What is the Carnivore Diet (and What it’s Not!)

What is the Carnivore Diet Featured Image

If you’re here, you might have heard about the carnivore diet and were curious about it or had some questions. We’re going to give you a general overview of what the carnivore diet is (and what it’s not too!). Other names you might hear used in place of the carnivore diet are:

  • Zero Carb Diet (although that is a bit of a misnomer)
  • The Paleolithic Ketogenic Diet (coined by Paleomedicina)
  • An all meat diet (although that is a bit of a misnomer too)
  • Ultimate Elimination Diet

While these (mostly) all refer to the same thing, there are nuances to each that are unimportant to an introduction to the carnivore diet and probably not relevant to most people anyway.

What the Carnivore Diet is Not

While knowing what the carnivore diet is, knowing what it’s not is almost more important, which is why we are discussing it first. The carnivore is not an ideology and borderline religion like the cult of veganism.

If you are a prominent carnivore YouTuber and have a piece of cake, you won’t have to change your lifestyle and announce to the world that you are no longer carnivore and leave the ‘movement’, like as is occurring with the Mass Exodus of Vegans from the vegan movement due to health problems.

This is a framework and not an ideology. There is a reason why people eat only animal products and, despite the fact that the Carnivore Diet is More Vegan than a Vegan Diet by being better for the environment and killing fewer animals, most people are trying it for its potential health benefits rather than for environmental or ethical reasons.

What the Carnivore Diet is

What the carnivore diet is is a way of eating that includes ONLY animal products (meat, dairy, and eggs), not because there is some weird anti-vegan stance against vegetables, but simply because a lot of people have discovered, through trial and error, it improves their health.

Through this trial and error, a lot of people have come to the same conclusion: Eating Plants is Harmful, and eating only animal foods improves digestion, alleviates health problems, allows them to build muscle, improves mental health, and all around makes them feel better.

what is the carnivore diet

That’s it. That’s why it’s not a dogma. That’s why you will find conflicting ideas online about what people eat. If you want to add coffee or chocolate cake, then do so at your own discretion. It’s not carnivore, but it’s your life and you get to choose what you put in your mouth.

Unlike veganism where you can’t really be a vegan if you are eating eggs or fish, most people who have a few plants now and then still call themselves carnivore, or possibly with the qualifier ‘Relaxed Carnivore’ or ‘Dirty Carnivore’. As a counterpoint, however, there are good reasons why Dirty Carnivore is Not Ideal, as explained by some very long time strict carnivores.

You are (presumably) and adult reading this. You do not need permission and this isn’t a religion. Chocolate cake is just not carnivore and the question then becomes why do you want to do a ‘Carnivore Diet’ if you still want to drink sodas or eat chocolate cake (or rice, or vegetables, or WHATEVER non-animal product food you can dream up)? And then you can go back and read the article again on why Dirty Carnivore is Not Ideal and decide how best to go about achieving your goals.

Ask This, Not That…

My biggest pet peeve is people on the social media groups asking, “Is (insert non-animal food) on the carnivore diet” or “Can I have (insert non-animal food here)” or the perennial favorite, “Does anyone still eat (insert non-animal food here)?”

Presumably, you are an adult and can figure out the difference between an animal product and not an animal product. So asking if a non-animal product is on a diet that is strictly animal products makes you sound, well, a little underdeveloped in the grey matter area, if you know what I mean.

can i eat on the carnivore diet?

Likewise, asking if you CAN have something, makes you sound a bit childish, like you need permission. You’re not a child. You don’t need permission and this is not an ideology. Additionally, taking a poll will not help you figure out if that food will work for you. 99% of people might answer that they still eat chocolate cake, but that doesn’t mean that it will work for YOU to continue eating it.

So why not ask a better question that shows you’ve thought about this a bit, such as, “I’d like to go on the carnivore diet, but I’m very dependent upon coffee. Will being on the carnivore diet while still drinking coffee allow me to reverse my Type 2 diabetes?” Or “Do you think it will it stall my weight loss progress if I have just one slice of chocolate cake at my son’s wedding?”

Those are the kind of question adults ask. Additionally, you’ll get more helpful answers when you ask what you actually want to know. It’s obvious that you don’t need permission, so don’t ask if you ‘can’ have coffee. Of course you can. But should you is the real question.

