The controversial carnivore diet has attracted a lot of attention in recent years. Its proponents claim that it’s the cure for all sorts of conditions – but how? What does the evidence say? Read on for a dive into the potential benefits of the carnivore diet.

What is the Carnivore Diet?

You may have landed here from one of our other posts on the carnivore diet:

If so, then you know that the carnivore diet is exactly what it sounds like: a diet of only meat. So far, we’ve discussed a lot of risks and pitfalls associated with cutting plant foods out entirely – but are there benefits as well?

People who eat a carnivore diet tell stories of mysterious diseases suddenly resolving themselves. They say that they’ve lost weight, that their brain fog is gone, that their athletic performance improved. Anecdotes abound; scientific evidence is lacking. Let’s look at some of the big claims from carnivores and see whether the science backs them up.

Snapshot

PROS

  • Eliminates potential autoimmune irritants like gluten & lectins
  • Decreases inflammation in people who are sensitive to various plant-based components
  • High energy and high protein
  • Devoid of sugar, flours, refined, processed and junk foods
  • Likely causes weight loss based on anecdotes and also since it’s hard to overeat given the food limitations

CONS

  • High risk of nutrient deficiencies
  • Doesn’t contain healthy compounds such as polyphenols & fiber
  • Might not be ideal for longevity if not combined with fasting (high protein diets activate mTOR and IGF-1)
  • May result in lower brain serotonin (carbohydrates increase serotonin in the brain) [10, 11, 12].
  • Increases oxidative stress
  • May cause gut microbiome issues
  • Large carbon footprint

Health Benefits of the Carnivore Diet

So, what’s the deal? Why do this? The carnivore diet is not well researched. As a result, a lot of people start this diet after hearing anecdotal reports of health benefits and life improvement. We’ve collected some of the most common claims and dug into the science to see what might be behind people’s experiences.

Joe’s Anecdotal Health Issues Cured

Since 2014, Joe (SelfHacked founder and CEO) consumed a diet almost exclusively of meat, chicken, fish, and fats (olive oil, ghee), which he called a lectin avoidance diet. He later modified the diet to add in more foods for people who didn’t need as strict of a diet as him. He still follows a strict diet to this day but has found hacks that have allowed him to include more foods every so often while minimizing the inflammatory impact.

For Joe, it fixed the following issues:

  • Brain fog and brain processing issues
  • Chronic fatigue
  • ADHD (undiagnosed attentional difficulties)
  • Anxiety
  • OCD
  • Depression (dysthymia)
  • IBS, Bloating
  • Lack of motivation
  • Insomnia (sleep onset issues, wired but tired at night, not feeling rested after waking up)
  • Shoulder pain for years (from injury in my youth)
  • Index finger pain for years (from injury in my youth)
  • Knee pain for years (left knee)
  • Getting winded and nauseated after playing sports for 5-10 minutes
  • Post-exercise headaches
  • Nasal drip
  • Hypersensitive skin
  • Acne
  • Tinea versicolor (skin fungus) over much of my body
  • Worsening eyesight after the age of 21
  • Warts

1) May Support Brain Function

Some people claim that humans are “meant” to eat meat because when our ancestors started eating meat, the extra energy and protein helped them get bigger, faster, and smarter very quickly. This much is true: the transition from a plant-only diet to an omnivorous diet coincided with a massive expansion in brain size [1].

Anecdotal Claims

Many people who eat a carnivore diet claim to have reduced brain fog and improved cognitive function. They describe mental clarity and a sense of calm that was beyond their reach when eating carbohydrates.

Some people even claim that a carnivore diet reduced the symptoms of their autism, OCD, ADHD, anxiety, and depression.

Evidence-Based Claims

Cognitive Function

According to one study of healthy men, increasing meat protein and decreasing carbohydrate intake improved reaction time, which hints at heightened perception and focus [2].

Red meat intake increases branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) and phenylalanine in the blood. BCAA in the brain may reduce fatigue; phenylalanine is a precursor to dopamine and norepinephrine [2].

According to a Chinese study, children who eat meat are more likely to maintain cognitive function later on in life. In healthy Korean children and teenagers, those who ate more meat and poultry had better scores on some cognitive tests [3, 4].

One study investigated the relationship between diet and dementia in underdeveloped parts of China. They found two dietary patterns correlated with lower rates of cognitive decline in older people: one based on mushrooms, vegetables, and fruits, and the other based on meat and soy [5].

Note that none of these studies used a zero carb, all-meat carnivore diet. They simply show a correlation between fresh meat intake and cognitive function. Furthermore, these claims are still controversial: other studies associated lower meat intake with a reduced risk of dementia [6].

