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9 Carnivore Diet Benefits and How to Get Them

By Liam McAuliffe M.T.S. Updated on

Table of Contents

The carnivore diet and its potentially powerful benefits are new to the arena of diet trends. Yet, carnivore diet enthusiasts view this newfangled all-meat diet as, in fact, ancient. And a bevy of recent research supports the view that hyper-carnivorism was the way humans ate for nearly 2 million years!  

But does returning to a prehistoric way of eating bring benefits to your health? 

Let’s take a closer look at what this diet is, before jumping into 9 of the most powerful carnivore diet benefits.

What is the Carnivore Diet? 

The carnivore diet is pretty simple, it means eating 100% animal foods. There are no fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, or seeds. 

Eggs generally make the cut. Honey is accepted by some carnivore dieters. But dairy, though controversial, is generally eliminated. 

Origins of The Carnivore Diet

The theory behind this way of eating goes like this: Before the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago, plant foods were scarce and seasonal, while hunting was difficult and not always successful. 

So while humans are technically omnivores, meaning we can eat and digest both plants and animals, we had to specialize in scavenging and hunting the most nutrient-dense foods we could. In other words, we needed a big caloric return on our energy investment. And we got the highest return from meat whenever available. So in these regards, humans are what’s known as facultative carnivores, specialized in getting food from the highest trophic level. AKA we are meat-eating apex predators. 

Calorific Return Rate of Different Foods Per Hour Spent Trying to Obtain Food Source

But the story of human carnivory goes even further back, to the Pleistocene some 2 million to 85,000 years ago. During this vast period, many more large animals like mastodons and wooly mammoths roamed the earth. With this abundance of large prey, some researchers suggest and offer compelling evidence, that we simply wouldn’t focus on eating anything else.  

Taking these perspectives, we can see human carnivory (or specialized omnivory) as a result of two evolutionary forces:

  1. The abundance of large animals for most of the 2 million years of pre-human and human evolution 
  2. The scarcity of nutrient-dense food sources in the roughly 100,000 years leading up to the agricultural revolution

what did cavemen eat for Brain development

 

 

So now that we know what the carnivore diet is, and where it came from, let’s explore the positive impacts that it can have on your health.

Carnivore Diet Benefits: Fast Facts

As a diet that is both new and prehistoric, there hasn’t been much clinical research looking specifically at how the carnivore diet affects our health. 

But the anecdotal evidence of thousands of carnivore dieters, along with what we know about its close cousin, the keto diet, suggests that if done correctly, a carnivore diet may offer a number of powerful benefits including: 

  • Eliminating plant toxins and antinutrients
  • Weight loss
  • Improved insulin sensitivity
  • Improved gut health
  • Improved heart health
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Increased testosterone and libido
  • Increased mental clarity
  • Simplified Dieting

These benefits can be linked to the impact of returning to a way of eating aligned with how our metabolism evolved over eons, while at the same time:

  • removing processed foods packed with irritating additives like gums, dies, preservatives, trans fats. 
  • eliminating grains, legumes, starches which contain many plant toxins and antinutrients
  • reducing excess fiber that actually causes constipation and bowel issues like diverticulitis 
  • removing inflammatory polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) from seed oils and replacing them with healthy monounsaturated and saturated fats
  • increasing your intake of nutrient-dense superfoods like liver, fish roe, and other organ meats

Before diving deep into each of these carnivore diet benefits let’s take a closer look at the origins of the carnivore diet. Knowing where it came from can help you understand why it may be beneficial. 

Carnivore Diet Benefits

1. Eliminates Plant Toxins and Antinutrients

Plants, like humans, have one primary goal, and that’s to survive and reproduce. To achieve this goal they’ve evolved an arsenal of chemicals including naturally occurring pesticides, mineral chelators, antibiotics, along with phytoestrogens that interfere with human reproductive hormones. 

Many of these plant toxins and antinutrients are linked to inflammation, bowel issues, allergies, fertility issues, and vitamin deficiencies. 