Likewise, asking if you CAN have something, makes you sound a bit childish, like you need permission. You're not a child. You don't need permission. Additionally, taking a poll will not help you figure out if that food will work for you. 99% of people could answer that they still eat chocolate cake, but that doesn't mean that it will work for YOU to continue eating it.    So why not ask a better question that shows you've thought about this a bit, such as, "I'd like to go on the carnivore diet, but I'm very dependent upon coffee. Will being on the carnivore diet while drinking coffee still allow me to reverse my Type 2 diabetes?"  Or "Do you think it will it stall my weight loss progress if I have just one slice of chocolate cake at my son's wedding?"    Those are the kind of question informed adults ask. Additionally, you'll get more helpful answers when you ask what you actually want to know.
The Carnivore Diet is Literally the Polar Opposite of the Vegan Diet

Asking Really Isn’t Helpful Though

Asking all these questions about non-carnivore foods, though, isn’t really helpful since perhaps coffee or spices, or just one piece of chocolate cake will work for you, and maybe it won’t. Only you can figure that out through trial and error. This woe is simple: eat meat, drink water. People seem to WANT or NEED it be more complicated than that.

However, and this is a big however, as people get deeper and deeper into the diet, they often find that they simply don’t need or want the plant foods that they desired or craved before. All their complex dancing around trying to figure out how to incorporate just that half an avocado or the square of dark chocolate each night ends up being for nothing because they simply lose the desire for it as time goes on anyway.

is it on the carnivore diet decision tree flowchart

So, again, if you WANT to have plants, then by all means do so. You are an adult and only you can decide if eating plants will allow you to reach your goals. But there is a reason that so many people have eliminated plants completely. Do whatever you need to do to reach your goals, just PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do not ask if (coffee, avocados, spices, soda, chocolate cake, mushrooms, etc) are carnivore when they are obviously not.

Ask the question you want to know.

Why Would Anyone Do This?

We kind of got the cart before the horse and didn’t really talk about why someone would want to do this. Surprisingly, many many people have found relief from symptoms from everything from (yes, that was 3 ‘froms’ in the same sentence!) Migraine Headaches, to Autoimmune Disease, to even genetic illnesses like Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and everything in between. It’s been particularly promising for relief of gastrointestinal illnesses since Harmful Plant Toxins and fiber can be irritating, and are unnecessary.

While it sounds like it would be boring and limiting, it’s surprisingly satiating and not boring. Often times, a few weeks in, people can feel bored eating the same thing over and over, but once that period has passed, almost everyone looks forward to their daily allotment of meat. It becomes the only food that sounds interesting. Even desserts often lose their appeal, and one begins to distinguish between food for nourishment and food for entertainment; and eating for entertainment becomes less and less appealing.

How This Extreme Diet Was Started

While it may seem extreme to eat nothing but meat, it’s really not that extreme in nature. Carnivorous animals, like lions, happily live their entire life eating almost nothing but antelope or water buffalo. Examples of people who are or did live on an all animal product diet are:

  • The Nenet and Sami nomadic tribes, currently living in northern Russia and Scandinavia, subsist almost completely on reindeer
  • The Inuit in Alaska ate almost all animals most of the year before civilization introduced grains, sugar, and alcohol
  • Even today, the male warriors of a tribe called the Maasai in Africa subsist on almost nothing but the flesh, blood, and milk of cows despite the fact that plant foods are eaten by the women and children
  • The tribes of Tierra del Fuego had an all-animal diet for most of the year

In fact, archeologists have been in agreement for decades that eating meat (and fat) was what allowed humans to develop the large brains that allowed us to move up the evolutionary ladder and break away from other primate species.

“The results of the present isotopic analyses are fully consistent with mammoth meat being the staple food of the Predmostí people. Since the collagen reflects an average of the protein fraction of the diet of an individual during several years, it means that this amount of mammoth meat was regularly consumed.”