Autism

One of the more interesting claims about the carnivore diet is that it can “cure” autism. As with any claim of being a cure, there are two ways that this could be true:

  1. The carnivore diet includes components that reduce symptoms of autism.
  2. The carnivore diet excludes components that produce or worsen symptoms of autism.
Included Foods that Reduce Symptoms

Meat contains high levels of cysteine, an amino acid that could help people with autism. N-acetylcysteine (NAC), which mainly acts by releasing cysteine, reduced or resolved irritability associated with autism in multiple trials. Because everything eaten in a carnivore diet contains high levels of cysteine, this diet is probably much higher in cysteine than the average [7, 8, 9, 10].

Meat also contains high levels of carnitine. One study found that children with autism have lower carnitine levels and another found that carnitine supplements reduce symptoms compared to the placebo [11].

Increased intake of omega-3 fatty acids may also improve symptoms of autism, though some people respond better than others to supplementation. Make sure to include oily fish (like salmon and sardines) in your carnivore diet to access this benefit [12, 13, 14].

Zinc, which is high in meat, can increase regulatory T cells (Tregs) and prevent autoimmunity. Zinc supplements have even improved symptoms in some (but not all) people with autism [15, 16, 17, 18, 19].

Excluded Foods that Worsen Symptoms

Elimination diets may help some people with autism as well. Specifically, diets that exclude casein and gluten improve symptoms in autistic people who also have gastrointestinal troubles. People with autism tend to have elevated antibodies against casein, gliadin, and ovalbumin: protein components of milk, gluten, and eggs, respectively [20, 21, 22].

Some people with autism may have autoimmunity triggered by milk, wheat, and egg proteins. Their antibodies against these proteins can also react against their own neural tissues. This secondary reaction may cause some of the symptoms of autism [22, 23].

Mixed Microbiome Influence

Gut flora composition also influences the autistic brain. People with autism tend to have more Clostridia, Bacteroides and Desulfovibrio, bacteria that produce propionic acid (PPA) and acetic acid. They also have less of the bacteria that produce butyric acid (a form of butyrate). PPA has been linked to autistic symptoms in rats [24, 25, 26, 27].

Animal fat and protein promote the growth of Clostridia and Bacteroides. Thus, the effect of a carnivore diet on the symptoms of autism may be mixed [24, 25, 26].

Note: increased intake of cheap, industrially-farmed poultry has been linked to autism. The cause of this correlation has not been established; to minimize risk, always look for high-quality, organic meat [28].

OCD

People with obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, have increased glutamate brain activity. Glutamate is one of the most important neurotransmitters in the body, but its overactivity can cause neurological disorders and increase the sensation of pain [29, 30, 31, 32].

Savory foods like parmesan cheese and soy sauce contain high levels of glutamate. Plant proteins contain as much as 40% glutamate, while animal proteins contain 11-22%. Glutamate is also added to food as monosodium glutamate or MSG [33, 34].

Carnivore diets may help restrict dietary glutamate, as long as they don’t include canned meat, processed meat, or preserved seafood [33, 34].

Very little dietary glutamate reaches the blood and the brain. Nevertheless, diets that restrict glutamate may benefit people with OCD. In at least one case study, a person with OCD improved significantly on a glutamate-restricted diet; his symptoms returned after a challenge with MSG [35, 33, 34, 36, 30].

Plus, OCD (like autism), may be improved by increased dietary cysteine [37, 38].

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity has been linked to multiple psychiatric conditions, including OCD. Cutting out gluten may help resolve the symptoms of OCD [39].

Schizophrenia

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity has also been linked to schizophrenia. Some researchers refer to “gluten psychosis,” a set of psychotic symptoms that appear after a sensitive person eats gluten. In one case study, a 14-year-old girl had vivid, complex, sometimes terrifying hallucinations despite normal blood tests. Cutting gluten out of her diet completely resolved her symptoms [39, 23, 40].

Thus, gluten-free diets may be the key for a subset of people with schizophrenia. The carnivore diet is gluten-free, but it probably isn’t necessary to be that strict.

ADHD

Symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) tend to be worse in people who are deficient in certain nutrients, including zinc, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, and the amino acid methionine. All of these are plentiful in meat and fish; people eating a carnivore diet are less likely to be deficient [41, 42, 43, 44].

If you are using a carnivore diet to reduce the symptoms of ADHD, make sure you include oily fish like salmon and sardines to avoid omega-3 deficiencies.

Anxiety & Depression

The relationship between meat, anxiety, and depression is poorly understood. Some studies have linked higher red meat intake with rates of depression; others have correlated vegetarianism with depression. All of these studies have been limited; some don’t differentiate between processed and unprocessed meat, for example [45, 46].

