Only eating meat for the rest of your life: for some, it might sound too good to be true. Is it possible to be healthy eating nothing but steak? What can the carnivorous cultures of the world teach us? Read on to learn more about the carnivore diet.

What Is the Carnivore Diet?

Only Meat?

The carnivore diet, also called zero carb, is exactly what it sounds like: eat only meat. Some people are more strict than others about what counts as meat; animal products like milk, cheese, and eggs are a topic of debate. Some people salt their food which can provide some minerals, while others claim not to need it.

People are most commonly following a carnivore diet to alleviate autoimmune or inflammatory issues.

Critics of the carnivore diet say that it destroys the intestines and can’t provide all the nutrients the human body requires. On the other hand, people like the Maasai and Inuit eat traditional diets of almost exclusively meat [1, 2].

But are these people true carnivores?

A strict carnivore diet includes only meat, while some people eat other animal products too. Opinions on this diet are split.

Carnivorous Cultures

Generally speaking, the colder the environment, the less plant life grows there. This means that people who traditionally live in cold climates tend to eat more meat and fewer plants. The Chukotka people of Siberia and the Inuit and Eeyouch of Canada are great examples of such cultures [3, 4, 5].

However, none of these cultures completely cut plants out of their diets; in fact, they travel great lengths to gather and eat fruits, roots, and medicinal herbs during the warmer seasons [3, 4, 5].

The vast majority of a traditional Eeyouch (northern Quebec) diet is made up of wild game like moose and caribou, goose, and fish.

However, during the summer months, they gather huge quantities of wild blueberries and Labrador tea. They also make tea with white spruce needles and gather a variety of medicinal plants and mosses [5, 6, 7].

Even the Maasai people of Kenya and Tanzania – whose famous carnivorous diet is made almost entirely of cow’s blood, meat, milk, and honey – eat herbs, roots, and tree bark as part of traditional medicine [8, 9].

Some people from areas with a cold and harsh climate almost exclusively eat meat, but they also sometimes gather wild berries, roots, and medicinal plants.

Snapshot

PROs

  • Eliminates potential plant-based irritants such as gluten & lectins
  • High protein and metabolism challenged
  • Devoid of sugar and processed foods
  • Likely causes weight loss based on anecdotes

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
  • May result in lower brain serotonin
  • Increases oxidative stress
  • May cause gut microbiome issues
  • Large carbon footprint

Carnivore Diet Benefits

So, what’s the deal? Why do this? The health effects of the carnivore diet are poorly studied, but its proponents have a few arguments.

One such line of reasoning is evolutionary. 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 quickly.

Indeed, the historical transition from a plant-only diet to an omnivorous diet coincided with a massive expansion in brain size [10].

Advocates say you’ll have lower nutrient requirements, that you can get all the vitamin C you need from meat, and that nutrients are more bioavailable in meat anyway. Some claim this diet cures a long list of diseases.

Most people on a carnivore diet claim they eat this way to avoid the “toxins” or antinutrients in plant matter. They point to compounds like gluten, oxalates, lectins, histamine, and other plant-based irritants, which may cause serious illness in sensitive people [11, 12, 13].

We took a deep dive into the science to address all the common arguments from carnivores in this post.

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.

Joe Cohen, the founder of SelfHacked, actually started this website because of unresolved inflammatory symptoms, and his breakthrough came when he realized that most of his issues were from various components in plant-based foods.

The carnivore diet is also high protein energy (low carb) and devoid of sugar and processed foods.

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.

As such, this post is not intended to discourage the diet. The point of this post is to make people aware of the potential deficiencies so that they can supplement properly and avoid the negatives. As with any diet, you should always think twice about long term use of a restricted diet such as this.

The carnivore diet is high in energy and protein and devoid of sugar, processed foods, and plant-based irritants; it may thus help with inflammatory conditions.

Deficiencies From the Carnivore Diet

Intro

The glaring drawback of the carnivore diet is what’s missing from the meat.

The common commercial cuts of beef, pork, and chicken do not contain all of the vitamins, minerals, and compounds required for human health… and over enough time, these deficiencies can be extremely dangerous.

That said, most of the nutrients listed here can be found in organ meats: liver, kidney, sweetbreads, lungs, brain, and so on. Thus, the key may be that many people eating a carnivore diet do not eat enough organs.

If you are still getting less than the recommended levels, you should supplement. Even if you’re getting sufficient amounts, it’s important to realize that “just enough” is often not ideal. Some people may need more than the recommended intakes for optimal health [14].