For instance, the phytic acid found in many grains and legumes can prevent you from absorbing important nutrients including calcium, zinc, magnesium, iron, and copper, while inhibiting the enzymes you need for digestion. 

Foods high in phytoestrogens like soy have been associated with decreased fertility in both men and women.    Researchers theorize that plants contain these fertility-decreasing substances to drive down the population of animals that would otherwise eat them.

A well-formulated carnivore diet completely eliminates your exposure to these possibly harmful chemicals while replacing them with nutrient-rich animal-based superfoods

Common-Plant-Chemicals-and-their-Effect-1

2. Weight Loss

The carnivore diet can be an effective way to lose weight. Carnivore diet weight loss factors include:

  • Increased satiation: Calories you get from protein and fat take longer for your body to break down. This makes you fuller for longer, reducing food cravings. In fact, eating carbs does the opposite of making you full–it increases hunger hormones!
  • Reduced hormonal fluctuations: When your body relies on carbs you experience perpetual spikes and crashes in blood sugar and insulin levels. Insulin fluctuations lead to trigger imbalances in leptin, ghrelin, and HGH, all hormones associated with hunger, fat storage, and weight loss
  • Increased metabolism of body fat: By eating lots of animal fats while cutting out carbs you will enter ketosis, the metabolic state where your body uses the fat you eat, and the fat stored on your body for fuel. And even if you are not in a constant state of ketosis, your body becomes primed to use fat for fuel. 

In fact, one of the prominent studies referenced as evidence that keto is better for weight loss than low-fat diets actually uses the Aitkins diet. The Aitkins diet is loaded with red meat and protein but it’s not really about high fat intake like a standard keto diet.   So this study may be saying more about the weight-loss advantages of a carnivore diet than a true keto diet. 

3. Increased Insulin Sensitivity

Eating a carnivore diet eliminates the root cause of insulin resistance–eating too many carbs. But with a caveat; increased insulin sensitivity only occurs during the weight-loss period. In the long term, a zero-carb carnivore diet may increase “physiological” insulin resistance. 

This is how it works: When you eat lots of carbs most of it enters your bloodstream as glucose. Your body then secretes the hormone insulin, responsible for moving glucose from your bloodstream into your cells where it’s either used as energy or stored as fat.

When you’re eating a standard American diet, loaded with carbs and sugar, your insulin levels are constantly high. Insulin resistance occurs when eventually your cells stop responding to insulin and blood sugar remains chronically high. This can lead to a cascade of health issues stemming from hormonal imbalances and chronic inflammation.

Numerous weight loss studies show that when participants are losing weight, very low carb diets like the carnivore diet, can improve insulin sensitivity:

  • A study looking at overweight women showed that a diet with less than 10% of calories from carbs improved insulin sensitivity.
  • Another study looking at obese, insulin-resistant women, showed that both high-fat and high-protein low-carb diets reduced insulin resistance.
  • A 2007 study of obese kids showed that a very low carb diet (VLCD) reduced insulin resistance along with bodyweight and body fat.

However, when not in the weight loss phase of a diet, getting 10% or less of your calories from carbs can cause physiological insulin resistance. This adaptation to low/no-carb diets occurs because about 20% of your brain cells still need glucose. 

When you adapt to eating a no-carb diet the body learns to anticipate that no carbs are coming. That’s when physiological insulin resistance occurs in order to prevent your muscles from using the little bit of glucose in your blood. This glucose is prioritized for your brain, which retains its insulin sensitivity. 

Physiological insulin resistance is a necessary, safe, and sustainable adaptation to very low-carb eating. To increase glycogen uptake by your muscles (increase insulin sensitivity) on a low-carb carnivore diet, you can simply increase your activity levels with a brisk walk, yoga session, swim, or other low impact activity. 

4. Improved Gut Health

When it comes to your gut health there are two key factors:

  1. The integrity of the lining of your gut. In a healthy gut, this lining is a tight barrier. When it’s compromised, molecules can “leak” into your bloodstream.
  2. Your microbiome: the billions-strong ecosystem of microorganisms that break down food and factor in numerous neurotransmitters that influence your mood and energy levels. 