Reconstruction of the Gravettian food-web at Predmostí I using bone collagen isotopic data

More recent scientific advancements and extensive finds of long-term settlements in Paleolithic Europe have even shown that our human or almost human early ancestors ate a diet that was so high in animal products the studies called them “top-level carnivores” not just rivaling, but surpassing purely carnivorous big cats and wolves for the amount of animal products in their diet. 1 2 3 4 5 6

“Early modern humans’…. δ15N [stable bone isotope nitrogen] value more positive than that of wolf seems to reflect a similar diet including a significant proportion of large herbivores such as woolly mammoth”

DIETARY COMPETITION BETWEEN NEANDERTHALS AND MODERN HUMANS: INSIGHTS FROM STABLE ISOTOPES

In other words, we didn’t become human just from eating meat, but from relishing massive amounts of meat and fat and being almost completely carnivorous. With the amount of evidence we have from bone isotope studies, there is simply no longer any debate that our early ancestors, at least those in Europe, were almost completely carnivorous.

What Do Carnivores Dieters Eat?

While it seems like ‘carnivore diet’ would be pretty self-explanatory, this concept is so foreign to people that many simply cannot comprehend what a diet devoid of plants, or consisting of nothing but meat would include, so I’ll give you a list of a few of the most common things people eat on a daily basis:

  • Bovine like beef, bison, and ox
  • Lamb
  • Pork
  • Poultry of all kinds
  • Fish and all other seafood
  • Wild game like elk, deer, and moose
  • Rabbit
  • Insects
what do you eat on a carnivore diet

and any other meats they might have in their local area, be it guinea pig in Ecuador or Kangaroo in Australia. If it’s meat, you can eat it. It’s really that simple. Just choose meats you have access to, that you like, and that you feel good eating. Organ meats, if you like them, are encouraged, though it’s a hotly debated topic in the carnivore community as to whether they are necessary.

What about Dairy and Eggs

While dairy and eggs are not meat, they are also animal products and are absolutely a part of the zero carb diet. However, they are foods that a higher percentage of people have problems with and end up eliminating because they simply feel better not consuming them for various reasons.

Fat is extremely important

One of the most important, and possibly most confusing, parts of the carnivore diet is it’s fat content. When you don’t consume carbohydrates, the body does not do very well without larger amounts of fat. In fact, humans will get a condition called protein poisoning, also called rabbit starvation, once protein comprises more than approximately 50% of the daily diet, if the meat is not fatty. 7

Therefore, it’s extremely important to either eat fatty cuts of meat, or add extra animal fat to your meat, such as butter, lard, other high fat dairy like sour cream, or adding fattier cuts, like pork belly or bacon, to leaner meats. There’s a reason that most meatloaf is part ground beef and part fattier ground pork.

Is that REALLY it?

Yes, that is REALLY all there is to the carnivore diet. Eat meat. Drink water. Use some salt if you like it. EVERYTHING ELSE IS OPTIONAL and can be used if you want to and it allows you to meet your goals. Remember, this isn’t a religion, it’s a framework and an elimination diet that will allow you to see what foods do and don’t cause you problems.
So you’re probably asking, “What about spices? What about coffee? What about honey? What about (any other food you can dream up a question about)?”

The answer is, “Do they allow you to meet your goals?”

Some people are fine with them, while others feel better without them. This guy has found that eating nothing but raw meat without salt works the best for him! He’s on the extreme end of the bell curve, but once you go deep into the community, you’ll find it’s not that unusual. YOU have to figure out what works best for you.

A sample meal plan taken from social media

And yes, you can do this long-term. While you might hear otherwise, there are no nutrient deficiencies you will develop from not eating plants. How could you if this is how we evolved eating? There are people who have been doing this for over a decade eating nothing but beef. The sound manager of the Grateful Dead, Owsley Stanley, AKA, The Bear, ate this way for 37 years before dying prematurely of a car accident! 8 And remember, there are adults living today that have never eaten a vegetable in their life and are perfectly healthy.

If you still REALLY can’t imagine what a carnivore day of eating might be like, I’ve sprinkled in a few social media comments so you can see, and I’ve also included the Zero Carb Health’s Weekly Meal Plan.

While I’m sure this didn’t answer all of your questions, it wasn’t meant to. It was meant to give you an overview of what the carnivore diet is… and isn’t. If you need more in depth information, I’d suggest reading The Hypercarnivore Diet by Don Matesz.

Sources

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