Note: In the meal scenarios below, we don’t count the nutrients that you would get from Himalayan salt. Despite the claims that Himalayan salt contains a wide variety of minerals, these are only present in small amounts that would not move the needle for any nutrient.

Meat lacks an array of essential nutrients found in plant foods, and long-term adherence to the carnivore diet can cause dangerous deficiencies. Organ meats may supply additional nutrients.

Vitamins

1) Vitamin A

Vitamin A is important for the function of the eyes, heart, lungs, kidneys, and other organs. Deficiency in this vitamin can cause night blindness [15].

The daily recommended intake of vitamin A (as retinol) is 700 – 900 mcg per day. 3 ounces of beef liver provides many times that. Liver, in general, is a great source of preformed (active) vitamin A or retinol [15].

Grass-fed beef contains significantly more beta-carotene (a compound that is converted to vitamin A in the human body) than grain-fed beef. Grass-fed steak may have as much as 740 mcg of beta-carotene per kilogram of meat, while grass-fed beef liver may contain 10 times that amount! [16, 17, 18]

Overall, beef liver is richer in both active vitamin A and carotenoids than steak: the average beef liver has 1398 mcg of retinol per ounce, whereas steak will contain anywhere from about 0 – 15% that amount [16, 17, 19, 20, 18].

Pork liver is also exceptionally high in vitamin A, with 1843 mcg per ounce [21, 22].

The carnivore diet increases your risk of vitamin A deficiency, but you can prevent it by consuming liver (beef, chicken or pork).
Meal Scenarios

The following meal scenarios assume that a person eats 2 pounds of meat per day and compares the nutrient value in this to the US daily recommended intake for men (which is a bit higher than for women):

  1. All Beef (not grassfed)*: About 73 mcg as beta-carotene. If eating only briskets, deficient in vitamin A by about 75%. If eating only steak, deficient in vitamin A by over 96% [16, 18, 23].
  2. All Beef (grass-fed)*: About 409 mcg as beta carotene; the retinol content can vary. If the retinol content is low, possibly deficient in vitamin A by about 27% [16, 18].
  3. Half grassfed beef* & half chicken (thigh): About 206 mcg. Deficient in vitamin A by 77% [24].
  4. ⅔ lb beef, ⅔ lb chicken (thigh), ⅔ lb salmon: 518 mcg. Deficient in vitamin A by 43% [25].
  5. 9 oz beef*, 9 oz chicken (thigh), 9 oz salmon, 5 oz chicken liver: 5,210 mcg. More than enough vitamin A [25, 26].

*”beef” refers to muscle meat, typically steak. Unlike a steak, beef liver is exceptionally high in vitamin A. By adding just an ounce of beef liver a day, you would get more vitamin A than you need.

Please note: the maximum recommended intake of vitamin A is 3000 mcg per day. To reduce the risk of long-term vitamin A toxicity, consider eating liver on some days and replacing it with other organ meats, mollusks, and fish on others, those most research shows toxicity from taking oral supplements of the retinol form of vitamin A [27, 28].

Pregnant women should be especially careful not to consume too much vitamin A, as high levels have been linked to birth defects. In general, it’s safer to avoid liver altogether during pregnancy [15].

Meat-only meal plans can make you vitamin A-deficient in the long run. Eat liver (5 oz) on some days to get the right amounts of this vitamin.

2-3) B Vitamins

Biotin (vitamin B7) and folate (vitamin B9) are essential to energy metabolism, DNA protection, and cell division. Biotin deficiency causes hair loss, rashes and neurological disorders; folate deficiency causes a type of anemia with large, deformed red blood cells [29, 30].

These vitamins aren’t the most difficult to get from meat sources, but organs are richer than muscle meat cuts. Beef liver is very rich in both biotin and folate; 3 ounces of beef liver delivers all the biotin and about half the folate you need in a day [29, 30].

Other rich sources of biotin include eggs and salmon. Most livers contain plenty of folate, though fowl (goose, duck, turkey, and chicken liver) are the richest. A single goose liver contains almost twice the daily recommended intake of folate [29, 30, 31].

The daily recommended intake of biotin is 30 mcg and of folate is 400 mcg. The recommendations rise for pregnant and lactating women (35 and 600 mcg respectively) [29, 30].

Some MTHFR genetic variants, which about 40% of people have, can up your dietary folate requirements.