This distinction is probably extremely important. Red meat intake, as part of a “traditional” non-Western diet, appears protective against anxiety and depression up to about 57 g per day. Above that point, red meat correlates with an increased risk of mental illness [47].

On the other hand, remember the link between gluten and psychological conditions. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is also linked with anxiety and depression. If the carnivore diet helps your anxiety or depression, this may be because it eliminates gluten and other potential triggers [39, 48].

Vitamin B12 is also very important for managing mental health. In one study of people with both depression and low vitamin B12, supplementation significantly reduced symptoms. Thus, the high vitamin B12 content of red meat may help improve depression scores [49, 50].

2) Eliminates Food Sensitivity Triggers

Most people who eat a carnivore diet are likely to say that they eat this way to avoid the “toxins” or anti-nutrients in plant matter. They point to compounds like gluten, oxalates, lectins, histamine, and other potentially inflammatory compounds found in plant-based foods, which may cause serious illness in people who are sensitive to them [51, 52, 53].

Anecdotal Claims

According to the online carnivore communities, this benefit is huge. Many people have said that their previous omnivorous diets made them feel brain-fogged, fatigued, or downright ill. After switching to a carnivore diet, they had more energy and felt healthier, which they say is because of decreased inflammation.

People say that their arthritis, Hashimoto’s disease, and other autoimmune disorders improved on a carnivore diet.

Evidence-Based Claims

Food sensitivities are probably more common than most people think. SelfHacked has several articles on how some plant-based compounds, such as lectins, can cause inflammation and autoimmunity. Some of the most likely culprits include:

If the carnivore diet solved your problems with inflammation and autoimmunity, then you may be sensitive to one or more of the common anti-nutrients in plant foods.

If this is the case, then the carnivore diet isn’t the only way to avoid your triggers. You may wish to reintroduce certain plant foods, one by one, and track your reaction. Doctors routinely use elimination and reintroduction diets to manage diseases like irritable bowel syndrome and esophagus inflammation (eosinophilic esophagitis) [63, 64].

The benefit of reintroducing some plant foods is that you will then have access to all of the nutrients and phytochemicals in those plants [65].

Autoimmunity

As described above, some people experience autoimmunity triggered by milk, wheat, and egg proteins. Their antibodies against these proteins can also cross-react, attacking their own brain tissues, which causes brain fog and other neurological symptoms [22, 23].

Zinc, which is high in meat, can increase regulatory T cells (Tregs) and prevent autoimmunity. Zinc supplements have even improved symptoms in some (but not all) people with autism [15, 16, 17].

B vitamins, which are plentiful in meat, tend to improve the symptoms of lupus, an autoimmune condition. Vitamin B6, in particular, may suppress inflammation and support correct immune function in people with lupus [66, 67].

By contrast, healthy diets low in red meat (like the Mediterranean diet) tend to improve autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. Similar to the carnivore diet, they help by reducing or eliminating autoimmune-triggering proteins. But they are also plentiful in anti-inflammatory foods the carnivore diet lacks, such as olive oil [68, 69].

Joe’s Experience

Joe Cohen, the founder of SelfHacked, actually started this website because he had unresolved inflammatory symptoms he was trying to fix. His breakthrough came when he realized that various components in plant-based foods were triggering most of his issues.

Many specialized diets, such as the lectin avoidance diet, aim to eliminate specific antinutrients and potentially prevent certain inflammatory conditions.

For sensitive people, avoiding these foods may alleviate inflammation or autoimmune issues.

But let’s put this diet in perspective: it’s not a solution for the masses. Rather, the carnivore diet should be regarded as a therapy for specific people.

3) Helps Manage and Prevent Some Diseases

Anecdotal Claims

Websites promoting the carnivore diet are full of people’s stories about diseases they completely cured by eating nothing but meat. In different forums and comment sections, people have claimed that the carnivore diet cured:

  • Arthritis
  • Autism
  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Endometriosis
  • Epilepsy
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome

…and more.

Evidence-Based Claims

Unfortunately, modern research has not investigated the carnivore diet’s potential to manage many diseases. One Hungarian research group has conducted multiple case studies, but these are limited as well.

According to this research group, the “paleolithic ketogenic diet,” an all-meat, high-fat diet, has successfully managed childhood absence epilepsy and type 1 diabetes, among other diseases. This diet emphasizes a high fat to protein ratio of between 2:1 and 4:1 in order to induce ketosis [70, 71].

Increased non-processed red meat intake may reduce the risk of developing multiple sclerosis [72].

Female Reproductive Disorders

Endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) are the two most common female reproductive disorders. In endometriosis, uterine tissue grows outside of the uterus, causing pain and reducing fertility. In PCOS, excess androgens (like testosterone) cause ovarian cysts, which reduces fertility [73, 74].

