What Foods Are Allowed on the Carnivore Diet?

a piece of steak on a board - meat is a staple food on the carnivore diet

‘What foods are allowed on the carnivore diet’ is a common question amongst new carnivore dieters.

The truth is nobody sets a carnivore code that requires you to adhere to when you are on this diet. Your health is the one and the only determinant of what you can eat on the carnivore diet.

To that end, a short answer to this question is on the carnivore diet you can eat all animal source foods that your body can handle and feel good about. It could be ruminant meat only for some. It could be all the foods from the animal kingdom for others. Or it could include some seasonal vegetables occasionally for those who can handle them well.

There can be many different versions of the carnivore diet, depending on one’s health condition. In this post, I discuss three versions of the carnivore diet, a strict version, a broad version, and an ancestral version. Read on to find out which one might suit you and what you need to be aware of.

1. The strict version of the carnivore diet

two pieces of raw beef steaks - meat is the main food on a strict version of the carnivore diet

What foods can you eat?

A carnivore is an animal that eats meat.[1] Therefore, strictly speaking, by definition, a carnivore dieter will just eat meat and drink water. Dairy products, eggs, and honey are not included.

Below are the foods that are allowed on this strict version of the carnivore diet.

Ruminant meat

Ruminant meat includes meat from ruminants like cows, sheep, goats, deer, and bison. Ruminant meat is incredibly nutritious, being:[2]

  • a source of high-quality proteins and very rich in essential vitamins and minerals
  • a source of essential omega-3 fatty acids that are important for eye, brain, heart, joint and mental health
  • a source of bioactive compounds such as taurine, carnitine, carnosine, ubiquinone, glutathione, and creatin.

In the table below, the second column from the left shows the recommended dietary intake (RDI) or adequate intake for men aged 31–50 years. The remaining four columns show the percentage of these RDIs being met by 100 g serving of lean red meat and some vegetarian protein sources. It is clear that beef and lamb have superior nutritional contents compared to baked beans and walnuts.[3]

A table showing nutrient contents of beef and lamb compared to baked beans and walnuts - it shows ruminant meat is superior in terms of nutrients compared to plant foods.

Ruminant meats also have better fat composition than pork and poultry. Their polyunsaturated fat (PUFA) levels are lower and they also have better omega 6 to omega 3 ratios.[4]

So enjoy your red meat and don’t worry, there is no evidence that meat causes cancer and saturated fat causes heart diseases! [5, 6]

Pork

Pork, like ruminant meat, is also a great source of high-quality proteins and rich in vitamins and minerals.[7]

Pork is very versatile and many delicious dishes can be created out of pork meat. Bacon is one of the best treats that you can have occasionally on the carnivore diet.

However, due to concern about the high level of polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) in pork from factory-farmed pigs (explained below), please get pasture-raised pork if you can afford or have access to it.

Animals can only create saturated fat (SFA) and monounsaturated fat (MUFA). PUFA has to come from the diet. If you feed the animals (e.g. pigs and chickens) grain-based meals, their fats will have a high PUFA level. If they are raised in their most natural environment and eat bugs, grass, and other plants, their fats will have a much lower PUFA level. Garbage in, garbage out, if you feed the animals poor quality feeds, you get poor quality meat.

The table below, collated by Brad Marshall from fireinabottle.net shows the SFA, MUFA and PUFA percentages and Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratios of various types of fats.[8]

Type of fatSFAMUFAPUFA6:3 ratio
Butter (USDA data)632649:1
Lard (farm-raised, wheat finished)43%46%6%6:1
Lard (USDA data)39%44%11%10:1
Lard (finished with corn
and 16% Dried Distillers Grains)
30%40%28%33:1
Chicken fat (USDA data)31%45%24%24:1
Egg Yolk (USDA data)36%44%16%35:1
Canola Oil7%63%28%2:1

Lard from farm-raised, wheat-finished pigs has only 6% PUFA. Lards from USDA data, presumably from factory-farmed pigs and from pigs fed corn and dried distillers grains have 11% and 28% PUFA respectively.