Folate and biotin deficiencies can cause nerve and blood disorders. Different liver meats, especially fowl and beef liver, are rich in these vitamins.
Meal Scenarios

The following meal scenarios assume that a person eats about 2 pounds of meat per day and use the daily recommended vitamin intake for non-pregnant adults:

  1. All beef (not grassfed): 40 mcg biotin & 127 mcg folate. Sufficient biotin, deficient in folate by 68% [32, 33].
  2. All beef (grassfed): actual quantities are unknown, but deficiency is likely.
  3. Half grassfed beef & half chicken (thigh): 26 mcg biotin & 77 mcg folate. Deficient in biotin by 13%, deficient in folate by 81% [24].
  4. ⅔ lb beef, ⅔ lb chicken (thigh), ⅔ lb salmon: 35 mcg biotin & 158 mcg folate. Sufficient biotin, deficient in folate by 60% [32, 25].
  5. 9 oz beef, 9 oz chicken (thigh), 9 oz salmon, 5 oz chicken liver: 294 mcg of biotin & 964 mcg of folate. More than enough of both [25, 26].

In the last scenario, you could switch the chicken liver with beef liver. About 5 oz of beef liver will meet your daily folate requirements [34].

To avoid folate and biotin deficiencies, add 5 oz of chicken or beef liver to your daily meal plan on some days.

4) Vitamin C

Vitamin C is essential in the human diet because we cannot make this compound on our own. We need it to make some hormones and collagen. Vitamin C is easy to get from fruits and vegetables but extremely difficult to source from meat [35, 36].

The recommended daily intake of vitamin C for an adult is 75 – 90 mg. Very high-quality, pasture-raised South American beef can contain as much as 2.5 mg of vitamin C per 100 g of meat, but this is the exception, not the rule [36].

Meat must be of high quality, grass-fed, fresh, and either raw or lightly cooked to maximize vitamin C content [17, 37].

In order to get enough vitamin C from a strict carnivore diet, you would need to eat organs like spleen, thymus, and lung (raw or lightly cooked!). 100 g of beef spleen contains, on average, 50 mg of vitamin C [38, 39, 40].

Vitamin C is an essential antioxidant that’s extremely difficult to get from a strict carnivore diet. You would have to eat a variety of organ meats, raw or lightly cooked.
Meal Scenarios

The following meal scenarios assume that a person eats about 2 pounds of meat per day and use the daily recommended vitamin intake for men:

  1. All beef (not grassfed): 0 mg. Deficient in vitamin C by 100% [33].
  2. All beef (grassfed): up to 23 mg. Deficient in vitamin C by at least 75% [17].
  3. Half grassfed beef & half chicken: up to 11.5 mg. Deficient in vitamin C by 87% [24].
  4. ⅔ lb beef, ⅔ lb chicken, ⅔ lb salmon: 20 mg. Deficient in vitamin C by 78% [25].
  5. 9 oz beef, 9 oz chicken, 9 oz salmon, 5 oz chicken liver: 42 mg. Deficient in vitamin C by 53% [25, 26].

If you add 100 g (about 3.5 oz) of beef spleen to the last scenario, you could get 86.6 mg of vitamin C, which is right on the edge. If you eat more liver, you can nudge vitamin C up, but then you may risk getting too much vitamin A and associated bone, nerve, and liver damage over time [28].

Hence, vitamin C is a difficult essential nutrient to get in a carnivore diet.

Even with liver and other organ meats included, it’s still extremely difficult to get enough vitamin C on a carnivore diet. Most meal plans are severely deficient.
Scurvy

When we are eating enough vitamin C daily, the human body stores about 1,500 mg of it at a time. If that storage level gets below about 350 mg (after 8 to 12 weeks of poor intake), symptoms of scurvy start to appear: irritability, anorexia, tooth loss, poor wound healing, brittle bones, and more [41].

It is crucial to get enough vitamin C in your diet, so consider supplementing to reach your daily recommended intake. There have been multiple cases of people developing scurvy as a result of eating only meat [2, 37].

Your generalized risk of dying (all-cause mortality) from goes down if you have higher blood levels of vitamin C. So even if you don’t get scurvy, higher intakes of vitamin C (or at least the foods that contain vitamin C) are beneficial [42, 43, 44].

Long-term vitamin C deficiency will deplete your stores and eventually lead to scurvy, which manifests as irritability, tooth loss, bone damage, skin lesions, and more.

5) Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant that protects tissues while fat is burned for energy. Severe deficiency is rare, but low intakes of vitamin E can lead to high oxidative stress and tissue damage [45].

The recommended daily intake of vitamin E is 15 mg, and it is difficult to source from meat. 100 g of fish eggs (roe) contain about 7 mg of vitamin E. Other good sources include snails and salmon [45, 46, 47, 48].

Grass-fed beef contains considerably more vitamin E than grain-fed beef. However, even if you eat the best quality beef steaks, you will probably need to get vitamin E from other sources [16, 17].

