What Is the Carnivore Diet and the Logic Behind It?

A roasted rack of lamb - a delicious carnivore diet food

A carnivore diet is a diet that generally includes only animal-based foods such as meat, fowl, seafood, eggs, dairy, and honey. All plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, and nuts are excluded.

At first glance, this seems to be an alarmingly unbalanced and restrictive diet, one that is perhaps contrary to all you’ve ever been told about what constitutes a healthy and nutritious diet.

But is it really so? Let’s keep an open mind and explore this diet in more detail.

Table of Contents

  1. What can you eat on the carnivore diet?
  2. What can you drink on the carnivore diet?
  3. What about salt and seasonings?
  4. What are the benefits of the carnivore diet?
  5. What is the experience of those who have been on the carnivore diet for six months or more?
  6. What is the logic behind the carnivore diet?
  7. Is the carnivore diet that restrictive or unbalanced?
  8. How to start the carnivore diet?
  9. Sample meal plans

What can you eat on the carnivore diet?

Generally speaking, on the carnivore diet, you can eat whatever food you want as long as they are from an animal source.

There are many different versions of the carnivore diet. For example, some people eat just beef; some people eat only ruminant meat, fat and organs; and some people eat all animal-sourced foods like ruminants, pork, poultry, and seafood.

On the broadest version of the carnivore diet, you can eat all animal sourced foods which fall into seven groups listed below.

1. Ruminants

Meat from domesticated or wild ruminants such as cows, sheep, goats and deer is a great source of protein and other essential vitamins and minerals.

For example, 100 grams of ground beef with 15% fat content has 21 grams of proteins and 12 grams of fat in under 200 calories, with zero sugar and carb but heaps of essential nutrients.

Unlike proteins from plants, animal proteins are complete proteins that are essential building blocks of the human body.

Ruminant meat also contains a lot of vitamins and minerals and other bio-active compounds that are crucial for the human body such as vitamin B12, zinc, selenium, iron, niacin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, creatine, taurine, glutathione, conjugated linoleic acid and cholesterol.

2. Pork

Pork is another great source of animal proteins that is nutritious and flavorsome and you can create so many dishes out of different cuts.

Pork is very nutritious and if you feel good eating it and can get pasture-raised pork, enjoy pork as much as you like on the carnivore diet.

The main problem people have with pork seems to be the high omega 6 content in conventionally farmed pork that may be inflammatory.

This can be addressed by choosing pasture-raised pork or wild boar meat which has a much lower omega 6 content and a better omega 6 to omega 3 ratio.

3. Poultry

Naturally-raised poultry (chicken, turkey and ducks) are a great source of nutrition.

However, there are some concerns about the quality of poultry from factory farming regarding animal welfare and the quality of its produce.

4. Seafood

Seafood includes fish (salmon, basa, baramundi, mackerel, cod, eel, tuna, etc), fish roe, shellfish (crabs, crayfish, lobsters, prawns) and mollusks (octopus, oyster, squid, clam, scallop, etc).

Seafood is a great source of protein but with lower fat content relative to ruminant, pork and poultry meat. It is also rich in vitamins and minerals and many health benefits have been associated with seafood consumption.

5. Dairy

Dairy products include milk, yogurt, kefir, cheese, cream and butter.

While a small number of people may have issues with dairy products, they remain a great source of energy and nutrients (fat, proteins, carbohydrate, vitamin A, vitamin B12, Riboflavin, Potassium, magnesium, zinc, phosphorous). They are especially rich in calcium.

6. Eggs

Depending on where you live, you can normally get eggs from chicken, duck, goose and quails from retail stores.

Eggs are nature’s true superfood. They have excellent fat to protein ratio and are low in calories but come with 13 different vitamins and nutrients.

Despite concern about the high level of cholesterol in eggs, currently, there is no evidence indicating a direct association between the quantity of eggs consumed and the risk of developing coronary heart disease.

7. Honey

Honey is mostly sugar and water but has a surprising number of benefits, in particular, it:

  • contains several minerals and vitamins
  • is a great source of antioxidants
  • has antimicrobial activity and supports wound healing
  • contains enzymes that enhance digestion
  • is beneficial to people suffering from anemia.

What can you drink on the carnivore diet?