The omega 6 to omega 3 ratios of the lard from farm-raised pigs at 6 to 1 is also much better than that from factory-farmed pigs at 33 to 1.

If you can’t get pasture-raised pigs, it’d be sensible to stay with lean pork cuts only.

Poultry

Like other animal source foods, poultry (chicken, turkey, ducks, and goose) is a great source of nutrition. However, similar to pork, please get pasture-raised chicken if you can. This is because factory-farmed chickens, which are raised in confined space and fed grains and oilseed meals or animal by-product meals, have a high level of PUFA in their fats.

As can be seen from the above table, based on USDA data, chicken fat has 24% PUFA and omega 6 to omega 3 ratio of 24 to 1. These are far worse than butter which has only 4% PUFA and a 9 to 1 omega 6 to omega 3 ratio.

In short, if you don’t have access to pasture-raised chicken, please focus on lean chicken meat like breast meat or thigh fillets and trim off any visible fats you can see.

Seafood

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

Seafood is a great source of proteins, vitamins and minerals but low in fat compared to ruminant meats, pork and poultry. Some seafood like salmon, sardines and mackerel, is also a great source of omega 3 fatty acids. The consumption of seafood is found to be associated with many health benefits. [9, 10, 11]

Who should follow this version of the carnivore diet?

This strict version of the carnivore diet is suitable to people who can’t tolerate eggs, dairy and honey or prefer a zero carbohydrate diet for weight control reason.

What do you need to pay attention to?

Although you still can get all nutrients on this strict version, it’s necessary to pay attention to a few things listed below to avoid vitamin C and calcium deficiency.

Vitamin C

It’s highly unlikely that you will get scurvy on the carnivore diet because the level of vitamin C in animal food appears to be sufficient to meet your body’s needs (see this post for more detail).

However, because vitamin C is easily destroyed by heat and the level of vitamin C in animal source foods is low, the following best practices will help you avoid vitamin C deficiency.

  • Eat nose-to-tail. Organ meats are packed with essential nutrients and have a much higher vitamin C content than muscle meat. By eating nose-to-tail, you are more likely to get sufficient vitamin C and other essential nutrients for your body’s needs.
  • Eat both cooked and raw. Vitamin C is heat sensitive and can be destroyed easily by cooking. It’d be great if you can eat raw and are able to get your food from safe sources. If you can’t handle raw or are unsure about where your food comes from, try to cook lightly.
  • Eat from a wide variety of animal food sources. Ruminant, poultry, and pork organs are all good sources of vitamin C, and so are seafood such as fish roe and shellfish. By broadening your food choices, it’s not only more fun but you are also more likely to get sufficient nutrients.

If you would like to know more about the vitamin C contents of various animal foods, please read this post.

Calcium

Calcium is an essential mineral because it is needed for many bodily functions (muscle contraction, blood clotting, normal functioning of many enzymes, and regulating normal heart rhythms) and used as the main material for teeth and bone formation.[12]

Because dairy, one of the best sources of calcium, is not included in this strict version of the carnivore diet, to reduce the risk of calcium deficiency, you will need to get calcium from other sources.

  • Small fish with bones. Small fish with bones intact is a great source of calcium. For example, a 100 gram serving of Atlantic sardines will give you 382 mg of calcium or 38% of the recommended daily intake.[13]
  • Eggshells. Thirty-nine percent of an eggshell is calcium and because the composition of eggshells is very similar to that of human teeth and bones, eggshells are a good source of non-dairy calcium. [14]
  • Bones. Animal bones are rich in calcium. Dry castle rib bones are estimated as having 20% calcium.[15] If you make bone broth regularly, you can save the bones and use them as a calcium source. A couple of pieces each day will fulfill your calcium need.

If you would like to know how to make your own calcium supplements from eggshells and bones, please read this post for more detail.

2. The broad version of the carnivore diet

Three big blocks of cheese - cheese can be included on the carnivore diet if well tolerated

What foods can you eat?