Vitamin E is another crucial antioxidant hard to get from a meat-only diet. Good sources include roe (fish eggs), salmon, and grass-fed beef.
Meal Scenarios

The following meal scenarios assume that a person eats about 2 pounds of meat per day and use the daily recommended vitamin intake for adults:

  1. All beef (not grassfed): 2.6 mg. Deficient in vitamin E by 82% [33].
  2. All beef (grassfed): about 3.4 mg. Deficient in vitamin E by 78% [17].
  3. Half grassfed beef & half chicken: 3.4 mg. Deficient in vitamin E by 78% [24].
  4. ⅔ lb beef, ⅔ lb chicken, ⅔ lb salmon: Up to 13 mg. Deficient by 13% or more [49].
  5. 9 oz beef, 9 oz chicken, 9 oz salmon, 5 oz chicken liver: 12 mg. Deficient in vitamin E by 20% [25, 26].

If you add 100 g (about 3.5 oz) of fish eggs (roe) to the last scenario, you could get 19 mg of vitamin E. Adding more salmon, olive oil or supplementing with vitamin E would also help. However, as you can see, it’s tough to get enough vitamin E on a strict carnivore diet.

It’s almost impossible to get enough vitamin E on a strict carnivore diet without the use of vitamin E supplements or olive oil.

6) Vitamin K

Vitamin K is essential for blood clotting and bone metabolism. Deficiency may cause bleeding and osteoporosis. Leafy greens are high in vitamin K (K1); this vitamin is more difficult to source from meat, though pork and chicken contain relatively high levels of vitamin K2 [50, 51, 52].

The daily recommended intake of vitamin K is 90 – 120 mcg. 100 g of canned tuna contains up to 44 mcg of vitamin K, but may also contain vegetable oils. Some cuts of high-quality, lean beef may contain 17.5 mcg per 100 g of meat [50, 53, 54].

Meal Scenarios

The following meal scenarios assume that a person eats about 2 pounds of meat per day and use the daily recommended vitamin intake for men:

  1. All beef (not grassfed): About 74 mcg. Deficient in vitamin K by 39% [55]
  2. All beef (grass-fed): 159 mcg or more. More than enough vitamin K [56].
  3. Half grassfed beef & half chicken: About 182 mcg. More than enough vitamin K [52].
  4. ⅔ lb beef, ⅔ lb chicken, ⅔ lb salmon: About 121 mcg. Just enough vitamin K [25].
  5. 9 oz beef, 9 oz chicken, 9 oz salmon, 5 oz chicken liver: About 102 mcg. Deficient in vitamin K by 15% [25, 26].

The importance of high-quality, grass-fed beef is crystal clear here.

If you include dairy in your diet, whole milk and cheese are rich in menaquinones, a form of vitamin K2. 100 g (3.5 oz) of soft cheese (such as Brie or camembert) contain about 506 mcg [57].

You could get enough vitamin K by consuming chicken and grass-fed beef. Adding dairy (whole milk or cheese) would greatly up your intake.

Minerals

7) Boron

Boron is not considered an “essential nutrient,” but low boron intake can cause problems with immune function, bone health, brain health, and hormone production [58].

Most people eating an omnivorous diet don’t have to worry about boron deficiency because this micronutrient is plentiful in fruits and nuts. You may not be able to source boron from meat, fish, or shellfish [59, 58, 60].

There is no daily recommended intake of boron; the recommended upper limit is 20 mg per day. Milk and coffee account for about 12% of the total boron consumed by Americans. Strict adherents to the carnivore diet may need to supplement with boron, esp in those at risk for certain chronic disease [61, 60].

Boron is not an essential nutrient, but it’s important for the brain, bones, and immunity. It’s impossible to source it on a strict carnivore diet.
Meal Scenarios

The following meal scenarios assume that a person eats about 2 pounds of meat per day and compare to the minimum “normal” nutrient intake of 0.8 mg per day [60]:

  1. All beef (not grassfed): less than 0.015 mg. Deficient in boron by at least 98% [62].
  2. All beef (grassfed): Unknown. The difference has not been studied; however, other minerals vary depending on the content of the grass [62].
  3. Half grassfed beef & half chicken: less than 0.015 mg. Deficient in boron by at least 98% [62].
  4. ⅔ lb beef, ⅔ lb chicken, ⅔ lb salmon: less than 0.015 mg. Deficient in boron by at least 98% [63].
  5. 9 oz beef, 9 oz chicken, 9 oz salmon, 5 oz chicken liver: less than 0.015 mg. Deficient in boron by at least 98% [64].

