What Is the Carnivore Diet and the Logic Behind It?

pieces of raw steak which is a staple food of the carnivore diet

You’ve recently heard of the carnivore diet and been wondering what this diet is all about? I’ve been in exactly the same situation as you not long ago when I accidentally stumbled upon it. It sounded insane but I was intrigued and kept reading to find more about it. Here is a short answer for you.

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 look at it together in more detail.

What can you eat on the carnivore diet?

Some people adhere to a strict version of the carnivore diet where they only eat animals including ruminants, pork, poultry, and seafood.

On a more broad version of the carnivore diet, you can eat all animal source foods, they fall in seven groups listed below.

seven meat groups: ruminant, poultry, pork, eggs, seafood, dairy and honey.
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. A fun fact for you: According to the BBC, scientists rank port fat the 8th most nutritious foods amongst the top 100 for the reason that it is “a good source of B vitamins and minerals. Pork fat is more unsaturated and healthier than lamb or beef fat” and it has a nutritional score of 73/100! And we are only talking about fat, the cheapest cut of all!

3. Poultry

Naturally raised poultry (chicken, turkey and ducks) are a great source of nutrition. However, there are some concerns about quality of poultry from factory farming regarding animal welfare and quality of its produce.

4. Seafood

Seafood includes fish (salmon, basa, baramundi, mackerel, cod, eel, tuna etc), fish roe, shellfish (crabs, cray fish, lobsters, prawns) and molluscs (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 is found to associate with a lot of health benefits.

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 where you live, you can get eggs from chicken, duck, goose and quails.

Eggs are nature’s true super food. They have excellent fat and protein ratio, 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 anaemia.

What can you drink on the carnivore diet?

man drinking water from a bottle

Sorry this one is pretty short: strictly speaking, just water.

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.

However, many people want to stick to their coffee, tea or herbal drinks while adopting the carnivore diet and still report huge benefits from it.

What about salt and seasonings?

various seasonings on a wooden table

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 they don’t add salt to their diet, because although our body needs sodium to function normally, animal 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 spices.

What is the logic behind the carnivore diet?

raw meat with some decorative vegetables

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 toxins commonly associated with plant-based foods.

  • Great source of energy: If you eat only animal-based products, your body will get energy mostly from fat or protein. This is much better than relying on energy from carbohydrates (more abundant in plant-based products) which has been found to associate with metabolic dysfunctions such as diabetes.
  • Great source of 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. However, plant proteins are mostly incomplete proteins, which means you need to carefully get them from a variety of sources.
  • Great source of 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.
  • Absence of toxin: 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 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 need to eliminate all plant-based foods, you have thousands of options with different cuts or different groups of animal foods. I don’t think the carnivore diet is unbalanced either when you can get all the energy and nutrients that your body ever needs from animal-based foods.

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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