The broad version of the carnivore diet includes all animal sources foods. The foods that are allowed on this version are in the seven groups listed below:

  • Ruminants (cows, sheep, goat, deer, and bison)
  • Pork
  • Poultry (chicken, turkey, duck, goose, and quail)
  • Seafood (fish, shellfish and mollusks)
  • Dairy (milk, yogurt, kefir, cheese, cream, and butter)
  • Eggs (eggs from chicken, duck, goose, and quails)
  • Honey.

Common features of the above animal source foods are:

  • They are rich in nutrients
  • They are highly bio-available, and
  • They are free from anti-nutrients.

Who should follow this version of the carnivore diet?

This broad version of the carnivore diet is suitable for those who don’t have issues with any of the foods listed in the above seven groups.

If you can be on this broad version of the carnivore diet, you are very lucky because there are more choices of healthy and nutritious foods in your diet.

Eggs are one of nature’s true superfoods. Rich in vitamins and minerals and a source of complete proteins and good fat, eggs are a great food to add to your regular diet.

Milk is also a very nutritious and healthy food. It provides complete proteins, good fats, carbohydrates, and essential vitamins and minerals. It is also highly bio-available, free from toxins, and has many proven health benefits. Raw milk, a living food, is even better with many added health benefits not found in pasteurized milk (see this post for more detail).

Honey is mostly sugar but also contains minerals, vitamins and antioxidants and has antimicrobial properties.[16] Honey can be used in some carnivore treat recipes instead of sugar such as carnivore ice cream and cakes (see here for recipe list).

3. The ancestral carnivore diet

Steak and asparagus on a chopping board - some vegetables can be included on the carnivore adjacent diet

What foods can you eat?

On the ancestral carnivore diet, you can eat all animal sources foods (ruminants, pork, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy, and honey) plus some occasional fruits, nuts and vegetables in season.

This way of eating mimics the way our ancestors ate. They were scavengers, hunters, and gatherers. They ate a heavily meat-based diet, but also supplemented with plant foods when animal source foods were not readily available.

Who should follow this version of the carnivore diet?

The ancestral carnivore diet is suitable for those who don’t have issues with any of the animal source foods or plant foods in general.

What do you need to pay attention to?

You are very fortunate if you are in this situation. However, as I’ve written in detail in this post, plant foods, though can be full of nutrients, are also full of natural pesticides or anti-nutrients. If you eat a heavily meat-based diet and supplement with a small quantity of plant foods, try to reduce your anti-nutrient intake by:[17]

  • Soaking grains, nuts, seeds, and beans can help deactivate enzyme inhibitors, however, lectin is not affected by this method of deactivation
  • Fermenting can reduce anti-nutrients like phytic acid, polyphenol, cyanide, oxalate, trypsin inhibitor, protease inhibitor, and tannin
  • Sprouting can reduce anti-nutrients like phytate, trypsin inhibitor, amylase inhibitor
  • Cooking whole grains, beans and vegetables can reduce certain anti-nutrients such as phytic acid, tannins, and oxalic acid.

Conclusion

Only your body can tell which version of the carnivore diet you should be on.

You can try to find out the answer by going through an elimination process. Start with just ruminant meat and water and stick with it for a period of time. Then slowly add one group of animal source foods at a time to find out if it is on your okay list or not.

All three versions of the carnivore diet can be healthy if you follow the following healthy eating principles that I have addressed in this post:

  • eat from a wide variety of animal sources to ensure sufficient nutrients
  • eat nose-to-tail or as many different parts of an animal as possible
  • eat from naturally or well-raised animals as much as you can afford
  • eat unprocessed or minimally processed foods
  • eat both cooked and raw if it’s safe and you can tolerate.

You can also create your own version of the carnivore diet to suit your own health condition. For example, if you can tolerate some vegetables but sensitive to dairy or seafood, stick with ruminant, pork, and poultry and have occasional vegetables that are in season.

DisclaimerThe 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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