If you don’t supplement, the best solution for getting enough boron on a carnivore diet is to consume bones.

People on the carnivore diet can’t get enough boron without taking a supplement. Consuming bones may supply small amounts of this micronutrient.

8) Calcium

Calcium is vital for bone formation, blood pressure regulation, muscle contraction, nerve function, and hormone signaling [65].

When a person’s diet is deficient in calcium, the body “steals” calcium from the bones, leading to osteoporosis. Other symptoms of calcium deficiency include muscle cramps, irregular heartbeat, and numbness or tingling in the fingers [65].

The most prevalent source of calcium in the Western diet is dairy. If you drink milk, fortified plant-based milks, or eat dairy products like yogurt, you won’t need to worry about calcium. However, strict adherents to the carnivore diet are likely to become deficient [65].

The daily recommended intake of calcium is 1,000 – 1,200 mg for an adult. Canned fish that includes bones (such as sardines) contains up to 455 mg per 100 g. A similar amount of high-quality beef tripe contains about 158 mg of calcium [65, 66, 67, 68].

Himalayan salt is at most 1.7% calcium, so it should not be considered a sufficient source [69].

Calcium is essential for bone health, muscle contraction, and nerve health. It’s easy to get from dairy and plant foods but not from meat.
Meal Scenarios

The following meal scenarios assume that a person eats about 2 pounds of meat per day and use the daily recommended nutrient intake for men:

  1. All beef (not grassfed): Up to 200 mg. Deficient in calcium by 83% [33].
  2. All beef (grassfed): About 1.3 times the content of grain-fed beef, which could be up to 260 mg. Deficient in calcium by at least 78% [70].
  3. Half grassfed beef & half chicken: Up to 162 mg. Deficient in calcium by 87% [24].
  4. ⅔ lb beef, ⅔ lb chicken, ⅔ lb salmon: Up to 193 mg. Deficient in calcium by 84% [25].
  5. 9 oz beef, 9 oz chicken, 9 oz salmon, 5 oz chicken liver: Up to 174 mg. Deficient in calcium by 86% [25, 26].

Eating high-quality beef tripe or keeping the bones in your salmon can help you increase your calcium intake. Milk has a lot of calcium, but it can cause health issues, especially in people who are drawn to a carnivore diet [71, 68, 72].

If you don’t supplement, the best solution for getting enough calcium on a carnivore diet is to consume bones.

People on a carnivore diet should eat fish with bones and consider taking a supplement to avoid calcium deficiency.

9) Potassium

Potassium is an essential nutrient that regulates fluid balance in cells and blood pressure. Deficiency can cause increased blood pressure, kidney stones, constipation, muscle weakness, and irregular heartbeat [73].

The daily recommended intake of potassium is at least 2,600 – 3,400 mg for an adult, though the USDA recommends 4,700 mg [73, 74].

Fruits and vegetables are rich in potassium, while meat is not a great source. Some of the best sources of potassium for a carnivore include mollusks (especially octopus, with 630 mg of potassium in 100 g) and salmon, but even these are low compared to plant foods [73, 75, 76].

Potassium is vital for maintaining fluid balance and blood pressure. Unlike plant foods, meats are low in this mineral. Octopus and salmon are decent sources.
Meal Scenarios

The following meal scenarios assume that a person eats about 2 pounds of meat per day and use the USDA daily recommended nutrient intake:

  1. All beef (not grassfed): Up to 3,372 mg. Deficient by 28% [33].
  2. All beef (grassfed): Very slightly (about 4%) higher than grain-fed, or up to 3,527 mg. Deficient by 25% [70].
  3. Half grassfed beef & half chicken: 2,686 mg. Deficient by 43% [24].
  4. ⅔ lb beef, ⅔ lb chicken, ⅔ lb salmon: 3,318 mg. Deficient by 29% [25].
  5. 9 oz beef, 9 oz chicken, 9 oz salmon, 5 oz chicken liver: 3,125 mg. Deficient by 34% [25, 26].

If you choose to add milk, cheese, or eggs to your diet, these will help increase your potassium intake. Mollusks are relatively rich: a 3-ounce “baby” octopus contains about 536 mg of potassium [77, 75].

It may still be very difficult to get enough of this nutrient in a carnivore diet and you may wish to supplement. Some consider using low-sodium, high-potassium salt substitutes. These products replace a portion of sodium chloride (NaCl) in table salt with potassium chloride (KCl) [78]. It is important to caution the consumer buying these substitutes as many have additive such as MSG and MSG-like derivatives that often do even more harm.

However you plan your meals, consider using a potassium supplement and table salt with potassium chloride to avoid deficiency.