Gluten & Gut Health

A well-formulated carnivore diet is loaded with gut-healthy compounds like glutamine, collagen, and omega-3 fatty acids that help strengthen and repair your gut lining. 

Additionally, by cutting out plant foods you’re removing the abrasive and fermentable fiber, and plant toxins like gluten that can cause irritation, inflammation, and overgrowth of harmful bacteria. 

A 2012 study in the World Journal of Gastroenterology investigated how reducing fiber affected people with chronic constipation. Contrary to mainstream nutritional dogma, the study found that for six months participants who ate high fiber reported no change in their condition. But participants who completely cut out fiber showed a significant reduction in gas, bloating, and straining while increasing their frequency of bowel movements!

Though to date there haven’t been clinical studies looking at carnivore diet for gut health, we can infer its possible effects from studies looking at keto. 

One 2020 study published in Cell, found that a keto diet positively affects gut health. It showed that the effects stemmed from healthy changes to the gut microbiota that led to reduced inflammation. The researchers suggest that a keto diet could be used as a therapy for autoimmune disorders of the gut.  

5. Reduced Inflammation

Like other low-carb diets, one of the key carnivore diet benefits is its potential to significantly reduce markers of systemic inflammation like C-reactive protein and IL-6. These benefits are likely due to factors including:

  • Removing irritating plant-toxins
  • Reducing insulin levels 
  • Increasing intake of anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Supporting gut health which plays a crucial role in mitigating inflammation

Numerous studies show that low-carb diets (and it doesn’t get lower than

The carnivore diet) have the ability to decrease inflammation.

A 2013 study in the journal Metabolism compared a high-fat, low-carb diet to low-fat, high-carb diet. The study revealed that after 12 weeks, high-fat dieters had lower markers of systemic inflammation. The study’s authors concluded that high-fat eating could be more beneficial to heart health.

6. Improved Heart Health

After decades of misinformation by mainstream nutritionists, the idea that eating nothing but meat is good for your heart can be hard to stomach. 

But how is this possible?

The short answer is early studies dating back to the 1950’s were biased against red meat. And they were low-quality observational studies that didn’t properly control for variables like exercise, smoking, and other lifestyle factors that have way more to do with heart health than red meat. And new studies are better.

In light of many of recent findings, a  2020 paper published in the prestigious Journal of the American College of Cardiology, concluded that “Whole-fat dairy, unprocessed meat, eggs, and dark chocolate are SFA-rich foods with a complex matrix that are not associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease. The totality of available evidence does not support further limiting the intake of such foods.” [28]

Ok, so if it doesn’t hurt the heart, how does a carnivore diet help the heart?

Though we don’t have studies looking specifically at the effects of a carnivore diet on markers of heart health, we can infer from studies looking at a keto diet. A well-formulated carnivore diet with a 3-1 fat to protein ratio is essentially keto. These studies generally find that keto increases heart-healthy HDL cholesterol when compared to standard high-carb diets. Decrease LDL particle concentration (LDL-P), and increase LDL particle size cholesterol, while decreasing dangerous VLDL. All good things for cardiovascular health.

And there’s the added bonus of getting loads of heart-healthy vitamin K2 from liver.

7. Enhanced Testosterone and Libido

The standard American diet and lifestyle can send your testosterone and libido into a nosedive. 

Lots of sugar and vegetable oils, combined with low activity levels, and extra body fat creates a feedback loop that depletes testosterone, while sapping strength, energy, and libido.

A carnivore diet benefits testosterone and libido thanks to the abundance of nutrients like cholesterol, protein, carnosine, carnitine,vitamin K and D found in high levels in meat. All these compounds are essential to producing and maintaining healthy testosterone levels.  

A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that men who followed a high-fat, low-fiber diet for only 10 weeks resulted in 13% higher total testosterone than men eating a low-fat high-fiber diet.