Strictly speaking, you should just drink water which is what all other animals on earth drink.

Perhaps this is one thing that all proponents of different types of diet can agree on: the healthiest and cheapest drink for humans is water.

In addition to water, bone broth and milk are great too (if you have no dairy allergy).

Alcohol, tea, coffee, energy drinks, flavored milk, sports drinks, etc should be avoided.

Many people, however, still drink coffee, tea, and alcohol on occasions and still report huge benefits from a carnivore lifestyle.

If caffeinated or alcoholic beverages help you stay on the carnivore diet, definitely go for it, we shouldn’t let perfection be the enermy of the good.

What about salt and seasonings?

Salt and seasonings are technically not animal-based. However, if you decide to follow this diet, it is up to you whether you want to add salt and seasonings to your meals or not.

Some carnivore dieters claim that they don’t add salt to their diet because although our body needs sodium to function normally, animal-based products already contain some sodium. If you want to follow this diet, experiment with and without salt and listen to your body’s signals.

Seasonings are generally plant-based, however. If you follow this diet and have cut out all other plant foods, seasonings which are usually added in a very small quantity should be fine, unless you have allergic reactions to certain herbs and spices.

What are the benefits of the carnivore diet?

The carnivore diet offers many health benefits to thousands of people because it eliminates the root causes of many health problems while its food is the most nutrient-dense and highly bioavailable food that you can eat.

Below is a list of its potential health benefits:

  1. Effective for weight loss
  2. Reversing intestinal permeability
  3. Treating autoimmune conditions
  4. Treating cancer
  5. Other health benefits of the carnivore diet:
    • Improving mental health (depression, anxiety, mood swings)
    • Reducing inflammation
    • Controlling high blood pressure
    • Improving reproductive health
    • Improving skin, hair, and nail health
    • Improving energy levels
    • Eliminating or controlling epileptic seizures
    • Reducing or getting off medications
    • Eliminating gout
    • Improving sleep quality
    • Improving metabolic health.

In addition to the above health benefits, the carnivore diet is also cost-effective, saves time thanks to its simplicity, and is extremely easy to follow.

Dr. Shawn Baker who is a vocal proponent of this diet has a website that publishes testimonials from thousands of people who have been on the carnivore diet and benefited tremendously from it.

What is the experience of those who have been on the carnivore diet for six months or more?

A survey on the carnivore diet experience of over 2000 people was carried out in 2020 by a team of researchers from Harvard Medical School and other institutions. 

An overwhelming majority of the participants (who have been on the carnivore diet for at least six months) experienced positive outcomes. In particular:

  • 69% improved chronic disease
  • 95% improved overall health
  • 91% improved hunger/food cravings
  • 85% improved mental clarity
  • 66% improved memory
  • 83% improved focus
  • 69% improved sleep
  • 78% improved strength
  • 76% improved endurance
  • 89% improved energy.

What is the logic behind the carnivore diet?

The logic behind the carnivore diet is simple: animal-based foods are a great source of energy, protein and vitamins and minerals that are essential for the human body but without the plant toxins in plant-based foods.

This is the reason why many people have been able to heal from chronic conditions that modern medicines failed to help them.

When you are eating the most nutrient-dense food and eliminating all processed and inflammatory foods from your diet, you are creating the best condition for your amazing body to heal itself.

Carnivore diet food provides a great source of energy

If you eat only animal-based products, your body will get energy mostly from fat and, to some extent, from protein.

This is much better than relying on energy from carbohydrates (more abundant in plant-based foods) which has been found to associate with metabolic dysfunctions such as diabetes.

Carnivore diet food is a great source of quality protein

The human body needs 20 different types of amino acids, it can make only 11 of them, and it needs to get 9 of them from foods.

Animal-based proteins are complete proteins and similar to proteins found in the human body, they provide all the essential amino acids we need and they are highly bio-available.

Plant proteins, however, are mostly incomplete proteins, which means you need to carefully get them from a variety of sources and use supplements to get all essential nutrients.

Carnivore diet food is rich in essential vitamins, minerals and other bio-active compounds

As noted above, animal foods are rich in vitamins, minerals and other bio-active compounds that are crucial for the development and maintenance of our body.

