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Is The Carnivore Diet Healthy?
Lions, wolves, and crocodiles are all known as carnivores or animals that primarily feed on animal tissue.
Majority of human beings are considered omnivores. Omnivores are animals or people that eat both plants and animal tissue.
Fad diets today are often extremes on either end of the spectrum. One side of the spectrum may be vegan and other side carnivore.
Meat consumption is estimated to have more than doubles since the 1990s . With this increase more people are exploring what it is to be a carnivore and if this is right for them.
What is The Carnivore Diet?
The Carnivore Diet was created by Shawn Baker, MD, a former orthopedic surgeon . His book, The Carnivore Diet, promotes what he refers to as a revolutionary diet that challenges what we think we know about health.
The Carnivore Diet is sometimes referred to as the “zero carb” diet . It supports the inclusion of animal products including:
- Meat (beef, pork, venison, etc.)
- Poultry (chicken, turkey, etc.)
And the exclusion of:
- Carbohydrates (grains, beans, starchy vegetables, sugar)
- Fats (nuts, seeds, oils)
The Carnivore diet is essentially an extreme version of other fad diets, similar to the Atkins diet or a high-protein diet.
Exploring the Common Characteristics of Fad Diets
The carnivore diet is another disguised fad diet we can uncover. To recognize fad diets there needs to be an awareness of some common characteristics. These characteristics include :
- Promising fast weight loss or immediate results
- Restricting one or more food groups
- Promoting large quantities of single foods or food groups
- Promoting miracle or super foods and beverages
- Based on no or limited research
A fad diet may have one or all of these characteristics. The carnivore diet happens to have not one, not two, but all fad diet characteristics.
The Big Picture
A high-protein diet such as the carnivore diet promotes large quantities of single food groups (protein) while at the same time placing all other food groups off limits.
The carnivore diet draws followers in quickly due to perceived short-term pros.
Short-term pros of a high-protein diet :
- Rapid weight loss
- Increased satiety or fullness
- Improved triglyceride levels
- Improved serum cholesterol
These short-term pros can fool many into believing the diet will be maintainable and lead to long-term improved health. Unfortunately, many can be blinded to the potential long-term cons when they are so focused on instant gratification.
Long-term cons of a high protein diet :
- Not maintainable
- Nutrient deficient
- Detrimental to the brain and heart health
If the long-term cons of the carnivore diet were sold upfront it might not be so alluring.
Can One Food Group Have it All?
Meat, red meat specifically, provides nutrition in the form of macronutrients and micronutrients. Specific micronutrients include:
- B vitamins including vitamin B12
But too much of a good thing, might just be detrimental to health. Imbalanced consumption of red meat and processed meat has been linked to adverse health outcomes including colorectal cancer specifically .
Other impacts high meat consumption may have on health include:
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Increased risk of diabetes
- Worsened kidney function for those already compromised
- Higher rates of overall mortality
- Constipation and other gastrointestinal concerns
- Nutrient deficiencies
The Carnivore Diet may not take all aspect of health into account. Health requires a variety or vitamins and minerals calling for the inclusion of carbohydrates and fats. The body needs nutrients from a variety of foods including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
Complications of Limitations
Restricting entire food groups can lead to limitations causing feelings of deprivation. Current research has linked dieting with higher risk of developing disordered eating as well as more likelihood to overeat .
What if you could stop the cycle of yo-yo dieting and no longer go from one extreme diet regimen or another. No longer being controlled by diet trends is possible with learning, implementing, and practicing intuitive eating principles.
Honoring your health with gentle nutrition is the 10th and final principle of intuitive eating, a way of eating designed to make peace with food. The intention is to learn to honor your health and your taste buds .
Gentle nutrition allows for all foods to fit, while eating to feel good physically and mentally. The journey towards intuitive eating allows for food freedom rather than food rules.
Fad diets blur the picture we have of our health and ourselves. They lead us to believe we have to change and cannot be accepted as we are.
Chronic dieters also tend to overeat, have low self-esteem as well as suffer from some eating disorders and depression .
Health at Every Size (HAES) can support breaking free of the limitations dieting can create. Instead of starting another diet, try exploring a new path including principle that support acceptance no matter your shape or size.
The Health at Every Size (HAES) principles include :
- Weight Inclusivity
- Healthy Enhancement
- Eating for Well-Being
- Respectful Care
- Life-Enhancing Movement
Eating for well-being and life-enhancing movement are tools to support the quality of life an individual desires.
Fad diets such as the carnivore diet provide faulty tools, often drawing you in by short-term results and keeping you stuck in long-term cycles of yo-yo dieting.
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- Is a Grazing Diet Healthy?
Resources González, N., Marquès, M., Nadal, M., & Domingo, J. L. (2020). Meat consumption: Which are the current global risks? A review of recent (2010–2020) evidences. Food Research International, 137, 109341. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodres.2020.109341  The Health at Every Size® (HAES®) Principles. (2022, April 22). ASDAH. https://asdah.org/health-at-every-size-haes-approach/  Khawandanah, J., & Tewfik, I. (2016). Fad Diets: Lifestyle Promises and Health Challenges. Journal of Food Research, 5(6), 80. https://doi.org/10.5539/jfr.v5n6p80  M. (2021, July 1). The Carnivore Diet: Can You Have Too Much Meat? Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/the-carnivore-diet/  Popular Diet Trends: Today’s Fad Diets – Today’s Dietitian Magazine. (2019, May). Today’s Dietitian, 21(5). https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/0519p12.shtml#:%7E:text=From%20a%20nutrition%20standpoint%2C%20this,of%20very%20low%2Dcarb%20diets.&text=The%20carnivore%20diet%20is%20sometimes,fish%2C%20dairy)%20and%20water.  Solid, R. J. (2022). Dr.Shawn Baker – The carnivore diet: Evolution, lessons & implementation.: How you can improve your health with an animal & science based nutrition – featuring Tom Bilyeu. Independently published.  Tribole, E. (2022). Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works. St. Martin’s Griffin.
Author: Raylene Hungate, RDN,LD/N