Red meat intake is actually linked to increased rates of endometriosis, while poultry, fish, shellfish, and eggs have no effect. Some researchers even call red meat one of the major culprits behind endometriosis. Meanwhile, higher fruit intake (especially of citrus fruit containing beta-cryptoxanthin) may reduce the risk of endometriosis [73, 75, 76].

But there’s a catch: cruciferous vegetables, which are otherwise considered extremely healthy, increased endometriosis risk by 13%. It’s possible that the carnivore diet offers some protection by eliminating these vegetables, but we can’t draw any conclusions [77].

In theory, the increased D and B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and cysteine in a balanced carnivore diet could improve endometriosis, but the decreased antioxidant status could worsen it. Make sure to consume antioxidants if you are at risk of endometriosis and eating a carnivore diet [78, 79].

In PCOS, meanwhile, red meat intake is linked with increased risk of infertility. Again, the increased vitamin D in fish may help. Beef, steak, pork chops, and chicken liver are also relatively rich in myo-inositol, which may help with PCOS symptoms; however, some fruits (especially cantaloupe and citrus), whole wheat, and many nuts and beans are much higher, so the carnivore diet won’t necessarily increase inositol [74, 80, 81, 81].

In one small study of 57 women, a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet improved weight loss, glucose metabolism, and PCOS symptoms. The beneficial diet was intended to produce over 40% of energy from protein, about 30% from fat, and less than 30% from carbohydrates [82].

Overall, the observed relationship between meat and PCOS is not promising. This anecdotal benefit is not well supported by the evidence.

Cancers

Some cancers may respond better than others to a carnivore diet. Red meat intake is believed to increase colorectal cancer risk, for example. In a study of over 8000 Korean adults, higher red meat intake was associated with a higher overall risk of developing cancer [83, 84].

Ketogenic diets, by contrast, may be useful. With the exception of kidney cancers and some melanomas, ketogenic diets reduced tumors in almost all cancers tested in animal models [85].

Well-designed clinical studies would reveal if ketogenic carnivore diets can help control some cancers; some such trials are currently underway. According to early results, some cancers may respond well to ketosis, while others may worsen [86, 87].

There is currently not enough evidence to confidently claim that ketogenic diets can prevent or treat cancer; they may be most effective in combination with traditional therapies [86, 87].

Do not attempt to treat cancer with a carnivore diet. Talk to your doctor about the potential of a ketogenic diet alongside other therapies.

Carnivory & Ketosis

Ketosis is a big part of how high-fat carnivore diets might manage different diseases. Other ketogenic diets have successfully managed or prevented epilepsy, cardiovascular disease, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) [88, 89, 90, 91, 70, 92].

A recent guide to medical ketogenic diets recommends that the diet be 55-60% fats, 30-35% protein, and 5-10% carbohydrates. Carbs should be kept under 50 g for every 2000 calories consumed. Other guides recommend a fat to protein ratio of 4:1 or 3:1 [93, 94].

Branched chain amino acid (BCAA) supplements support ketosis and improve the effects of ketogenic diets on epilepsy. BCAAs increase when we eat red meat; this lends support to the idea that a ketogenic, carnivorous diet could have therapeutic effects [94, 2].

4) Supports Heart Health

Anecdotal Claims

Some people claim that the carnivore diet got their heart rate, blood pressure, and cholesterol way down. A few even say that eating only meat got rid of the plaques in their blood vessels and drastically reduced their risk of heart attack, making improvements that even medication could not.

Evidence-Based Claims

Saturated fats, which are plentiful in meat, were long considered a risk factor for heart health – until, in 2015, a meta-analysis showed no correlation between saturated fat intake and cardiovascular disease [95, 96].

High-fat, ketogenic diets may have developed a bad reputation in the scientific community because of the ubiquity of rat studies. Researchers use high-fat diets to increase cholesterol and triglycerides and induce nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in lab rats. They feed the rats too much and deliberately create unhealthy conditions [95, 97].

In humans, ketogenic diets decrease cholesterol and triglycerides and reduce blood pressure.

In multiple studies of obese people, long-term ketogenic diets (at least 24 weeks and up to 56 weeks) decreased LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood sugar and increased HDL cholesterol [98, 99].

By contrast, in another study, trained athletes on ketogenic diets had higher total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol than those eating more carbs. These athletes may need a higher pool of cholesterol so they have more available fats to burn as energy [100].

Ketogenic diets also change the LDL molecule itself, increasing the size of the particles. These larger particles are less likely to produce plaques [101, 102].

These effects are beneficial to heart health. If you manage to enter and maintain ketosis in your carnivore diet, you can expect some benefits to your heart [95].

