Is an all-meat diet healthy or is it just the latest diet fad for unstable people who need attention? Let's break it down.
The Reverse Vegan Diet
For those who don't know, a carnivore diet is an all-meat diet, usually lots of red meat. No fruits, veggies, grains, or plants of any of kind. Plants are "toxic."
Some practitioners have a small amount of dairy foods and eggs; some don't. Usually, alcohol and coffee are no-no's too, since they're plant based.
Got it? Okay, let's dig in.
Unstable People Love It!
I have to get this out of the way first. I've known some folks who were drawn to this eating style. A couple were actually former vegans. That's right, they went from "meat is murder" to "I brush my teeth with flank steak."
Now, how do I say this gently? They were all as nutty as a jar of Jif – not psychologically stable.
It's a correlation I've noticed: people who are little cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs are often drawn to extreme diets. It doesn't matter what the diet or eating pattern is, as long as it's extreme and makes them feel superior: veganism, the carnivore diet, hours and hours of fasting every day, "keto for life," raw food diets, etc.
They're all kind of insufferable, but that doesn't mean there's no value in these methods. But once an eating style goes from tool to glassy-eyed food religion, I have to question to current mental state of the dieter.
Much like eating disorders, psychologists believe it's not really about the food, but deeper issues that are expressed via controllable actions, like eating, or not eating, or binge eating... or eating like a weirdo. So, keep that in mind.
It's About What You're NOT Eating
Many people claim that a meat-only diet has cured them of all their ailments. I don't completely doubt that.
The carnivore diet is basically an elimination diet. If someone had leaky gut issues or undiagnosed food allergies, I'm sure they feel better on the meat diet, not because meat is magical and all plants are "toxic" but because they're no longer eating whatever it was that was causing them problems.
It May Work If Your Diet Was Missing Stuff
Some women claim to feel great on this diet. Now, if those women were anemic or close to it (very low iron) then eating a crap-ton of red meat would probably fix that problem and they'd feel much better. (Low iron in females can cause a host of problems, even things like depression and mental confusion.)
But, a high-dose iron supplement would've helped too, without the extreme dietary change.
Likewise, a sudden influx of quality protein and fat would make a person feel better if they were previously lacking in those macros. A zero-saturated fat diet would cause a lot of problems (many hormonal related) and eating red meat would "cure" them. But again, this could have been fixed without the extreme reverse-vegan diet.
But, But, the Inuit!
Carnivore diet advocates also like to talk about the primitive tribes who seemed to survive and even thrive on all-meat diets. But they may be overlooking a few things.
For example, traditional Inuit peoples also ate the stomach contents of the animals they hunted. So they did eat plants, just pre-eaten plants. Other primitive "carnivore tribes" also consumed every part of the animal, even the skin, hooves, and bones. So they were getting fiber too.
Early man may have also consumed small amounts of dirt and soft rocks to get the minerals they needed, something still practiced by some primitive tribes today.
A Deficiency of Common Sense
The most vehement carnivore dieters also claim you won't suffer from any vitamin or mineral deficiencies. For example, they point out that meat contains vitamin C, but many miss the fact that the vitamin is largely lost when meat is cooked. To remedy this, many carnivore dieters are, you guessed it, eating raw meat.
Longevity wise, the best way to live a longer life is to not smoke, wear your seatbelt, and not be fat. And you wouldn't be fat on an all-meat diet.
But you'd also be missing a plethora of plant compounds that keep you healthy for the long haul, like polyphenols. Would not being fat outweigh the nutritional deficiencies? Hard to say.
In the big picture, an all-meat diet could work if you supplement the hell out of it, much like a vegan diet. But if either extreme is the One Right Way to Eat for humans, then supplementation of basic vitamins and minerals shouldn't be necessary, right?
Does It Work for Fat Loss?
Of course. When humans greatly limit food variety, we have natural mechanisms in place to reduce hunger. Plus, all that protein would be very filling. Again, nothing magical here, just eating fewer calories.
Then there's the obvious: meat doesn't contain sugar or junky carbs, and those are usually the chubby person's main problems.
How About Muscle Gain?
This is basically a keto diet, which as Christian Thibaudeau has pointed out, will greatly slow or even halt muscle gains. Yes, you need carbs to build muscle.
Many people do claim to be building muscle on a meat-only diet, but they're probably just losing fat and better revealing the muscle they already had.
Or maybe they're relative newbies to lifting – that magical stage of your lifting career where it's hard to NOT build muscle, regardless of your training and diet approach. And finally, maybe those who claim to be adding slabs of muscle on a carnivore diet are just finally consuming enough protein.
What About Autoimmune Issues?
Many people suffering from extreme autoimmune problems have found relief with a carnivore diet. It may not be the cure, but if it keeps them from being in constant pain then it's a great tool until we figure out the root cause (and hopefully a cure) for autoimmune issues.
Summary: Except for a few very rare exceptions, the carnivore diet is just the latest really exciting but totally silly eating plan for unstable people who need attention and fewer calories.