If you’re not a vegan, you’re an omnivore… right?
The carnivore diet has been making waves in health circles, and has become much more mainstream over the past several years.
On carnivore, you eat only animal-based foods — like meat, organs, animal fat, bone broth, and dairy.
Many people have credited the diet with drastically improving their health, but it is pretty extreme and there’s little research to support it.
Here’s our review of the carnivore diet, its benefits and downsides, and how to get started.
Carnivore is a completely animal-based diet. Commonly called the “all-meat diet,” it could be considered the opposite of a strict vegan diet. Rather than only plant-based foods, carnivore includes only animal- and meat-based foods.
Although the diet sounds extreme, it has a large but growing following of people who claim eating only animal foods has drastically improved their health.
Like keto, it is a “fasting-mimicking,” high-fat, moderate-protein, and extremely low-carb eating plan that helps you enter a state of ketosis — where you’re burning fat instead of carbs for your main source of energy. However, it’s significantly more restrictive than keto because it doesn’t allow for any plant-based foods (*).
Carnivore eating is simple.
If it comes from an animal, you can eat it.
This includes all types of meat, eggs, animal-based fats like ghee and lard, and — for some people — dairy products and honey.
However, many carnivore eaters also place a large emphasis on food quality. This is an important consideration because ethically-raised animals tend to be more nutrient-dense and healthier than conventionally-farmed animals.
For instance, grass-fed beef and pastured eggs are richer in omega-3 fats than their conventional counterparts. Likewise, wild-caught fish is lower in potentially-harmful pollutants than farm-raised fish (* , *, *).
Carnivores who choose to include dairy products also gravitate towards raw, organic, and full-fat dairy.
Additionally, many people who follow a carnivore diet also practice intermittent fasting or time-restricted eating, so they may only eat one or two meals per day and no snacks.
There are several potential benefits of carnivore according to the many anecdotes shared on online keto and carnivore communities, but very little existing research to support them.
Still, here are some of the benefits that people have reported experiencing from eating carnivore, along with a quick review of any existing research on the topic.
Although there hasn’t been any research specifically on carnivore for weight loss, carnivore is a ketogenic diet — so, like keto, it may offer similar weight loss benefits.
When you are in ketosis, your body burns fat for its main fuel source instead of carbs. This may make it easier to lose weight. Additionally, you may naturally feel fuller on fewer calories because fat and protein are very filling (*).
Finally, ketogenic diets may also help to preserve your lean muscle mass, so that — even as you lose fat — your body is still burning the same amount of calories at rest (*).
In one survey of over 2,000 carnivore eaters, participants on the diet for 6 months or longer reported an average 3-point reduction in their body mass index (BMI) (*).
Blood sugar management
Likewise, carnivore may be helpful for blood sugar management in the same way that keto is.
Ketogenic diets reduce fasting insulin levels and promote insulin sensitivity, which can improve your blood sugar control and make it easier to manage conditions related to insulin resistance and blood sugar, like type 2 diabetes and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) (* , *).
In a survey of carnivore dieters, participants with diabetes reported that they had better blood glucose control and less diabetes medication use since starting the diet (*).
There is a great deal of emerging research on ketogenic diets for brain function. Keto has long been used as a therapeutic diet for children with epilepsy, but it may also be useful for cognitive decline and mood disorders (* , *, *).
As a ketogenic diet, carnivore may also have similar benefits.
Autoimmune, skin, and digestive symptom management
Many people turn to carnivore after trying other diets or eating patterns to help manage their autoimmune, skin, or digestive concerns, without success.
Still, research on carnivore for these conditions is very limited. However, some participants in the carnivore survey we mentioned above reported improvements in digestive health and skin health after being on carnivore for six or more months (*).
Carnivore may also be helpful for fertility. Some research suggests that ketogenic and low carb diets may improve fertility in women and sperm quality in males (although, the evidence we have in males was in male rats, not humans — so take it with a grain of salt). Additionally, well-known fertility specialist Dr. Robert Kiltz of CNY fertility recommends carnivore for his fertility patients (* , *, *).
Use this reference guide to determine what you can and can’t eat on carnivore. You can use it as a shopping list, as well.