The Bad News

Again, however, there is controversy: eating red meat is associated with increased trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO). TMAO increases the risk of plaques in the blood vessels, which in turn can cause a heart attack or stroke [103].

Fatty and preserved red meats have also been associated with cardiovascular risk, with preserved or processed meat carrying the highest risk. To stay on the safe side, carnivores should consider choosing the freshest cuts of meat [104, 105].

5) Improves Digestive & Kidney Health

Anecdotal Claims

Generally, we think of fiber as being the best nutritional solution for digestive problems. However, some people have claimed that the carnivore diet got rid of their kidney stones, improved diverticulitis, and resolved constipation.

Many people also claim that their irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) went away on the carnivore diet.

Evidence-Based Claims

When mineral levels are too high for the kidneys to process, kidney stones can form. One of the risk factors for stones is oxalate intake; oxalates are high in foods like nuts, seeds, leafy greens, rhubarb, soy, and wheat bran. On the other hand, diets that are very high in protein may also stress the kidneys and increase the risk of stone formation [106, 107, 108].

Diverticula are small pouches that sometimes form in the lining of the intestine. These can become inflamed, causing a painful condition called diverticulitis. Diets that are low in fiber and high in red meat are believed to increase the risk of diverticulitis. In one study of 764 cases of diverticulitis, poultry and fish did not increase the risk of disease; red meat, however, did [109, 110, 111].

Dietary fiber is generally considered to improve the passage of stool and prevent constipation. However, low-fiber diets can resolve constipation of unknown cause. Furthermore, decreasing or eliminating certain carbohydrates like FODMAPs can resolve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) [112, 113].

Fiber, Gut Flora & IBD

Our diets determine what kind of bacteria live in our intestines and help digest our food. High fiber intake promotes the growth of bacteria that ferment carbohydrates into short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). High animal fat and protein intake reduces the overall population of gut bacteria and promotes Bacteroides and Clostridia [26].

Low levels of Bacteroides are linked to increased rates of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (types of inflammatory bowel disease), which suggests that people with IBD would benefit from eating more meat. However, gut bacteria can also produce harmful waste products like trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO) when they digest meat [114, 115].

Finally, the amino acid glutamine protects the tight junctions of the intestinal wall and can prevent leaky gut. Beef has more glutamine by weight than many other proteins, including tofu, egg, and milk [116, 117, 118].

Glutamine has shown promise as a supplement for people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In one study, 15 g of glutamine per day for 8 weeks improved symptoms of diarrhea type IBS. However, the placebo in this trial was whey powder, which could have produced more symptoms in the placebo group and exaggerated the results [119, 120].

Still, the high levels of glutamine in beef may protect against leaky gut [121].

6) Supports Weight Loss

Anecdotal Claims

Many people online have stories about weight loss after switching to a carnivore diet. Some show off impressive “before and after” photos demonstrating the new, slimmed-down figures that they attribute to eating all meat.

Evidence-Based Claims

Increased red meat intake has been linked to increased inflammation in people who already have an excess of fat. However, this effect has only been studied in people eating omnivorous diets; we don’t actually know how a carnivore diet interacts with fat tissues [122].

If a well-designed carnivore diet is ketogenic, then it may be a useful weight loss tool. Ketogenic diets promote weight loss through improved fat metabolism. Multiple studies have confirmed that people on ketogenic diets lose more weight faster than other weight-loss diets. Importantly, people on ketogenic diets lose much more weight than people on low-fat diets [123, 93, 124].

In short, if your carnivore diet is designed to induce ketosis, it can help you lose weight.

Low-carb diets have been a weight loss strategy since the mid-1800s. According to one approach, low-carb diets work by decreasing insulin production. This, in turn, would prevent fat storage and promote weight loss [125, 126].

Some studies even suggest that low-carb diets increase the amount of energy burned by about 300 calories, given the same number of calories is consumed. However, this result has not been confirmed [125, 127].

Sugar is another factor. Many processed foods have refined sugars added during production, which may promote metabolic disease and weight gain. A true carnivore diet has no added sugar whatsoever, avoiding this risk entirely [128].

Finally, protein increases satiety: that is, it helps you feel like you’ve eaten enough food. When we feel sated, we consume fewer calories. High-protein diets have been shown to improve body composition and help people lose weight and there’s no higher-protein diet than the carnivore diet [101, 129, 130].

7) Decreases Inflammation

Anecdotal Claims

A lot of people say they were drawn to the carnivore diet because they had arthritis and joint pain, which advocates said would disappear if they cut all plant foods out. People share stories online of arthritis, diverticulitis, asthma, and other inflammatory diseases completely disappearing after they switched to eating all meat.

