- The all-meat or carnivore diet has been gaining popularity on social media platforms like TikTok.
- People following the diet are expected to skip fruits and vegetables, and only eat food derived from animals such as beef, fish, poultry, eggs, bone broth, and animal fats like bone marrow and lard.
- Health experts say the diet is not healthy and may raise health risks for people living with certain conditions like high cholesterol.
Leave it to TikTok to start 2023 with a meaty controversy. The hashtag #allmeatdiet has amassed more than 1 million views, with users sharing recipes, weekly meals, and purported benefits.
It’s a far cry from other buzzwords floating around the food and wellness spaces like “plant-based” and “sustainability.”
Put simply, the carnivore diet is the exact opposite — and precisely what the name implies.
“The carnivore diet is so coined because it is an all-meat — or mostly meat — diet,” says Michelle Milgrim, MS RD CDN CLC, the program director for employee wellness with Northwell Health. “Basically, the only thing you’re eating is animals.”
In other words, plant-based foods like fruits and veggies are off the table.
Milgrim is among the experts saying that none of the benefits discussed under the trending hashtag have sound scientific backing. Instead, she and others warn there are risks that make this diet unsustainable and worth skipping.
Also dubbed the carnivore diet, people following this plan will only eat food derived from animals, according to Beata Rydyger, BSc, RHN, a Los Angeles-based registered nutritionist and clinical nutritional advisor to Zen Nutrients. Common foods on the carnivore diet menu include:
- bone broth
- animal fats like bone marrow and lard
“Some low-lactose dairy foods like aged cheeses, butter, and ghee can also be acceptable in small amounts,” Rydyger says.
What’s not acceptable as part of all-meat diet plans?
“The diet excludes all other foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds,” Rydyger says.
Cara Harbstreet, MS RD LD, of Street Smart Nutrition says the no-carb nature of the diet may be a big part of what appeals to some people.
“Think of the all-meat diet as a spinoff of the keto diet or other low carb diets,” Harbstreet says. “We can partially chalk it up to the thinking, ‘Well, if low carb is good, no carb must be better.”
The keto diet recently came in 20 out of 21 diets in the US News and World Rankings.
A 2021 review of the low carb plan suggested that its short-term results and inadequate long-term safety data likely made it a poor choice for most people.
For some vocal proponents, the decision to try an all-meat diet goes deeper.
One individual, Mikhaila Peterson, said consuming a ton of meat helped her cure her depression and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, a condition hallmarked by symptoms like stiffness, swelling, and joint pain.
There is no evidence that the all-meat diet cures juvenile rheumatoid arthritis — in fact, no cure exists. But for some people dealing with a disease or nagging symptoms without a diagnosis or treatment plan, words from people like Peterson may give them some hope.
“We don’t have a good medicine or explanation for everything that happens to us,” says Dr. Konstantinos Spaniolas, the chief of the division of bariatric, foregut, and advanced GI surgery at Stony Brook Medicine. ”People try to find a diet to…manage the condition. It’s a reach of hope for people.”
Milgrim points to
They self-reported health outcomes, including:
- optimal HDL-cholesterol and triglyceride levels
- lower BMI and glycated hemoglobin (average blood glucose level over a two to three-month span) in patients with diabetes
- reduction in the use of diabetic medications in patients with diabetes
- high levels of satisfaction and improvements in overall health
But Milgrim has concerns with the study’s design and would not recommend starting an all-meat diet based on its indications.
“It’s important to highlight that self-reported data and study measures provide limited validity,” Milgrim says. “Further research is certainly warranted to better understand and validate the benefits found in this recent study, but it does provide a small glimpse into the potential use and effectiveness of this diet style.”
As for the risks, Rydyger says there are numerous.
“Eliminating nutritious food groups can have serious health consequences over the long term,” Rydyger says.
For example, Rydyger says that colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes provide benefits that can’t be obtained from meat, such as:
- vitamins like vitamin C
Rydyger does not recommend the diet to anyone but says it is particularly poor for people at risk for or living with heart disease and high cholesterol.
“The carnivore diet can increase the risk of disease because it is an acidic diet that is high in sodium that lacks in key nutrients responsible for optimal health,” Rydyger says. “The diet can also be high in saturated fat and LDL cholesterol. Eliminating nutrient-rich food groups and increasing saturated fat can increase the risk for heart disease.”
Don’t get them wrong, protein, including from animals, has its share of benefits.
“When part of a balanced diet, adequate protein is great — in fact, it’s essential,” Harbstreet says. “It can facilitate proper growth and development, support a healthy immune system, and aid in recovery, among other clear benefits. It’s also one of the meal components that keeps us full, so I would always advocate for someone to eat enough protein.”
But the keywords there are “meal components.” In other words, meat is not the whole meal.
“The caveat is that ideally, it comes alongside a greater variety of food, food groups, and nutrients than what the carnivore diet can offer,” Harbstreet says.
No expert in good faith could provide ways to consume an all-meat diet safely, such as only doing it once per day or taking dietary supplements.
“As a registered dietitian, it’s extremely difficult for me to see a silver lining for this eating pattern,” Harbstreet says. “Even one of the seemingly obvious ‘benefits’ of better blood glucose control through the elimination of carbs should be scrutinized with nuance, as there are people who still experience variability in their blood sugars after reducing or eliminating carbs.”
“I cannot medically condone any diet that is extreme,” says, Spaniolas, who also serves as the director of the Stony Brook Bariatric and Metabolic Weight Loss Center. “Just like I tell my kids, ‘You’ve got to eat your vegetables.’”
The experts Healthline spoke with could not provide ways to make the carnivore diet safe. But they did give tips for ways to boost your overall well-being or spice up your menu, even if veggies aren’t your favorite food.
Eliminate common triggers (with doctor approval)
If you have chronic conditions or unexplained symptoms you’d like more clarity on, reach out to a healthcare provider. Under their guidance, Rydyger says you may attempt an elimination diet to see if it improves your overall health and well-being. But reducing vegetable intake will not be a part of this plan.
“A more effective approach to reducing inflammation, improving overall health, and promoting weight loss is an elimination diet that sequentially removes known triggers like gluten, dairy, soy, eggs, shellfish, and tree nuts,” Rydyger says.
Other dietary tweaks to try
In addition to eliminating common triggers, cutting back on processed or high-sugar foods may also help improve your well-being.
“Cutting back on processed foods, sugar, trans fats, and seed oils while increasing intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats is likely to be more beneficial and realistic for long-term dieting,” Rydyger says.
Get creative in the kitchen
Finally, Harbstreet suggests using your love of meat as a challenge to flex your home chef muscles. Try going “off-recipe” when making stews and sauces.
“You can purchase and cook larger amounts of ground proteins, stew meats, and grilled cuts for nearly any recipes while retaining the flavor and variety of nutrients it started with,” Harbstreet says.
Also, not every meal or plate needs to be balanced — it’s about your overall daily intake.
“Start with all food groups for your first servings [and] then load up on more meat if you go back for seconds,” Harbstreet says. “Similarly, you can stack your protein intake at one or two meals per day so long as you’re including a variety of other foods in other meals or snacks.”
That said, every person’s health and needs are unique. Harbstreet advises people to speak with an expert to customize a plan.
“Consult with a registered dietitian to adequately assess your current intake, screen for disordered eating, and formulate an individualized plan specific to your health and wellness goals,” Harbstreet says.