Imagine a diet where no fruit and vegetables pass the lips but plenty of meat is encouraged. 

Welcome to the carnivore diet, sometimes known as the zero-carb diet, which consists solely of animal products such as meat, eggs, and limited dairy. No nuts, seeds or legumes are consumed. The diet has gained prominence through social media by influencers, dubbed “meatfluencers” who claim it has a range of benefits and can lead to dramatic weight loss – with very little evidence to prove their point.

As such, it has been criticised by nutritionists and dieticians for being nutritionally restrictive.

“It is a strict form of diet, with the emphasis purely on protein and fat, as opposed to carbohydrates. It has gained popularity along with the belief that reducing carbohydrates in your diet is a good thing,” says Rob Hobson, a nutritionist. 

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The carnivore diet only allows consumption of meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, fish, some dairy, and water. Advocates encourage fattier cuts of meat to ensure enough calories are consumed.

The diet is a type of ketosis eating plan in which the body switches from burning glucose fuel in the blood and liver to burning stored body fat. Without glucose from carbohydrates the liver breaks down fat stores to produce energy in the form of ketones.

A typical meal day on the carnivore diet may include a breakfast of bacon and eggs, lunch of salmon with bone broth and a dinner of steak with bone marrow. 

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Different variations of the carnivore diet have been historically documented. For example, in the 1870s, the Italian physician Arnaldo Cantani put diabetic patients on an exclusive animal-based diet. In the 1880s, James H Salisbury advocated a meat diet consisting of two to four pounds of lean beef and three to five pints of hot water a day. It became known as the meat and hot water diet, or Salisbury diet.

More recently, the orthopaedic surgeon and influencer Shawn Baker published The Carnivore Diet book in 2018. 

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  • Red meats, including beef, lamb, pork and venison
  • Offal, such as liver and kidney
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Bone marrow
  • Lard, dripping, butter and ghee
  • Limited low lactose milk, yogurt, and cheese
  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Legumes
  • Grains, including food made from them, such as pasta and bread
  • High-lactose dairy foods
  • Alcohol
  • Sugars
  • Drinks other than water

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There have been limited studies to test the claims of the diet. One 2021 study surveyed 2,029 people who had been on the carnivore diet for at least six months. The authors recorded surprising results. All the diabetics in the cohort said they came off injectable medication and 92 per cent said they came off insulin completely. The average weight loss across the cohort was 20lbs. 

The research, however, was limited as it was based on a self-reported online survey and not tested through randomised control trials. The study concluded: “Contrary to common expectations, adults consuming a carnivore diet experienced few adverse effects and instead reported health benefits and high satisfaction.”

The authors, unsurprisingly, called for more research.

According to Kate Booker, a nutritionist at Nutrition Geeks: “Some people may be getting mineral rich and bioavailable nutrients if the meat consumed is high quality, regenerative and raised organically.”

Hobson adds: “If you’re not eating carbs you will likely have stable blood sugar levels, purely because you’re just eating fat and protein, although some of that protein will turn to glucose so you will still end up with glucose in your bloodstream.”

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Meat-heavy diets may exceed recommended saturated fat levels, raising heart disease risk.

High sodium intake could lead to hypertension. A diet high in animal products, particularly red and processed meats, has been associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, certain cancers, and Type 2 diabetes.    

  • The diet lacks the essential plant micronutrients and antioxidants found in fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and legumes
  • It has a significant lack of fibre, which is essential for gut health and function, and is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, bowel cancer and Type 2 diabetes
  • Lack of fibre is also likely to cause constipation
  • Unsuitable for certain groups, including children, pregnant or lactating women, as well as those who have been diagnosed with impaired kidney function
  • The exclusion of carbohydrates means the body misses out on a great food for the nervous system and thyroid
  • The diet lacks essential nutrients like vitamin C, and polyphenols. Without careful planning and supplementation, followers of the carnivore diet may be at risk of nutrient deficiencies, which can lead to health problems over time
  • Limited food choices can hinder social interactions, making it challenging to dine out or share meals with others
  • Potential risk for disordered eating
  • Lack of long-term research

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