10) Copper

Copper supports the enzymes that manage oxygen and energy production in the body. Deficiencies cause problems with blood vessels and bones, anemia, and neurological disorders [79].

On the other hand, it is possible, but unlikely, to eat too much copper. Very high doses of copper (over 30 mg per day) may cause liver and nerve damage over a long period of time [80].

The daily recommended intake of copper is 900 mcg for an adult. Beef liver is extremely rich in copper, with about 15 mg of copper per 100 g. Other good sources include mollusks and sweetbreads (thymus and pancreas) [79, 81, 82, 83, 84].

Copper supports oxygen and energy production. Beef liver is loaded with copper; other good sources include mollusks and sweetbreads (thymus and pancreas).
Meal Scenarios

The following meal scenarios assume that a person eats about 2 pounds of meat per day and use the daily recommended nutrient intake for men:

  1. All beef (not grassfed): Up to 973 mcg. Sufficient intake of copper [56].
  2. All beef (grassfed): About 636 mcg, depending heavily on the mineral content of the grass. Deficient in copper by 29% [85]. Grains contain a lot of copper, hence why grass-fed might have less.
  3. Half grassfed beef & half chicken: 564 mcg. Deficient in copper by 37% [24].
  4. ⅔ lb beef, ⅔ lb chicken, ⅔ lb salmon: 533 mcg. Deficient in copper by 41% [25].
  5. 9 oz beef, 9 oz chicken, 9 oz salmon, 5 oz chicken liver: 1,145 mcg. Sufficient intake of copper [25, 26].
Muscle meats alone may not have enough copper unless you’re eating only beef. Add a bit of liver to make sure you reach the recommended daily intake.

11) Magnesium

Magnesium is one of the most essential minerals for our body and is specifically important for energy metabolism, mood, protein building, bone development, and DNA production. Over time, low magnesium intake can lead to nausea, vomiting, fatigue, numbness, muscle cramps, seizures, and personality changes [86].

The daily recommended intake of magnesium is 320-420 mg. It is most abundant in nuts and beans and laborious to source from meat. Good sources of magnesium include fish eggs (roe), mollusks (such as snails), cod, and salmon [86, 87, 47, 88, 89].

Bone broth can also be a good source of magnesium (120 mg/L), but only if it’s properly prepared. If you make your own bone broth at home, be sure to cook it for at least twelve hours [90].

Magnesium is essential for a range of functions in your body, and it’s hard to obtain from meat only. Decent sources include roe (fish eggs), salmon, cod, and mollusks.
Meal Scenarios

The following meal scenarios assume that a person eats about 2 pounds of meat per day and use the daily recommended mineral intake for men:

  1. All beef (not grassfed): As high as 227 mg. Deficient in magnesium by 46% [56].
  2. All beef (grassfed): As high as 227 mg, depending on the mineral content of the grass. Deficient in magnesium by 46% [70, 85].
  3. Half grassfed beef & half chicken: 195 mg. Deficient in magnesium by 54% [24].
  4. ⅔ lb beef, ⅔ lb chicken, ⅔ lb salmon: about 378 mg. Deficient in magnesium by 10% [25].
  5. 9 oz beef, 9 oz chicken, 9 oz salmon, 5 oz chicken liver: 346 mg. Deficient in magnesium by 18% [25, 26].

To increase your magnesium intake, eat more salmon and less chicken. You could also try roe (300 mg per 100 g) or snails (250 mg per 100 g) [87, 47].

The more magnesium you take the better, as long as you don’t get diarrhea. You may want to get up to 600 mg a day from your food and supplements, though we don’t recommend going above 350 mg with supplements [91, 92].

If you are on a carnivore diet, we recommend that you supplement in moderation.

You can increase magnesium intake by eating more salmon and roe, but you may still want to supplement for optimal levels.

12) Manganese

Manganese is important for metabolism and bone formation. Deficiency can cause slow growth and poor bone health and may resemble vitamin K deficiency [93].

The daily recommended intake of manganese is 1.8 – 2.3 mg for adults. 100 g of blue mussels contain 3-6 mg of manganese. Other rich sources include [93, 94, 95, 68, 96, 97]:

  • Beef tripe (6 mg per 100 g)
  • Bass (1.14 mg per 100 g)
  • Trout (1.09 mg per 100 g)
Manganese is important for metabolism and bone formation. The best meat sources are blue mussels (shellfish), beef tripe, bass, and trout.
Meal Scenarios

The following meal scenarios assume that a person eats about 2 pounds of meat per day and use the daily recommended nutrient intake for men:

  1. All beef (not grassfed): 0.13 mg. Deficient in manganese by 94% [56].
  2. All beef (grassfed): as low as 0.08 mg and as high as 0.18 mg, depending on the mineral content of the grass. Deficient in manganese by 92-99% [85]
  3. Half grassfed beef & half chicken: 0.15 mg. Deficient in manganese by 93% [24].
  4. ⅔ lb beef, ⅔ lb chicken, ⅔ lb salmon: 0.13 mg. Deficient in manganese by 94% [25].
  5. 9 oz beef, 9 oz chicken, 9 oz salmon, 5 oz chicken liver: 0.47 mg. Deficient in manganese by 80% [25, 26].

