I am sure many of you reading this will have at least heard of the carnivore diet. I know I have. However, I never really bothered to look in-depth about what it consists of. I can already hear some of you thinking out loud: “Well obviously it’s just a diet where you only eat meat”. Sure, maybe it is. But I never actually researched what it was intended for, what its benefits and detriments are, and other important factors surrounding what seems to be a very hardcore (and expensive) diet. I eventually opted to do some research in an attempt to understand the purpose behind it, how it works etc. and write an article to inform you about this increasingly popular dieting regime.
As we have established, the carnivore diet is made up entirely of meat. It excludes absolutely anything that’s not meat or fish, and in some cases allows other animal-based products such as eggs and dairy. But anything else? Thrown out the window – vegetables, fruit, sweets, starch, nuts… The diet is based off the controversial theory that ancestral populations around the caveman era, had diets that mainly consisted of fish and meat due to a lack of technological advancements in terms of agriculture. According to Healthline, the diet was first proposed by former American orthopaedic doctor, Shawn Baker who cites anecdotal testimonials from the diet’s followers as proof that the diet has been successful in curing cases of anxiety, arthritis, obesity, and other such ailments. Then again, there is no empirical data (stats) to suggest any of this.
Moreover, Shawn Baker’s “medical licence was revoked by the New Mexico Medical Board due to concerns about his competency”. Another famous proponent for this diet is Professor Jordan Peterson, a psychologist and author based in Canada: “I eat beef and salt and water. That’s it, and I never cheat. Ever. Not even a little bit”.
As someone who has experience in limiting available foods over long periods of time, this seems almost impossible. During the lockdown, I hired a private instructor to help me maintain my physique through a strict eating regimen and home workouts. This consisted of me eating a small variety of meals (all of them save for one, consisting of meat, eggs, fish and veggies) and rotating these meals in a three-day cycle. I barely lasted two months, and thus, I find it questionable that people can eat food from only one category, meat, over extended periods.
However, this is not to say there is not any legitimacy to the ex-Doctor’s claims, although it would be possible to claim bias or falsification of results. Baker’s Instagram consists of him documenting his progress as he strictly follows his very own diet. The changes in physique are astounding.
Arguably, one of the biggest reasons this diet is so controversial is because it spits in the face of research, education, and facts that we considered to be common sense since we were in school e.g. “you need to eat at least 5 pieces of fruit daily”. This is a conclusion that has been commonly accepted for decades, until Shawn Baker claimed that animal foods (mainly meat) contain everything your body needs to live a healthy existence. An article by Onnit, covering the topic, quoted a certain Brian St. Pierre (Director of Performance Nutrition at Precision Nutrition) claiming that “we need fat, and vitamins and minerals in certain amounts” and that “meat, specifically, can cover those needs”. He went on to say “that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t eat plants but … it isn’t vital that we do, at least for short-term health".
The controversy of this idea is also backed by the rise in awareness of climate change and the purported environmental damage caused by the meat industry. In one of Shawn Baker’s Instagram posts, a comment reads "What is your view on the environmental impact of your suggested diet?”
Regardless of Baker’s drastic aesthetic changes, (from dad bod to physically ripped) he has admitted that he has not had his state of health officially backed by any doctors and even announced that he had not had any blood checks done, during his interview on Joe Rogan’s podcast. However, Joe Rogan did try the carnivore diet himself. There’s a video about his experience with it, claiming he lost ~7-12lbs just two weeks into the diet. He also claimed that he felt more energetic, as he did not experience any crashing or mental cloudiness, although he did say it can cause explosive diarrhoea.
After speaking to Baker about his… “explosions” … Baker theorised it was due to the lack of fibre in the carnivore diet – due to the deficiency of fibre (which is needed to absorb water and fluids) the body needs to find another method to get rid of excess liquid. It is important to remember that he did take a lot of supplements whilst on this diet such as fish oils and vitamins tablets.
In conclusion, the extreme diet may have some strong foundational basis. However, if I could afford to try it, I would personally wait until all the research has come in on it. The fact that Shawn Baker has not published any blood work of himself on this diet (at least not any that I could find) is specifically concerning. Moreover, Joe Rogan also spoke about how you must be careful of your choices of meat, citing the strange cases of Rabbit Starvation of explorers in Antarctica, who would starve to death whilst eating inordinate amounts of rabbits due to the lack of fat in rabbit meat. If you were to try it, I would also recommend using Joe Rogan’s methods of dietary supplements with vitamin tablets and fish oils to ensure your body has everything you need to live healthily over the period of time you stick to this diet.