What Is the Carnivore Diet?

A selection of raw meats for the carnivore diet

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The Carnivore Diet is a restrictive diet that eliminates most plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, and beans. When following a Carnivore Diet, a person relies solely on animal products to meet all or most of their nutritional needs. 

This diet is popular amongst people who want to lose weight and improve medical conditions like diabetes. There are numerous health concerns related to this eating pattern, but some argue that the Carnivore Diet is a healthy way to eat.

This article takes a deep dive into the Carnivore Diet and tells you everything you need to know about what it is, how to follow it, and how this unconventional way of eating affects health.

How To Follow the Carnivore Diet

Although the Carnivore Diet has only recently become popular, scientists have been interested in this very low-carb way of eating for hundreds of years.

There are several accounts of researchers mimicking the traditional meat-based dietary intake of Arctic or nomadic societies as far back as the 1700s. For example, in 1797 Dr. John Rollo successfully treated patients with type 2 diabetes using a diet that consisted primarily of meat and fat after studying the very low-carbohydrate diet of indigenous people in St. Lucia. After discovering that a very low-carb diet benefited those with diabetes, it became a widely adopted treatment for managing this condition until the discovery of insulin in 1921.

The Carnivore Diet we know today was popularized by Shawn Baker, M.D., who authored a book titled The Carnivore Diet in 2018 after finding that a meat-based diet benefited his health. This version of the Carnivore Diet advocated for the complete elimination of plant foods and total reliance on meat and other animal products like eggs, seafood, and full-fat dairy products.

Some Carnivore advocates follow a strict Carnivore Diet that only includes animal-based foods, while others follow less restrictive versions that allow for small amounts of plant-based foods, like low-carb vegetables. 

However, most people following Carnivore-type diets get most of their calories from meat and other animal foods. 

Foods You Can Eat

Although there are different versions of the Carnivore Diet, most people following this eating pattern primarily consume animal foods, such as:

  • Meat: Steak, pork, ground beef, bison, lamb, and venison
  • Organ meats: Liver, heart, and kidneys
  • Poultry: Chicken, duck, and turkey
  • Seafood: Salmon, sardines, clams, mussels, and shrimp
  • Full-fat dairy: Full-fat yogurt, cheese, and butter
  • Eggs: Whole eggs and egg yolks

In addition to animal-based foods, people on Carnivore Diets allow for seasonings like salt, pepper, herbs, and spices. 

A 2021 study that included data on the dietary intake of 2,029 people following Carnivore-style diets found that red meat products, like beef, lamb, and venison, were the most commonly consumed foods, followed by eggs and nonmilk dairy products. The study also found that over 50% of the participants drank coffee at least once per day.

Foods To Avoid

People following Carnivore Diets get most of their calories from animal-based foods. Although less restrictive versions of the carnivore diet exist, the following foods are usually restricted or completely avoided by those following this eating pattern:

  • Fruit: Berries, apples, grapes, bananas, avocados, and peaches
  • Vegetables: Potatoes, zucchini, broccoli, asparagus, and greens
  • Grains and grain-based products: Bread, quinoa, rice, pasta, and noodles
  • Nuts and seeds: Almonds, cashews, peanut butter, pumpkin seeds
  • Beans: Black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, and lentils
  • Snack foods and sweets: Cookies, chips, ice cream, cakes, and candy 
  • Sugary beverages: Juice, soda, sweetened coffee drinks, and energy drinks

Water is the preferred beverage when following a Carnivore Diet, though many people who follow this diet include tea and coffee in their daily routine.

Additionally, some people allow for a small amount of low-carb vegetables, like greens and zucchini.

What Are The Benefits? 

Currently, there’s limited research investigating the health benefits of following a Carnivore Diet. 

However, there’s plenty of evidence that very-low carb diets can benefit the health of some people, such as those with type 2 diabetes.

Although there are no strict rules regarding the macronutrient ratio of the Carnivore Diet, it can generally be considered a type of high-protein, very low-carb diet. Studies show that certain very low-carb diets, like the keto diet, could be helpful for certain health conditions. But, keep in mind that very low-carb diets aren’t the same thing as the Carnivore Diet, and there’s currently limited evidence that the Carnivore Diet improves health in any way, specifically. 

That said, the Carnivore Diet may offer a few benefits.

