The Carnivore Diet Guide: Benefits, Risks + Food List

Can you have too much meat? Evaluating an all-meat regimen.

Carbohydrates have earned a bad rap in recent years as an increasing number of weight-loss diets are all about restricting carbohydrates, particularly whole grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables.

However, these foods have long been a part of a healthy diet, and many plant-based diets still rely heavily on obtaining nutrients and calories from whole food sources of starchy carbohydrates.

But, certain people choose to avoid carbs at all costs and follow an animal-based products all-meat diet instead, known as the Carnivore Diet.

This nutrition guide will discuss how to follow the Carnivore Diet plan, what you can eat on the Carnivore Diet meal plan, and potential benefits and drawbacks.

We will cover: 

Let’s jump in!

Carnivore written on a chalkboard with meal and fish surrounding it.

What Is the Carnivore Diet?

As might be surmised, the Carnivore Diet plan is a restrictive eating pattern that exclusively involves eating meat and animal products such as eggs and certain dairy products without allowing for any other foods.

Essentially, the Carnivore Diet meal plan is the polar opposite of the vegan diet or most plant-based foods eating plans.

Due to the highly restrictive nature of the Carnivore Diet food list, following this diet for the long term is not at all advisable and can lead to significant nutrient deficiencies.

Proponents of the Carnivore Diet plan claim that this diet is not only great for weight loss but can also help improve mood, regulate blood sugar, improve digestive issues, decrease inflammation, and provide various other health benefits.

However, no current Carnivore Diet studies support the dieters’ touted claims, so care should be taken when deciding whether this is the right diet plan for you.

A variety of cut of meat, fish and eggs.

It is not entirely clear who developed the Carnivore Diet plan, but one of the most well-known advocates for the Carnivore eating plan is an American orthopedic physician named Dr. Shawn Baker.1Carnivore Diet Community, Coaching, & Guides. (n.d.). Carnivore Diet. https://carnivore.diet/

Dr. Baker uses individual testimonials and anecdotal accounts of patients he has worked with or people he has known who have followed the Carnivore Diet as “proof“ of certain health benefits.

These claims include things like decreasing depression, diabetes, arthritis symptoms, anxiety, obesity, high blood pressure, and more.

Furthermore, Dr. Baker reportedly conducted a “Carnivore Diet research study“ that involved having people following the diet fill out a survey about their subjective improvements or changes in health to determine the benefits of the Carnivore Diet.

However, even though respondents reported that they were happy with the diet and found health benefits of the Carnivore Diet meal plan, this was not a controlled study, and all of the reports were subjective.

A variety of cut of meat, fish and eggs.

This means that any noted Carnivore Diet health benefits were merely conjectures or feelings of the survey respondents.

For these reasons, nutrition and health experts express great concern about interpreting the “findings“ of this “Carnivore Diet study” as evidence-based or even trustworthy.2OUP accepted manuscript. (2022). Current Developments in Nutrition. https://doi.org/10.1093/cdn/nzac037

‌Even more concerning, due to concerns about Dr. Baker‘s competency in treating patients and disseminating factual information versus myths touted as proof, the New Mexico Medical Board Dr. Baker revoked Dr. Baker’s medical license in 2017.

Although it was eventually reinstated in 2019, the reinstatement comes with strict stipulations that Dr. Baker must practice under the direct supervision of another licensed physician.

This speaks to the degree of wariness you should exert when evaluating whether the Carnivore Diet plan is good for weight loss, health, and meeting your nutritional needs.

A person eating steak.

What Can You Eat On the Carnivore Diet Meal Plan?

There are no rules regarding how many calories you need to eat, how many times you should eat per day, or serving sizes on the Carnivore Diet plan for weight loss or health.

Instead, the emphasis is on eating only meat and animal products, with the priority given to the fattiest cuts of meat to help meet your caloric needs.

For example, if you are preparing hamburgers, instead of having 90/10 ground beef or 80/20 ground beef, look for 60/40 ground hamburger meat or 70/30 if need be. 

The Carnivore Diet nutrition recommendations also suggest prioritizing red meat over poultry and fatty fish over lean white fish to help you get more calories and fat.

You can cook with lard and butter, but you cannot use plant oils like olive or avocado.

Here is what you can eat on the Carnivore Diet meal plan:

Carnivore Diet Food List

  • Beef
  • Other game meats such as bison and antelope
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Duck
  • Pork
  • Lamb
  • Organ meats such as kidneys and liver line fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, sea bass, and tuna
  • White fish like cod and halibut
  • Eggs
  • Bone marrow
  • Lard 
  • Bone broth
  • Small amounts of low-lactose dairy products such as butter, heavy cream, and some hard cheeses3Wilson, D. (2023, April 25). 25 Cheeses You Can Eat If You Are Lactose-Intolerant. FODMAP Everyday. https://www.fodmapeveryday.com/25-cheeses-you-can-eat-if-you-are-lactose-intolerant/
  • Water

You are not supposed to drink tea, coffee, wine, beer, or any other drinks made from plants.

Only bone broth and water are allowed.

A variety of cut of meat, fish and eggs.

Is the Carnivore Diet Diet Meal Plan Good for Weight Loss and Health?

There is certainly potential to lose weight on the Carnivore Diet plan as long as you are in a caloric deficit.