8. Increased Mental Clarity

Systemic inflammation affects a complex system of neurotransmitters circulating from the microbiome in your gut to your brain. The resulting brain fog and decreased cognitive ability can contribute to depression, anxiety, and many other markers of impaired mental health. 

A carnivore diet promotes mental clarity by improving gut health, cutting out inflammatory foods like sugar, and seed oils. Additionally, a well-formulated carnivore diet complete with organ meats is loaded with brain-boosting nutrients like:

  • Zinc
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B12
  • Iron
  • DHA

As with keto, the brain-boosting effects and mental clarity of a carnivore diet can set in quickly. But for some people, adapting to the carnivore diet can cause a temporary period of brain fog and low energy. Luckily these low-carb side effects are temporary. And there are easy steps you can take to reduce their time and severity, like drinking more water and adding more salt to your diet. A ketogenic carnivore diet can also offer the same neuroprotective effects of a standard keto diet including protection against neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s’.

9. Simplified Dieting

Though the carnivore diet is controversial in some circles, there’s one thing that can’t be argued; it’s as simple as a diet gets

If you’re hungry you eat animal foods. There’s no need to count calories.

However, it is critical that you eat fatty meats. Organ meats and bone marrow may also be necessary to obtain proper micronutrients including vitamin C.

How to Avoid Protein Poisoning on a Carnivore Diet

If you eat only lean meats you will be depriving your body of fat, which is essential to sustaining life. Furthermore, getting more than 35% of your calories from protein can lead to a dangerous syndrome called protein poisoning (rabbit starvation). It’s due to the inability of the liver to upregulate urea synthesis needed to process high amounts of protein. Symptoms of protein poisoning include hyperaminoacidemia, hyperammonemia, hyperinsulinemia nausea, diarrhea, and rare cases, death.

One way to ensure you get all the benefits of the carnivore diet while avoiding possible nutrient deficiencies and protein poisoning is to eat 3 parts fat to 1 part protein.

We get this ratio from the godfather of the carnivore diet in the west, the Harvard-trained anthropologist, and arctic explorer, Whilhelm Stefansson.

After living with the Inuit and eating only caribou, salmon, seal, and eggs, getting 99% of his calories from meat, Stefansson returned to American to promote his carnivore diet. This was in the early 1900’s but already there was a mainstream recommendation for eating more veggies and less meat. So like carnivore dieters of today, he was met with hostile disbelief.

To prove the “experts” wrong, Stefansson, along with a friend set out to eat nothing but meat for a year while under the observation of doctors at New York’s Bellevue Hospital. The two men fell ill only once, and only after they were encouraged to eat only lean meat.

Describing this miserable experience of protein poisoning, Stefansson said it inflicted, “diarrhea and a feeling of general baffling discomfort.”

The good news is that Stefansson and his friend were immediately cured by eating a single fat-packed meal of sirloin steak and brains fried in bacon fat. This led the experimenters to discover the ideal ratio of 3 parts fat to 1 part lean meat.

Interestingly, scurvy and other nutrient deficiencies never occurred. Stefansson and his friend received a sterling bill of health. Researchers believe this is due to the men practicing nose-to-tail eating where they consumed vitamin-rich parts like bone marrow, brains, liver, pancreas, and kidneys.

To Get All the Carnivore Diet Benefits Eat Organ Meats

We can see the experience of Wilhelm Steffanson reflected in the observations of another seminal carnivore diet researcher, Weston A. Price.

In the bellwether book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Price observed Indians living in the Northern Canadian Rockies, “putting great emphasis upon the eating of the organs of the animals, including parts of the digestive tract. Much of the muscle meat of the animals was fed to the dogs. … The skeletal remains are found as piles of finely broken bone chips or splinters that have been cracked up to obtain as much as possible of the marrow and nutritive qualities of the bones.” Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, 6th Edition, page 260.

Once you get used to the flavor of organ meats, the reward (other than robust health) is that they’re the cheapest meats in the deli. And with all meats, chose grass-fed, free-range, heirloom, and pasture-raised varieties whenever possible.

Happy feasting!

 

 

 

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