Most meats are low in manganese, and you would have to go off the beaten path to make sure you get enough. Besides shellfish and beef tripe, substituting some beef for grassfed bison (11.5 mg in 3.5 oz) may do the trick [98].

It’s very hard to get these foods on a steady basis, so you will likely need to supplement with manganese on a carnivore diet.

If you don’t supplement, the best solution for getting enough manganese on a carnivore diet is to consume shellfish and beef tripe.

13) Lithium

Lithium is a trace mineral that isn’t essential but has a lot of benefits in small amounts.

The primary sources of lithium are grains and vegetables i.e. plant-based sources [99].

Healthy Plant Components

14) Polyphenols

The best antioxidants are plant polyphenols like flavonoids, lignans, and stilbenes. Some scientists consider them essential to human health [100, 101, 102, 103].

Although not truly essential, plant polyphenols help protect the body against cancer, heart disease, nerve damage, and more. People who get less of these compounds in their diet are at greater risk for age-related diseases [102].

They kill the bad and support the good bacteria in our bodies. This activity is even more important on a carnivore diet because of the bad bacteria that grows on meats, such as E. coli [104, 105].

By definition, the carnivore diet does not contain any plant polyphenols. Some of these compounds – such as quercetin, lycopene, and pterostilbene – are available as purified supplements.

However, some strict carnivores may think of these compounds as “plant toxins” they are trying to avoid. Nevertheless, a growing body of research suggests they are necessary for optimal human health and to prevent oxidation of cells that leads to faster cell death.

In Joe’s experience, polyphenols on their own didn’t involve any negative reaction. As a general rule, he believes that polyphenols should be supplemented on a carnivore diet, based on his personal and client experience.

Plant polyphenols are potent antioxidants that combat cancer, infections, heart disease, and more. Meat contains no polyphenols, and strict carnivores may want to supplement them.

15) Fiber

A healthy digestive system contains dozens of species of beneficial bacteria. These bacteria, collectively called the gut flora or gut microbiota, help digest our food, produce beneficial components, and boost immunity. Their composition changes quickly with changes in a diet [106].

Fiber is essential for healthy human gut flora. When we don’t eat enough fiber, the gut flora eats away at the mucus of the intestinal wall, which makes us more likely to get sick. Meat contains no fiber, so this harmful change is likely on the carnivore diet [1, 106].

The daily recommended intake of fiber is around 25 g per day for women and 38 g per day for men. For a more personalized approach, the National Academy of Medicine recommends 14 g of fiber for every 1,000 calories consumed [107].

Fiber is also beneficial because the gut bacteria use it to produce short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate, an anti-inflammatory compound that nourishes the large intestine [108].

Fiber feeds your gut probiotics, which are essential for immunity, nutrient digestion, reducing inflammation, and more. Strict carnivores don’t get fiber.

16) Myo-Inositol

Myo-inositol is a healthy compound found in a lot of foods. The greatest amounts of myo-inositol are present in fruits, beans, grains, and nuts [109].

Diets rich in these foods can provide 1,500 mg of myo-inositol a day, whereas a meat-based diet (2 pounds of meat) will contain less than 300 mg a day [109].

17) Oxidative Stress

Eating a lot of meat is linked to heart disease and cancer, likely because cooking meat releases substances (heterocyclic amines) that increase oxidative stress [110].

These toxic substances build up when meat is cooked at high temperatures (at 150 – 200 °C), such as by barbecuing, grilling and pan-frying. Focus on cooking methods that don’t brown the meat, such as slow-cooking [110].

An additional strategy is to eat fattier meat and include a lot of olive oil with every meal since ketogenic diets improve mitochondrial health and lower oxidative stress [111, 112].

People who eat more meat have higher GGT, a marker of oxidative stress [113].

Optimal levels of GGT are below 15. Joe, with his meat-based diet, has low GGT (14), but that’s probably because he supplements with plenty of healthy compounds. So anecdotally, you can have low levels of oxidative stress while consuming a meat-based diet, but it needs to be done right.

