You’ve probably heard of the ketogenic diet and you may have heard of the paleo diet – but have you heard of the carnivore diet? This emerging diet trend takes low-carb diets to a new extreme.
The carnivorous diet excludes all plant foods; only foods of animal origin are consumed, including meat, fish, animal fats (eg lard, ghee) and dairy products (low in lactose). So breakfast might be eggs and bacon with cream, lunch might be meatballs topped with cheese – no herbs added – with chicken breast, and finally, roast beef and salmon for dinner.
Proponents of the carnivore diet argue that plant toxins and residual pesticides used in the production of plant foods are detrimental to our health. They claim that starches only became an important part of the human diet with the agricultural revolution. Finally, it is proposed that eliminating all plant foods is the best way to go sugar free for weight control and metabolic health.
Authors of books on carnivore diets tend to cast their subject as the answer to the global problem of obesity and chronic non-communicable diseases and often claim that decades of nutritional science research have resulted in flawed dietary recommendations. . Most of these authors rely on the argument that A wise man evolved to hunt meat and fish, and that eating plants was only a back-up plan for times of animal food scarcity.
What might you expect if you only ate animal foods for a significant period of time? Unfortunately, there is no scientific evidence available on the health impact of excluding all plant foods from the diet. The only sources of information available are anecdotal reports and testimonials, claiming better weight management, improved heart and metabolic health, higher cognitive function, reduced inflammation, better digestive function and the resolution of autoimmune diseases.
Side effects are similar to those reported for the ketogenic diet – bad breath, constipation, diarrhea, headaches, dehydration and other symptoms associated with being in ketosis – when the body has used up all of its glycogen stores and is breaking down fat into ketone bodies which can be used as an energy source, instead of glucose. These side effects may eventually subside as the body adjusts to the diet after about a month.
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What are the nutritional benefits of the carnivore diet? Meat is an excellent source of high-quality protein, iron, zinc, selenium, vitamin D, and vitamins B6 and B12 – the latter of which can only be obtained from foods of animal origin. Fish provides high quality protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, selenium and iodine. Dairy products are also rich in high-quality protein, as well as calcium, iodine and B vitamins. UK dietary guidelines, incorporated into the NHS Eatwell guide, recommend dairy products, lean meats – no more than 70 grams per day of red or processed meat – and 2 servings of fish per week – one of which should be oily fish.
However, the Eatwell guide also recommends consuming at least 5 x 80g servings of fruit and vegetables a day, and that a third of what we eat should be whole grains and high fiber starches. Cutting out fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds and whole grains in the carnivore diet would mean zero fiber intake, fiber is essentially the intact cell walls of plants that are poorly digested, with unknown long term consequences for gut and heart health.
In fact, there is a strong global consensus that increased intake of dietary fiber is associated with lower risks of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer, while high consumption of red meat and transformed increases the risk.
Evidence from randomized controlled trials shows that plant foods high in soluble fiber lower blood levels of cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) triglycerides, decreasing the rate of progression of atherosclerosis – fatty lesions that can damage and block arteries, causing coronary heart attacks and strokes. Conversely, fatty meats and butter can increase LDL cholesterol. Plant foods are also high in potassium and vitamins C, folate and other micronutrients, all of which are essential for health and derived primarily from fruits and vegetables.
Additionally, we know that healthy plant-based diets are associated with more diverse and beneficial gut microbiome profiles, resulting in microbial fermentation products from fiber and non-nutritive bioactive compounds that can reduce the inflammation.
Proponents of the carnivore diet generally make the argument that subsisting entirely or almost entirely on foods of animal origin is close to the natural human diet, aligned with what was eaten early in human history. However, biological anthropologists would point out that the anatomy of our brains, teeth, and intestines show that we evolved as highly resourceful and flexible omnivores, able to adapt to many varied environments to meet our needs. nutritional needs of both animals and plants.
Collectively, we must accept that global food production needs a major shake-up if people’s nutritional needs are to be met while trying to contain the climate change catastrophe that is eclipsing us. Reducing meat consumption is an essential component of the transition to sustainable and healthy food systems. The carnivore diet runs counter to this global mission of planetary health, in the name of perceived personal gain. Regardless of the potential long-term harm to healthy life expectancy, this seems like the ultimate selfish act.
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