Evidence-Based Claims

According to most research, red and processed meats are typically associated with increased inflammatory markers. However, these studies don’t tend to differentiate between beef, pork, lamb, and other red meats; processed meat is also far worse than fresh in every case. Also, the studies don’t differentiate between the quality of meat or its preparation (such as grilled vs. non-grilled) [122, 131].

As mentioned above, a well-designed carnivore diet may be able to induce ketosis. Ketogenic diets (and low-carb, high-fat diets in general) are anti-inflammatory: in one study of overweight adults, a very-low-carb ketogenic diet (VLCKD) reduced oxidative stress and inflammation over twelve weeks [132, 133].

Ketogenic diets are well known to reduce the symptoms of epilepsy, probably by reducing inflammation. In rats, ketogenic diets also reduced markers of pain and inflammation [134].

By contrast, diets high in carbohydrates increase inflammation [133].

Carnivores who eat oily fish like salmon and sardines will also have increased intake of omega-3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory. Some meats, like pork, may even have anti-inflammatory effects, though researchers have only demonstrated these effects in cells [135, 14, 136].

In other words, it’s complicated, and there’s plenty of conflicting evidence. Scientists have not reached a consensus about how an all-meat diet might affect inflammation. When people switch to the carnivore diet and their inflammation goes away, it may have more to do with the elimination of certain plant compounds (and, if applicable, with ketosis) than with the meat itself.

8) Increases Athletic Performance

Anecdotal Claims

Bodybuilders, strength trainers, and other athletes seem to be drawn to the carnivore diet. Some people claim that eating only meat increases muscle strength and endurance, increases lean mass and improves mental performance during high-intensity exercise.

Evidence-Based Claims

Researchers have not investigated the effect of a carnivore diet on athletic performance. Carnivores regularly eat up to a kilogram of protein per day, which is much higher than in most formal studies. Your total protein intake depends on the type and amount of meat you eat [137].

That being said, strength-training athletes need a lot of high-quality protein every day to maintain muscle mass and power and to recover from performance or injury. Researchers recommend 1.4-2.4 g of protein per kg of body weight per day, or 127-218 g per day for a 200 lb athlete [138, 139].

Animal-based proteins are better than plant proteins for this purpose: they provide all the essential amino acids and digested easier. Meat is high in vitamin B12, B6, and iron, which is especially important for female athletes who are at a greater risk of deficiency. Lastly, plant-based foods contain antinutrients (such as lectins and tannins) that reduce the absorption of proteins [138, 140].

In turn, athletes who eat meat gain more lean muscle mass than those who follow vegetarian diets, even when the vegetarians include milk and eggs [138].

These benefits are not limited to athletes: in older people eating omnivorous diets, higher red meat intake was linked with increased muscle mass and function [137, 141].

9) Increases Libido

Anecdotal Claims

Some people claim that the carnivore diet increased their libido, or at least restored it to “normal” levels following a drop due to medication or stress. Women and men have both reported this benefit to varying degrees.

Many carnivores assume (and subsequently claim) that the return of their libido was linked to increased levels of testosterone.

Evidence-Based Claims

Conflicting evidence abounds on this point. In some studies, lower red meat intake is associated with erectile dysfunction. In others, the opposite. Some studies link red meat intake with poor reproductive health; however, fresh unprocessed red meat decreases sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), which should increase free testosterone and increase libido. High-fat, low-fiber diets have also been linked to increased testosterone [142, 143, 144, 145, 146].

Processed meats are definitely the worst offenders here; the carnivore diet’s direct effects on sexual function are less certain [144].

Sexual dysfunction is also more common in overweight and obese people; if the carnivore diet helps these people lose weight, it may also restore sexual function. This is especially true in overweight men: weight loss increases total and free testosterone, sex hormone binding globulin, and sexual function [147, 148].

Finally, arginine supplements may improve erectile dysfunction in some men by boosting blood flow; meat and fish are rich in arginine [149, 150].

10) Promotes Growth & Development

Anecdotal Claims

Some carnivores advocate giving the diet to children and adolescents; some go as far as weaning their babies directly onto a carnivore diet when they’re done breastfeeding. They claim that their children are “big, strong, and smart.”

Evidence-Based Claims

Meat is packed with nutrients like protein, iron, and B vitamins; these promote healthy growth and development in children and teenagers. In one British study, adolescents who ate red meat were at lower risk for nutrient deficiencies than those who didn’t [151].

In a study of over 3000 US babies and children growing up in low-income families, adequate meat intake was key to preventing stunting. This goes to say that your kids should get enough meat early on, but it doesn’t mean that you should put them on a carnivore diet [152].

