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People claim the carnivore diet helps with weight loss. But is it healthy?

Anecdotal benefits of the high-protein, no-carb diet include losing weight and managing diabetes. But experts say the scientific evidence is lacking.

At it's core, the carnivore diet is a high-protein, no-carb diet. While eating more protein and limiting carbs (especially refined varieties) can be a healthy choice for some, the carnivore diet takes this notion to the extreme.

The carnivore diet shares similarities with other popular dietary patterns. Consumer surveys from the past two years indicate that approaches such as keto, low carb, and high protein are in high demand, and the diet fits within specific components of these dietary patterns, specifically, very low carbohydrate and high protein.

But is it really safe to only eat animal products and no carbohydrates? Here's what you need to know about the diet.

What is the carnivore diet?

The carnivore diet originated from a 2019 book by Dr. Shawn Baker. In his book (and website), Dr. Baker shares stories of patients who have incorporated the diet and found success in managing or reversing autoimmune conditions and/or diabetes. Baker also provides evidence for its use as a weight-loss approach and mental-health tool. Additionally, the book provides recipes, meal plans and tools for incorporating the diet into your routine.

The dietary pattern eliminates plants and relies on animal products (mainly meat, eggs and small amounts of dairy) as its only source of nourishment. Advocates of the diet provide anecdotal evidence that the diet can help you lose weight, improve your metabolic numbers, and even reverse certain autoimmune conditions; however, the scientific evidence on the diet’s benefits is lacking. 

Carnivore diet food list

On the diet, you will eat:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Some animal products (like yogurt and bone broth)
  • Seasonings like salt and pepper

Carnivore diet risks

Adopting a carnivore diet means giving up fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains and unsaturated fats like extra virgin olive oil. It’s restrictive, and because of that, it may not be sustainable long term.

A 2023 study in the Journal of Nutrition found that extreme dietary habits could negatively impact mortality risk. Though the study focused mainly on carbohydrate and fat intake, the authors noted that more balanced approaches to diet had a better impact on long-term health.

Since the diet lacks sources from plants, a primary source of fiber and antioxidants, individuals on the carnivore diet run the risk of nutrient deficiencies. Further, a lack of fiber in the diet may also put an individual at risk for worsening gut health and constipation.

Finally, the diet is high in saturated fats and protein, which may be problematic for individuals seeking to control these macronutrients.  

Carnivore diet benefits

The diet does eliminate any source of sugar, as well as refined grains and ultra-processed foods. Diets high in sugar, refined grains and processed foods have been associated with a risk of chronic conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and potential adverse mental health impacts. 

If considering a carnivore approach, aim for animal-based foods with the most significant nutrient density. For example, consider organic dairy, grass-fed beef and pork products, poultry raised without antibiotics, wild fish and shellfish, and pasture-raised eggs.   

Carnivore diet meal plan 

The following five-day meal plan is an example of a carnivore diet approach. 

Day 1 

  • Breakfast: 2 eggs, scrambled in butter, with ¼ cup cheddar cheese on top.
  • Lunch: 4 turkey breast slices rolled in mozzarella cheese, plus 1 cup of bone broth.
  • Dinner: Meatloaf.

 Day 2  

  • Breakfast: 1 cup plain yogurt and 2 hard-boiled eggs. 
  • Lunch: Turkey burger and 1 cup of bone broth.
  • Dinner: Bison steak with a side of sautéed shrimp. 

Day 3 

  • Breakfast: Bacon and eggs.
  • Lunch: Soup (1 cup heavy cream and 1.5 cups bone broth with shredded chicken thigh meat in broth).
  • Dinner: 6-ounce wild salmon filet, baked or grilled, with 1 cup of bone broth. 

Day 4 

  • Breakfast: 2 fried eggs with 3 links of turkey sausage. 
  • Lunch: 1 pound ground chicken mixed with cotija cheese. 
  • Dinner: 3 large meatballs (1 pound of ground beef, 2 eggs, ¼ cup parmesan cheese, salt and pepper) plus 1 cup of bone broth.

 Day 5 

  • Breakfast: 3 slices of turkey bacon and 2 hard-boiled eggs.
  • Lunch: Wild salmon and crab burger (1 can wild salmon and 1 can crabmeat mixed with 2 eggs, 2 tablespoons butter, salt and pepper) sautéed with butter and topped with sour cream. 
  • Dinner: Chicken crust pizza (1 pound of ground chicken, mixed with 1 egg and formed into a round shell, then baked at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes. Take the crust out and top with mozzarella cheese and turkey sausage, then bake another 15 minutes). 

Carnivore diet snacks:

  • Cottage cheese 
  • Yogurt
  • Bacon strips 
  • Sardines 
  • Shrimp cocktail 
  • Cheese sticks 
  • Jerky (chicken, beef and salmon) 

The bottom line: Is the carnivore diet healthy?

The carnivore diet has many anecdotal advantages, but the scientific data still needs to catch up to the proposed benefits. Since the diet is highly restrictive and cuts out entire food groups, it may not be a viable long-term dietary pattern for many individuals. Additionally, the safety of the diet has yet to be rigorously tested. The diet may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes due to the diet’s high intake of meat and low intake of plants. Speaking with your health practitioner about the potential risks and benefits is a good first step before embarking on any diet plan, especially one that is highly restrictive and cuts out entire food groups.