The carnivore diet promises some amazing benefits such as weight loss, better digestive health, improved mental clarity, and even better autoimmune disease management. The one question we always have to ask with a diet that’s as restrictive as this one is, how safe is it? Let’s take a closer look at the potential risks of an all-meat diet.
As you know from the previous article, there are no long-term studies on this diet. We are only relying on reports from people who are on it and our general understanding of nutrition to assess it. Let’s look at the nutrient spectrum it provides and the effects it can have on the human body.
It lacks vitamin C and, potentially, other essential nutrients
Meat contains only very small amounts of vitamin C and this vitamin is not very heat stable. That’s why it’s virtually impossible to get the recommended daily amount of vitamin C on the carnivore diet. Also, many people arrive at the carnivore diet because of digestive problems as mentioned in the last article. That’s why this diet usually excludes dairy as it is not tolerated well. This expands the range of potential deficiencies to vitamin K2 and calcium. Plus, if a person eats muscle meats only and avoids organ meats like liver, then vitamin A, folate, manganese, and magnesium should be on this list too.
There’s an argument that people on this diet might have lower requirements of the above nutrients than those eating a regular diet. And it is true that people who reported to be on this diet long-term did not get scurvy which is a disease resulting from vitamin C deficiency. Based on the current recommended daily amounts, the carnivore diet should cause deficiencies in the general public. But considering the case reports from the carnivore community we can’t be sure. Hopefully, more data will be available as time passes.
It contains no phytonutrients
Phytonutrients such as curcumin, beta-carotene, quercetin, resveratrol, and many others can be very healthy. Their only source are plants and they help us through a process called hormesis. Just like lifting weights creates a stress on your muscles that forces them to adapt and get stronger, similarly, phytonutrients cause stress that motivates the body to become more resilient. Phytonutrients help reduce inflammation, repair DNA damage, and detoxify potential carcinogens via this process. Eating a diet with no plants and therefore no phytonutrients means losing out on these benefits.
It might be hard on your liver
Eating a lot of meat means eating a lot of protein. It’s ok to get roughly anywhere between 10 – 30 % of your total calories from protein. Things start to get problematic if you go over about 35 %. When you don’t get enough carbs and fat, your liver can make glucose from protein through gluconeogenesis. This process creates nitrogen waste, which must be converted to urea and disposed of. In situations of very high protein intake, the urea cycle might get overwhelmed and lead to nausea, diarrhoea, and in extreme cases potentially even death. This is why it’s essential to always go for fatty cuts of meat or add animal fat to meat to avoid overloading your system with protein on the carnivore diet.
Is it worth the risk?
In theory, you can supplement the missing vitamins and minerals, survive without phytonutrients, and choose fattier meats to do well as a carnivore. Carnivorous, just like its polar opposite, the vegan diet, can work in the short-term. But right now, we simply don’t know what impact it’s going to have over the long-term. Some people might be well suited to thrive on the carnivore diet indefinitely, some might take the risk because it’s the only thing that helps them effectively manage their disease and for others, it might prove unsustainable.
Whether the diet is vegan or carnivore, it’s always important to first learn lots about it and consult experts to better understand the potential impact it might have on you. Only then you can truly weigh the pros and cons.