The Carnivore Diet: Healthy Or Hype? Part II
We left off at the end of our first installment of this three-part deep-dive on the Carnivore Diet by acknowledging the amazing amount of anecdotal support for this movement. But without the support of much research, where should we turn to figure out what’s actually working for people?
In situations where there are no real studies, the best we can do is to break things down scientifically. By looking at what the human body needs to function, as well as the way different foods impact the body, it’s possible to get an idea of the effects the Carnivore Diet might have.
The only other way to get information is to listen to those who’ve tried it. Obviously the problem with this is there’s no way to know for sure if what people are saying is true, or if they’re even following the diet correctly. Still, when so many people are claiming similar benefits, it’s hard not to wonder.
Here are some of the effects people have reported after trying the Carnivore Diet for 30 days or more, and the scientific reasons they may (or may not) be happening …
Those who criticize the idea of only eating meat like to bring up the matter of fiber. We’ve generally been told we don’t have enough fiber in our diets, resulting in fewer bowel movements, and more junk cluttering up our intestines. Fiber generally comes from fruits, vegetables and grains – not meat.
However, one of the first effects people who’ve tried the Carnivore Diet report is diarrhea. Severe diarrhea. It only seems to occur within the first few days, and then things get normal again – and are often even better than before. But with absolutely no fiber, how are these people even going at all?
There’s no clear answer to this question, but Dr. Steven R. Gundry, a cardiologist, wrote a book in 2017 called “The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in Healthy Foods that Cause Disease and Weight Gain” which lays out the possibility that plants are a major cause of inflammation in the human body. He states that plants release substances called lectins when stressed (usually by being eaten) that are meant to dissuade animals from consuming them. When inside our bodies, he claims these lectin proteins wreak havoc on our internal systems, resulting in weight gain, leaky gut, IBS, depression, auto-immune disorders, and host of other problems.
It isn’t currently known if the health consequences of lectins are as severe as Dr. Gundry claims, but if a person has a gut that’s sensitive to them, it might mean eating less plant fiber would mean a less-inflamed bowel, and more regular, healthy movements.
Joe Rogan of the Joe Rogan Experience podcast isn’t a guy who needs to lose weight. He eats a mostly low-carb diet, lifts weights, and maintains a healthy lifestyle. After being on the Carnivore Diet for only a week, he reported losing seven pounds.
Across the board, people are saying they’re losing weight very quickly after cutting all plants, carbs, and pre-packaged foods from their diets. This is also common when people start a ketogenic diet, and for the same reason – you’re not eating carbs and spiking your insulin, so your body doesn’t feel like it needs to store fat.
Another reason could be that it’s hard to over-eat steak. Some nutritionists believe that variety is the main reason we overeat. Just think of all those times you ate a good-sized meal to the point of being full, and then somehow had room for ice cream ten minutes later. If someone would have offered you more of the meal, you’d have turned it down.
On the Carnivore Diet, there’s not much variety. Though it’s a bit boring to exist just on steak and eggs, carnivore advocates find that they have to force themselves to eat enough calories. Without the variety (and option for dessert), eating becomes just a satiation for hunger, not something to do for pleasure, or out of boredom.
Some people even claim that after introducing other foods back into their diets, they still have a healthier relationship with food, and can resist the bingeing that made them sick in the first place. They use it as a reset – a way to clean out the body of anything that might be causing a problem, and start fresh.
Regardless of whether it’s calorie reduction or the true healing powers of meat, weight loss is an almost universal anecdotal side effect of the Carnivore Diet.
This is something that’s much more well-documented with ketogenic diets, which are also low-carb and high fat, but carnivore enthusiasts also report having more focus and mental clarity throughout their day.
According to a study done by the University of Copenhagen, healthy men who increased their meat protein intake and decreased their carb intake improved their reaction time, indicating their brains may have been working better and faster than before.
At first, Carnivore Dieters report a kind of “detox” from carbs – making them moody and lethargic. But, after about a week, the body figures out how to use other sources for energy, and the result is generally increased energy and better cognitive functions. This could be because red meat intake is proven to increase phenylalanine (a precursor to feel-good hormones like dopamine) and branched-chain amino acids, which reduce fatigue.
It’s also possible that just eliminating carbs keeps blood sugar levels from spiking, resulting in no “energy crash” later. If you’re not tired, you can go longer and have more energy for focusing your mind.
Enhanced Athletic Performance
One of the major points Dr. Shawn Baker uses for the Carnivore Diet is that it increased his athletic performance. After adopting a meat-only lifestyle in his 50s, he claims to have better performance and recovery then he ever did in his 30s and 40s. He also set the 500-meter world record in rowing post-Carnivore Diet – an impressive feat.
It’s scientifically proven that consuming more red meat leads to better recovery time and more lean muscle mass in healthy people. Most body-builders and strong-men eat loads of chicken, beef, and eggs, and even down protein shakes to build the appropriate amount of muscle to train the way they do.
Animal-based protein is easily digested, and contains all the essential amino acids you need. Contrastingly, plants secrete lectin, a substance that actually makes it harder for your body to absorb protein, and could be responsible for inflammation. It could be argued that eating foods that cause inflammation hinders athletic ability, especially if the person is sensitive to lectins.
Proponents of the Carnivore Diet say they can run faster, push harder, and lift more when they remove everything other than animal products from their diet. There are no studies to back this up, but it’s possible that even just eliminating carbs can increase your athletic abilities. This just takes it one step further.
The list of conditions the Carnivore Diet reportedly helps to resolve is a long one. A glance into the Instagram of Mikhaila Peterson shows hundreds of people claiming they’ve fixed their autoimmune disorders, mental problems, arthritis, impotency, autism, depression, and just about everything else you could have – with meat. It’s unfortunate that we don’t have any studies to prove these reports one way or the other, but the movement is growing, and so is the anecdotal evidence. It will be interesting to see how these people fare long-term.
In our third and final installment of this three-part deep-dive, we’ll try to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about the Carnivore Diet. Stay tuned for just a few more days…