Unless you are a trained nutritionist, or you have a trained nutritionist to advise you, we don’t recommend feeding only meat to your children. The risk of deficiencies (of nutrients mainly found in plants) is just too high, and there’s at least one documented case of an exclusively meat-eating child getting scurvy [153].

Meat is good for kids, but nutrient intake is even more important during growth and development than it is during adulthood.

11) Simple & Convenient

There are a lot of diets out there, all claiming to produce amazing health benefits and improvements to quality of life. Most of these diets are complex and challenging, requiring pamphlets, websites, and even entire books to explain and direct. Mediterranean diet, Atkins diet, alkaline diet, macrobiotic diet: they’re difficult to understand, let alone maintain.

Advocates of the carnivore diet say there’s no simpler diet: after all, all you need to do is eat meat and drink water.

What the Science Says

Of course, it’s not actually that simple; not all meat is created equal, and our bodies still have nutrient requirements beyond what just meat can provide. As we explained in our post on potential nutrient deficiencies, a poorly-designed carnivore diet may be lacking in:

Check out our deficiency post to find out how you can get these important nutrients without breaking your carnivore diet. It’s a little extra work, but it’s worth it to maintain optimal health.

Who Should Try a Carnivore Diet?

The carnivore diet isn’t right for everyone. For some, however, it can be the starting point for an elimination diet or a powerful lifestyle change on its own.

Genetics: Joe’s Research into the Carnivore Diet Gene

Joe has found from his independent research that the SNP most likely to predict if you will do well on a carnivore diet is rs1049353, which belongs to the CNR1 gene.

CNR1 sounds like carnivore, but there’s no relation. It’s actually the Cannabinoid Receptor 1. If you have a T allele, then it means that you want to try out a carnivore diet. If you have 2 T alleles, as Joe and Mikhaila have, then you DEFINITELY want to try out a carnivore diet. Joe has found with his clients that those with 2 alleles (around 3 percent of the population) always had food sensitivities as a root of their problem.

Gene Name (Gene Symbol with SelfDecode Link)SNPProblematic Allele or Genotype
Cannabinoid Receptor 1 (CNR1)rs1049353T

If you negatively react to plant-based substances, you are more likely to do well on a carnivore diet. To understand how your genetics can impact your predisposition, read this post on genes, symptoms, and blood tests that may indicate your sensitivity to plant substances.

Food Sensitivities

As described above, people can be sensitive to certain compounds that are common in plant foods. If you suspect that your health problems are caused by sensitivity to lectins, gluten, or other compounds, carnivory could be a good starting point for an elimination diet [51, 52, 53].

If you cut out all plant foods and your health problems resolve, consider reintroducing (or “challenging”) one potential plant-based trigger at a time. Figure out what does and does not cause inflammation in your body, and use that information to design your own diet.

Epilepsy

Ketogenic diets have been used to reduce the symptoms of epilepsy for decades. A well-designed carnivore diet (or “paleolithic ketogenic” diet) can be ketogenic; if you have epilepsy and food sensitivities, carnivory may help manage your disease [88, 70].

Note: we don’t think you should try to cure a disease as serious as epilepsy on your own. Talk to your doctor about the potential benefits of a carnivore diet (or a paleolithic ketogenic diet), and be sure to bring your sources along. The best way to ensure that your diet is right for you is to work with trained, open-minded doctors and nutritionists.

Who Should Avoid the Carnivore Diet?

Chronic Kidney Disease

High-protein diets are considered dangerous for people with chronic kidney disease (CKD). Protein can increase pressure and filtration rate in the kidneys, leading to additional damage and accelerating the disease [108, 166, 167].

If you have or are at risk for CKD, the carnivore diet is probably not the way to go.

Pregnancy

Because of the lack of research and high risk of nutrient deficiencies, pregnant women should not eat a carnivore diet. Once high-quality studies have been conducted, trained nutritionists may be able to guide you through a healthy carnivorous diet while you are pregnant. However, we do not recommend doing this alone.

Limited Access to Organic Meat

Organic, grass-fed meat is expensive. As such, people of lower socioeconomic status have less access to it: the carnivore diet is, by definition, exclusive to people with enough money to buy large quantities of high-quality meat. If you don’t have reliable access to the best cuts of organic meat, the carnivore diet may not be feasible [168].

This is a big problem with healthy food options in general. Many of the foods that are best for our health are also the most expensive [169].

Good Health

If you’re in excellent health eating your current diet, there’s no reason to switch. Modern scientists haven’t investigated the effects of eating only meat; most case studies and anecdotal success stories are about resolving a problem like epilepsy or arthritis. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Warnings from Carnivores

Not everyone who starts the carnivore diet is happy with the results. Some have told horror stories.