People who eat a carnivore diet should aim to reduce oxidative stress. Strategies include taking antioxidant supplements and olive oil and slow-cooking your meat.

Extra Requirements for Antioxidants

Sun exposure is quite helpful for many people autoimmune and inflammatory problems, but it increases the need for antioxidants [114].

Vitamins E and C help protect against skin damage and skin cancer from the sun [115, 116, 117].

Whenever people were exposed to more sun, they also ate more fruits and vegetables. In northern latitudes in the winter, people get less sun and also eat fewer fruits and vegetables. A carnivore diet in a sunny area is not a good combination if you don’t supplement with antioxidants and polyphenols.

There are a lot of benefits to the sun, and we encourage moderate sun exposure. However, people need to make sure they’re getting a good amount of antioxidants and polyphenols in their diet as protection from skin cancer.

Plant-based foods are many times richer in antioxidants than animalbased foods, even accounting for the vitamin E content of fish like salmon. To prevent oxidative stress, consider using supplements [118, 118].

Sun exposure provides a ton of benefits but also increases oxidative stress. A carnivore diet in sunny areas may be harmful if you don’t supplement with antioxidants.

Recommended Supplements

Carnivore Diet Experiences

People who eat carnivore or zero carb diets have formed active, engaged communities online with lots of user experiences, anecdotes, and recommendations.

Many people who eat a carnivore diet say that they have more energy and mental clarity. This was Joe’s experience.

Some people claim that the carnivore diet improved or eliminated their irritable bowel symptoms. Beware, however: some people also describe a difficult transition period of nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Other people have horror stories. Some developed scurvy and their teeth and hair started falling out. Others fell into depression and craved fruits, vegetables, and sugars.

Thyroid problems, high cholesterol, and menstrual irregularities can 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 describe nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and severe fatigue after eating a piece of bread or fruit.

People report increased energy and mental clarity on a carnivore diet. However, some developed scurvy, depression, menstrual problems, and digestive issues in the long run.

Limitations and Caveats

The biggest limitation of any discussion of a carnivorous diet is the lack of research. 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 reviews of cultural practices which always involve at least some plants.

Studies that last a few days can only tell about short-term effects. In the longer term, poor nutrition may cause thyroid and hormonal problems, nutrient deficiencies, and other health issues.

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 no 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 cases of people with scurvy suggest that a healthy carnivore diet is almost impossible for a modern, city-dwelling person.

Always check people’s claims against their sources to make sure you have the best information available.

The lack of clinical data about a carnivore diet makes it hard to verify contradicting claims. Still, it remains a risky option for most people.

Genetics: The Carnivore Diet Gene

The SNP most likely to predict if you will do well on a carnivore diet is rs1049353, which belongs to the CNR1 gene.

CNR1 is the Cannabinoid Receptor 1. If you have a T allele, you may want to try out a carnivore diet. If you have 2 T alleles, as Joe and Mikhaila have, you have even more reasons to try out a carnivore diet.

Joe’s clients with 2 alleles (around 3 percent of the population) always had food sensitivities as a root of their problem.

Gene Name

SNPsProblematic 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.

Carriers of the T allele on rs1049353 (the CNR1 gene) are more sensitive to plant-based irritants, and they may do better on the carnivore diet.

Additional Resources

Joe developed the SelfHacked Lectin Avoidance Diet to help himself and clients with chronic inflammation and autoimmunity.

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 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.

Note: This section contains links from our sister companies, SelfDecode and LabTestAnalyzer. SelfHacked is, in part, supported by purchases of these products. All proceeds get reinvested back into the company to help serve you better and improve the quality of our products, so we thank you for supporting us!

Takeaway

It might be a good idea to try the carnivore diet for a month if you have autoimmune problems, unexplained chronic inflammatory issues, or other health concerns that you think might be caused by food.

In fact, we promote the lectin avoidance diet for people with food sensitivities. A carnivore diet limits almost all of the foods that people react negatively to. If you feel better on a carnivore diet, it’s wise to introduce foods back in and see what it is you’re reacting to.

If you need to stay on a carnivore diet over the long run, we suggest that you supplement with missing nutrients and polyphenols.

It’s possible to get most nutrients from a carnivore diet if it includes organs (especially liver and sweetbreads) and seafood (especially salmon and mollusks). The most difficult nutrients to source from meat are vitamin C, boron, vitamin E, antioxidants and fiber.

Most people are not sensitive to plant toxins and will do well on a diverse omnivorous diet. For the plant-sensitive minority, a carnivore-like diet may be worthwhile – just make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need.

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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