Plant-based foods are not able to provide you with all essential nutrients. For example, vitamin B12, vitamin K2, heme iron, and EPA/DHA are not found in plant food.

Carnivore diet food is free from plant toxins

Nature is all about the survival of the fittest. Every species that survives to this day has some form of self-defense mechanism.

Animals have teeth to bite, beaks to peck, legs to run, wings to fly, poison to kill, or ways to disguise.

Plants can’t run and because they are stuck to the ground, to deter their predators, they produce toxins, in their leaves, stems, flowers, seeds and roots.

They simply don’t want to be eaten. It’s true that many plants are full of nutrients but dieticians and nutritionists seem to ignore the fact that they are also full of toxins or natural pesticides.

NPR has an interesting article on toxins in ordinary edible plants here. According to WHO, long-term health consequences of plant toxins include effects on the immune, reproductive or nervous systems and also cancer.

Given animal-based food’s excellent nutritional profile, its bio-availability, and the absence of plant toxins, it is not surprising to see so many people who switch to this diet have been able to fix their health problems, from autoimmune conditions to joint, skin and sleep issues. Many have also been able to deal with their weight problems successfully.

Is the carnivore diet that restrictive or unbalanced?

Judging from the list of foods that you can eat on a carnivore diet, I don’t think the carnivore diet is restrictive.

While you do need to eliminate all plant-based foods, you have thousands of options with different cuts or different groups of animal foods.

The carnivore diet has been labeled by some doctors and dieticians as an unhealthy and unbalanced diet.

While it may be considered unbalanced based on some government dietary guidelines, one would wonder why it’s necessary to add more food groups for the sake of achieving the “balanced” status if you can get all the energy and nutrients that your body ever needs from animal-based foods?

How to start the carnivore diet?

One approach is to just dive in straight away and begin to eat a lot of meat and nothing else.

That will give your body an initial shock but you will also benefit from the diet immediately after just a few days.

Another approach is to start gradually, eliminating plant food over a period of time. For example, you can first eliminate vegetable oils and grains. That will leave you with just animal-based food, fruits and vegetables. Next, you can eliminate vegetables and then fruits.

You will need to take into account your health status, your preferences and your goal in choosing the right elimination approach.

If you would like to take a slow and careful approach and like to do a lot of research before starting this “unusual” diet, check out this step by step guide which is likely to save you tons of time and give you a better chance of success with better results.

Sample meal plans

A typical day of eating on the carnivore diet can vary signficantly from person to person depending on their health conditions, personal preferences, budget and lifestyle.

For some people who eat just steak once a day, their meal plan is just steak, steak and steak.

However, if you eat three meals a day and can eat pretty much anything as long as they are animal-based food, your meal plan will be a little bit more complicated. Below is a sample meal plan.

MONBurger patty
Bone broth
Pan-fry fatty fish in animal fat/butter + a piece of hard cheeseSlow-cooked lamb shank + Organ (liver)
TUEEggs & grated cheese pancake
Bone broth
Pork roast  Ground meat + Organ (bone marrow)
WEDPork belly
Bone broth
Chicken roast + Small fish with bones inSeared beef steak + Eggs + Organ (oxtail stew)
THUBacon & sausages
Bone broth
Meatloaf + a piece of hard cheesePan-fry fatty fish in animal fat/butter + Organ (kidney)
FRIBurger patty
Bone broth
Butterflied lamb leg  Pork chop + Organ (liver)
SATEggs & grated cheese pancake
Bone broth
Chuck roast  Beef & lamb stew + Organ (heart)
Bone broth
Pork belly + Small fish with bones inSeared beef steak + Eggs + Organ meat (pig trotter stew)

For more sample meal plans or how to create your own meal plans, please check out this in-depth article.

If you are doing the carnivore diet on a budget, you definitely still can create nutritious and delicious meals on a very tight budget too. Please check out this article for sample meal plans and helpful tips.

Disclaimer: The information in this post is for reference purposes only and not intended to constitute or replace professional medical advice. Please consult a qualified medical professional before making any changes to your diet or lifestyle.

Sophia Le, PhD

I'm Sophia Le. A few years ago, I came across the carnivore diet by accident. I was intrigued and tried to find out as much as I can about this way of eating. On this site, I write about what I know so people who are interested can learn about it and make decisions that are best for their health.

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