Some studies have found that diets that are high in protein4S, S., Ag, B., Sg, L., J, S., Ma, T., F, van B., & Ms, W.-P. (2012, October 10). Relatively High-Protein or “Low-Carb” Energy-Restricted Diets for Body Weight Loss and Body Weight Maintenance? Physiology & Behavior. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22935440/ and/or low in carbohydrates can promote weight loss due to the satiating effects of high-protein foods.5Bazzano, L. A., Hu, T., Reynolds, K., Yao, L., Bunol, C., Liu, Y., Chen, C.-S., Klag, M. J., Whelton, P. K., & He, J. (2014). Effects of Low-Carbohydrate and Low-Fat Diets. Annals of Internal Medicine161(5), 309. https://doi.org/10.7326/m14-0180

‌There is also some evidence to suggest that protein may cause a slight increase in metabolic rate, which can help you burn more calories.6Moon, J., & Koh, G. (2020). Clinical Evidence and Mechanisms of High-Protein Diet-Induced Weight Loss. Journal of Obesity & Metabolic Syndrome29(3), 166–173. https://doi.org/10.7570/jomes20028

‌However, while plenty of studies7S, S., Ag, B., Sg, L., J, S., Ma, T., F, van B., & Ms, W.-P. (2012, October 10). Relatively High-Protein or “Low-Carb” Energy-Restricted Diets for Body Weight Loss and Body Weight Maintenance? Physiology & Behavior. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22935440/ have found that high-protein intake diets support weight loss; most research indicates that as long as you are getting enough protein, you certainly don’t have to follow a zero-carb diet to see the benefits of a high-protein diet for weight loss.8van Baak, M. A., & Mariman, E. C. M. (2019). Dietary Strategies for Weight Loss Maintenance. Nutrients11(8), 1916. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11081916

Other evidence has suggested that your macronutrient ratio is much less important for weight loss than your caloric balance.9Weight Loss Depends on Less Calories, Not Nutrient Mix. (2015, May 22). National Institutes of Health (NIH). https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/weight-loss-depends-less-calories-not-nutrient-mix

‌As long as you are in a caloric deficit, you will lose weight.

Aside from potential Carnivore Diet weight loss benefits, the Carnivore Diet may help lower blood sugar and insulin levels because you are not consuming any refined grains or carbohydrates of any type.10Ley, S. H., Hamdy, O., Mohan, V., & Hu, F. B. (2016). Prevention and management of type 2 diabetes: dietary components and nutritional strategies. The Lancet383(9933), 1999–2007. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0140-6736(14)60613-9

A person biting into steak.

What are the Potential Risks of Following the Carnivore Diet Long-Term?

‌However, despite the potential benefits of the Carnivore Diet for weight loss and certain health markers, there are also many risks and side effects.

Because all Carnivore Diet foods are animal-derived, the Carnivore Diet plan is high in saturated fat and cholesterol.11Hooper, L., Martin, N., Jimoh, O. F., Kirk, C., Foster, E., & Abdelhamid, A. S. (2020). Reduction in saturated fat intake for cardiovascular disease. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews8. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.cd011737.pub3

High-fat diets may not be safe for everyone, particularly if you have a history of cardiovascular disease or atherosclerosis.

While research12Manetti, S. (2022, June 22). Facts about saturated fats: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Medlineplus.gov. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000838.htm#:~:text=But%20too%20much%20saturated%20fat on the risk of saturated fat is mixed, the American Heart Association still recommends keeping the total daily caloric intake from saturated fat below 7% for heart health.13American Heart Association. (2021, November 1). Saturated Fat. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/saturated-fats

There are also no stipulations on the Carnivore Diet food list that you must eat natural meat.

Processed meat such as bacon, salami, sausage, and hot dogs are packed with sodium and preservatives.

Diets high in processed meat and sodium have been linked with a variety of adverse diseases such as hypertension, kidney disease, and certain types of cancer, such as colon cancer and rectal cancer.14Malta, D., Petersen, K. S., Johnson, C., Trieu, K., Rae, S., Jefferson, K., Santos, J. A., Wong, M. M. Y., Raj, T. S., Webster, J., Campbell, N. R. C., & Arcand, J. (2018). High sodium intake increases blood pressure and risk of kidney disease. From the Science of Salt: A regularly updated systematic review of salt and health outcomes (August 2016 to March 2017). The Journal of Clinical Hypertension20(12), 1654–1665. https://doi.org/10.1111/jch.13408

Steak on a grill.

‌There is also no fiber, antioxidants, polyphenols, and many key micronutrients found in food groups on the Carnivore Diet because these foods are not present in meat or animal products.

This can cause various health issues ranging from digestive disorders15Shen, L., Huang, C., Lu, X., Xu, X., Jiang, Z., & Zhu, C. (2019). Lower dietary fibre intake, but not total water consumption, is associated with constipation: a population‐based analysis. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics32(4). https://doi.org/10.1111/jhn.12589 to imbalances in the gut bacteria to significant nutritional deficiencies.16Yao, C. K., Muir, J. G., & Gibson, P. R. (2015). Review article: insights into colonic protein fermentation, its modulation and potential health implications. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics43(2), 181–196. https://doi.org/10.1111/apt.13456

‌Overall, the Carnivore Diet is not backed by evidence and should not be considered a safe or sustainable eating plan.

We strongly discourage people from trying the Carnivore Diet plan unless specifically guided by an experienced healthcare professional and registered dietitian or nutritionist who has reason to believe that this plan is the best diet for your health goals and needs.

For some other popular diets, check out our guides to the Mediterranean diet, the Paleo diet, the Keto diet, and low-carb diets in general.

Healthy diets written out in blocks.

References

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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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