Foods to Eat on a Carnivore Diet
Here are the foods you can eat freely on carnivore. Remember when shopping to look for the highest quality available, such as organic, free-range, grass-fed, pastured, and/or wild-caught options.
You also want to choose fattier meats, as well as Also, be sure that the meats you purchase don’t contain any added ingredients or flavors.
- Beef: all cuts
- Chicken: all cuts
- Lamb: all cuts
- Turkey: all cuts
- Fish and shellfish: all types
- Pork: all cuts, bacon, sausage
- Wild game: venison, elk, bison, duck, rabbit, etc.
- Fats and oils: butter, ghee, lard, tallow, duck fat
- Other: eggs, bone broth, salt, collagen supplements
Foods You May Eat on a Carnivore Diet
There are some foods that are a “maybe” on the carnivore diet. Some people choose to include them, while others choose to avoid them. These are:
- Honey (made by bees, which technically makes it a carnivore food)
- Dairy products, including raw milk, sour cream, heavy cream, and cheese
- Herbs and spices in moderation
- Tea and coffee
Foods to Avoid on the Carnivore Diet
There are many foods that you will need to avoid on carnivore. These include:
- Meats: all meat foods containing non-meat ingredients (packaged meatballs, breaded chicken strips, etc.)
- Dairy: flavored yogurts, ice creams, flavored milk, plant-based dairy alternatives
- Fats and oils: seed oils, olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, plant-based butter, margarine
- Grains and starches: all grains and starchy foods (bread, pasta, corn, potatoes, rice, oats, quinoa, etc.)
- Nuts and seeds: all nuts and seeds
- Beans and legumes: all beans and legumes
- Fruits: all fruits
- Vegetables: all vegetables
- Packaged foods: crackers, cookies, snack cakes, cakes, candies, boxed meals, frozen meals, etc.
- Miscellaneous: vinegar, chocolate/cacao
Here’s what three days on carnivore may look like.
- Breakfast: 2-3 eggs scrambled in butter, bone broth
- Lunch: roasted chicken wings tossed in butter and salt
- Supper: large grilled ribeye steak
- Breakfast: 2-3 pork sausage links
- Lunch: burger made with ground beef and ground beef liver
- Supper: half chicken (with skin), roasted with butter
- Breakfast: uncured bacon and 2-3 eggs fried in rendered bacon fat
- Lunch: salmon cooked in butter, bone broth
- Supper: meatballs made with ground beef and ground pork
Many people on carnivore don’t snack, and they may also fast through breakfast or practice a type of fasting known as One Meal a Day (OMAD).
For this reason, the above sample meal plan may not be applicable to all carnivore eaters.
Here are a few key steps and important considerations as you get started on carnivore:
- Stock your pantry, fridge, and freezer. Be sure that you have plenty of meat, eggs, bone broth, salt, and carnivore-friendly cooking fat on hand. If you live alone or live with others who are doing carnivore, it’s a great idea to get rid of non-carnivore foods so they don’t present a temptation. If you live with other people who aren’t doing carnivore, though, this can be tricky.
- Plan your meals. Carnivore will require plenty of advance planning, especially if you work outside of the home or are planning dinners out. Be sure to plan out your weekly meals, and remember to move meats from the freezer to the fridge to thaw in advance, so that you’re not left scrambling to cobble together a carnivore meal.
- Consider supplements. There are some supplements that you may want to consider including in your Carnivore diet, like vitamin C, vitamin D, electrolytes, and collagen. If you dislike organ meats, you may also want to consider a desiccated liver supplement, which can provide some of the nutrients found in organ meats.
- Include skin, organs, and bone broth. Muscle meat alone can’t provide all of the nutrients your body needs, but including skin, organs, and bone broth in your diet can help fill some of those nutrient gaps.
- Use salt liberally. Carnivore is a ketogenic diet, so — like keto — you’ll need more electrolytes like sodium. Using high-quality salt on all of your food can make a big difference in helping you meet your electrolyte needs, and an electrolyte supplement may be a helpful addition as well.
Although many people online sing the praises of the carnivore diet, it’s not without risks.
