney disease, the carnivore diet has the potential to.
For people whose genes work well with a high-fat diet, exploring the carnivore diet for a SHORT AMOUNT OF TIME may be beneficial. But due to the lack of peer-reviewed scientific studies on the carnivore diet, the true benefits are unknown.
Genes that impact your ability to attempt the carnivore diet are as follows:
PEMT gene- allows you to naturally create choline, which is essential for liver function. If you have a specific variant of the PEMT gene, you are more likely to develop a choline deficiency, which is linked to fat buildup in the liver. This will only benefit the carnivore diet if you increase your intake of eggs.
ACAT gene- directly affects how well your body can convert protein and fat into ATP. Variants in the ACAT gene impact your ability to burn fat for cellular energy thus impact your likelihood of developing high cholesterol and liver problems. The ACAT genes if only beneficial for the carnivore diet if you have a variant that allows easy fat burning.
APOA2 gene- known as the “eat fat, get fat” gene, it regulates appetite. With variations in the APOA2 gene, you may not feel full and consume more calories on a diet full of saturated fats. The APOA2 gene also affects how you process saturated fats, variations may cause ease or harm on the carnivore diet.
FTO gene- works in the regulation of ghrelin, the hunger hormone. Variations in this gene result in constant hunger and difficulty in balancing blood sugars- which is risky if you’re following the carnivore diet. If you’re only eating protein, eating too much may result in the health effects mentioned above.
ACSL1 gene- affects how you metabolize saturated fats from animals. It can cause insulin resistance and higher fasting glucose levels if you have a copy present. If you are a slow metabolizer, you should avoid the carnivore diet.
STAT3 gene- This gene is highly associated with increased visceral (belly) fat when eating saturated fats. Studies have shown that there is an exponential risk of obesity with eating saturated fat. Individuals with the gene need to keep their saturated fat intake less than 22g a day.
ABCG8 gene- Variants in this gene affect how well your body processes sterols- a form of fat found in plants. Some mutations of this gene can lead to a buildup of plant sterols, which results in a number of health problems- a condition called sitosterolemia. For those with sitosterolemia, the carnivore diet could potentially offer them relief from symptoms.