May Improve Blood Sugar Regulation

Low-carb diets are effective for improving health outcomes in people with diabetes. This is because these diets are low in carbohydrate-rich foods, which have the largest impact on blood sugar and insulin levels. 

If a person follows a Carnivore Diet, their carbohydrate intake would be minimal, and their blood sugar levels and reliance on diabetes medications would likely decrease. 

In the 2021 study that included data on the dietary intake of 2,029 people following Carnivore-style diets for nine to 20 months, researchers found that the participants with type 2 diabetes experienced reductions in their levels of hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c)-a long-term marker of blood sugar control- and significant reductions in their diabetes medication use. In fact, among the 262 participants with type 1 or type 2 diabetes (T2DM), 84% discontinued oral diabetes medications and 92% of participants with T2DM discontinued their use of insulin.

Although these results are promising, more research investigating the effectiveness and safety of the Carnivore Diet is needed. Also, it’s important to note that diabetes can be effectively managed using less restrictive diets, such as plant-based diets and more inclusive low-carb diets, which are far better for overall health and easier to stick to long-term. 

May Promote Weight Loss 

The Carnivore Diet eliminates many foods and beverages implicated in weight gain, including ultra-processed foods and added sugar. Since this dietary pattern is low in carb-rich foods and so high in protein, which is the most filling macronutrient, it’s likely that the Carnivore Diet will promote weight loss, at least in the short term. 

In the 2021 study mentioned above, the participants reported substantial reductions in their body mass index (BMI)—a measure of body fat based on height and weight—after transitioning to a Carnivore Diet.

While this is encouraging, the Carnivore Diet is highly restrictive and likely unsustainable for most people. Similar diets, like the keto diet, have also been shown to be effective for short-term weight loss. However, diets that cut out a number of healthy foods like keto are notoriously difficult to stick to, and most evidence suggests that, in the long-term, their efficacy is comparable to other, less restrictive weight loss diets.

This means that even though the Carnivore Diet may promote quick weight loss, more inclusive diets that are easier to follow are likely just as effective for long-term weight loss and healthy weight maintenance.

Other Possible Benefits 

Participants included in the 2021 study reported that following a Carnivore Diet led to improvements in their overall health, physical and mental well-being, and some chronic medical conditions.

This may be because the Carnivore Diet cuts out foods and drinks associated with poor physical and mental health, including ultra-processed foods and added sugars. 

But keep in mind that the participants included in this study had only been following the Carnivore Diet for nine to 20 months. It’s unknown how the Carnivore Diet impacts long-term health, including disease risk.

Overall, more research is needed to fully understand how the Carnivore Diet impacts overall health. 

Risks and Side Effects

Though proponents of the Carnivore Diet suggest that this way of eating can help boost weight loss and improve chronic diseases, there are several significant downsides to this way of eating. 

First, this diet is extremely restrictive and cuts out foods that are known to improve health and deliver essential nutrients, like fruits and vegetables. Diets low in produce have been consistently linked with an increased risk of several diseases, including cancer and heart disease, as well as overall mortality risk.

A high intake of red and processed meat has also been associated with an increased risk of several health conditions, including colorectal cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, and heart disease.

Another concern with the Carnivore Diet is the environmental impact of a dietary pattern high in red meat and other animal products. Research shows that red meat production significantly contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and has a considerable impact on global warming and climate change.

What’s more, a diet low in plant foods can lead to unpleasant side effects like constipation, fatigue, low mood, nutrient deficiencies, and more.

Sample Menu

Here’s an idea of what someone following a Carnivore Diet might eat on a daily basis:

  • Breakfast: Eggs and bacon
  • Lunch: Hamburger patties with cheese
  • Snack: Sardines
  • Dinner: Steak

Keep in mind that some people following a less restrictive Carnivore Diet may include some produce in their diet, like low-carb vegetables

A Quick Review

The Carnivore Diet is a highly restrictive diet that’s recently become popular amongst those looking to lose weight and improve health conditions like type 2 diabetes. 

Although limited evidence suggests that following this eating pattern could result in weight loss and improvements in blood sugar levels, there are significant concerns with the long-term health implications of this diet. 

Following the Carnivore diet long-term could increase your risk for a number of serious health conditions, such as colorectal cancer and heart disease.

If you’re looking for a safer, more evidence-based way to better your health, consider trying a less restrictive diet high in foods known to improve overall health, such as the Mediterranean diet or a less restrictive low-carb diet.

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Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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