First, there is very little research to support the carnivore diet’s potential benefits and safety. It’s important to remember this as you’re reading up on carnivore. A lack of research doesn’t mean that carnivore is bad, necessarily, but it does mean that we have some knowledge gaps.
Here are some other potential risks to keep in mind:
- No fiber. One of the major downsides of carnivore is that there is no fiber in this diet. Fiber helps regulate digestion and provides a food source for beneficial gut bacteria. Still, many long-term carnivores say that their digestion is better with no plant foods (or fiber) than when they were including plant foods in their diet.
- Nutrient imbalances. By removing plant foods, Carnivore removes some key sources of certain nutrients and — over time — could lead to nutrient deficiencies. Although some research suggests that a well-planned Carnivore diet can prevent nutrition gaps, you may have trouble with this if you don’t include bone broth, collagen, animal skin, organ meats, or dietary supplements in your routine (*).
- Stress and hormone balance. Particularly in women, strict carbohydrate restriction may negatively impact hormone balance — which could increase your body’s physiological stress load and affect your menstrual cycle. This is not a problem for all women, and there are several women online who report following a carnivore diet with great success, but it is something to be aware of (*).
- Increased low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Some people on carnivore have reported that it significantly increased their LDL cholesterol, which could indicate greater heart disease risk. Still, these same people also reported drastic improvements in their high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and triglycerides — both of which indicate a decreased risk of heart disease (*).
Carnivore may be difficult to follow over a long-term basis for many people, because of how restrictive it is. Still, there are online communities where people claim that they’ve followed a carnivore diet for years without issue.
For that reason, it’s hard to say how long you individually should stick to the diet. It really depends on your health goals and health status, and your tolerance for such a diet plan. Be sure to consider your healthcare provider’s input, too.
Additionally, if you like the results you get from carnivore but find it too restrictive, you should check out Paul Saladino’s “animal based” diet.
This diet is mostly-carnivore, but it includes some plant foods that Dr. Saladino considers “low toxic,” meaning that they are easy to digest and well-tolerated by most people. These include (*):
- Fruits like apples, pineapples, mangos, dates, oranges, berries
- Vegetables like avocado, zucchini, cucumber, pumpkin, squash, olives
- White rice (in small quantities)
- Sweet potatoes (in small quantities)
Additionally, you could also consider transitioning into a keto or paleo diet if you want more flexibility than carnivore but similar benefits.
Carnivore is hard and extremely restrictive, so many people turn to it as a “last resort” for their weight, blood sugar management, digestion, or autoimmune concerns. However, carnivore may be a great fit for you if:
- You like keto and fasting
- You enjoy meat and wouldn’t mind cutting out plant-based foods
- You have health goals that may benefit from ketosis
- You have digestive or autoimmune concerns that haven’t improved from other treatments or diets
- You have trouble digesting plant foods
However, the carnivore diet isn’t right for everyone. It may not be a good fit for you if:
- You dislike meat or don’t think you could stick to a plant-free diet
- You have a meat allergy or intolerance, such as alpha-gal syndrome (caused by tick bites) (*)
- You don’t want to include skin or organ meats in your diet
- You’re underweight
- You have a history of disordered eating
- You’re pregnant or breastfeeding
- Your physician has advised against carnivore
If you have any concerns, be sure to speak to your healthcare provider before you start carnivore.
Carnivore has amassed a big following of dedicated meat eaters. People say that the diet helps them lose weight and improve their blood sugar control, and it may also help with fertility, skin conditions, autoimmunity, and digestive problems.
Still, there’s very little research to support the carnivore diet. Most of the benefits have been reported by people who follow a carnivore diet, and there are still some significant downsides.
First, it’s extremely restrictive and hard to follow. Additionally, it contains no fiber, could lead to nutrient deficiencies if not planned well, and may negatively affect hormones — especially in women.
However, if you’re interested in following carnivore, be sure to plan your meals, invest in high-quality meats, include skin and organ meats, and salt liberally.
Also, if carnivore is a little too intense for you, you can consider other similar eating patterns like Dr. Saladino’s animal-based diet, keto, or paleo.
Hernández A et al. Comparative study of the intake of toxic persistent and semi persistent pollutants through the consumption of fish and seafood from two modes of production (wild-caught and farmed). 2017 January 1