Some people developed scurvy, and their teeth and hair started falling out. Others fell into depression and suffered powerful cravings for fruits, vegetables, and sugars. Thyroid problems, high cholesterol, and menstrual irregularities sometimes emerge after several months on the carnivore diet.

Many people who eat a carnivore diet are not extremely strict. They say that they eat a ketogenic diet or low carb high fat (LCHF) diet in social settings and eat only meat in the comfort of their home.

Strict adherents to the diet often describe nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and severe fatigue after eating a piece of bread or fruit.

Limitations and Caveats

The biggest limitation of any discussion of a carnivorous diet is the lack of research on its effect on the human body. All of the studies on an animal-based diet were either very short (a few days), case studies of Antarctic explorers or victims of scurvy, or anthropological reviews of cultural practices (which always involve at least some plants).

Studies that last a few days can only tell you what the carnivore does over the course of a few days. In the longer term, poor nutrition may cause thyroid and hormonal problems, nutrient deficiencies, or even beneficial adaptations, but these are not well documented in the specific case of the carnivore diet.

Proponents of the carnivore diet claim that the human body’s nutritional requirements are different after several months of eating only meat, but there is little research to back them up.

Some case studies of Antarctic explorers suggest that human bodies can adapt to eating only (freshly killed, sometimes raw) meat over a long period of time. Other case studies of people with scurvy suggest that a truly healthy carnivore diet is almost impossible for the modern, city-dwelling person: vitamin C and other nutrients are hard to get from commercial meat and many organs are difficult to find, buy, and prepare properly.

A lot of people make a lot of claims about the carnivore diet. The landscape may be difficult to navigate; always check people’s claims against their sources to make sure you have the best information available.

SelfHacked Resources

Joe developed the SelfHacked Lectin Avoidance Diet to help himself and clients with chronic inflammation and autoimmunity figure out which foods they are reacting to. In a nutshell, it is very similar to the carnivore diet but with additional well-researched components. These are added to prevent nutrient deficiencies and reduce the health risks of consuming a high-protein diet.

Rather than going through a trademarked or one-size-fits-all approach, it is best to eat a diet that is as diverse as possible. Therefore, the SelfHacked Lectin Avoidance Diet is also an elimination-reintroduction protocol. You remove most common food sensitivities until your symptoms subside, then bring them back one at a time to determine what you react to.

At the end of the diet, you should be able to eat diverse foods without experiencing inflammatory symptoms. Once your inflammation is well-managed, you may even be able to occasionally consume some foods you are sensitive to.

Here are the resources we recommend diving into for more detailed information:

  • DNA Vitamin Report and Mineral Report – lets you know which vitamins and minerals you may need more of based on your genetics. We are all unique.
  • The SelfHacked Elimination Diet course, which both breaks down the science and gives you practical step-by-step instructions. The goal is to help you pinpoint your food sensitivities to plant substances and ways to overcome them.
  • The All About Inflammation course provides background info and science of inflammation in a layperson-friendly way
  • SelfDecode can help you gain valuable insights from your genetics, including if you have the T allele for rs1049353 and other genes that contribute to food sensitivities. In addition, our reports and platform are the most cutting-edge solution in the personalized nutrigenomics space.
  • LabTestAnalyzer can objectively tell you if the diet you’re eating is right for you. Check to see if your diet is keeping your labs optimal.

This post contains links from our sister companies, SelfDecode and LabTestAnalyzer, as well as sponsored links. The proceeds from your purchase of these products are reinvested into our research and development, in order to serve you better. Thank you for your support.

Take-Away:

Carnivores claim that their diet has a lot of health benefits. Science backs some of these up: red meat intake improves brain function in children and the elderly, promotes growth & development, increases muscle strength, and may improve sexual function. If the carnivore diet is ketogenic, it may help manage some diseases and support heart, digestive, and kidney health.

Because the carnivore diet cuts out all plant foods, it naturally cuts out inflammatory toxins found in plant foods. Thus, the carnivore diet is a good starting point for an elimination diet. People can start from carnivory and add certain plant foods back in, one at a time, to look for food sensitivities.

Research on a strict carnivore diet is almost non-existent. It’s difficult to say with confidence that any of these benefits exist – or that they don’t. If you choose to eat a carnivore diet, do the extra work to avoid nutrient deficiencies and consider adding plant foods that don’t cause sensitivity reactions.

About the Author

Jasmine Foster, BSc, BEd

BS (Animal Biology), BEd (Secondary Education)

Jasmine received her BS from McGill University and her BEd from Vancouver Island University.

Jasmine loves helping people understand their brains and bodies, a passion that grew out of her dual background in biology and education. From the chem lab to the classroom, everyone has the right to learn and make informed decisions about their health.

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