What Is the Carnivore Diet? A Detailed Beginner’s Guide

beef chicken salmon pork
And you thought the keto diet was high-fat. Adobe Stock

High-protein diets are all the rage, but one outdoes all the rest. It’s aptly named the carnivore diet, and it focuses on meat, just meat. If that sounds questionable from a health perspective, that’s because it is.

While some research backs up the benefits of more balanced high-protein diets, many experts are skeptical about the carnivore diet, in spite of endorsements from a small group of extreme athletes and celebrities including the podcaster Joe Rogan.

This guide will tell you everything you need to know about the carnivore diet, including what science says about both the health benefits and the risks.

How Does the Carnivore Diet Work?

Unlike other high-protein, low-carb diets, the carnivore diet allows zero carbs. It includes “only foods that either walked, swam, or flew,” says?Kelly Schmidt, RD, a holistic dietitian in private practice in Columbus, Ohio. While it may be a trend, “eating only meat is not sexy,” she says. “It’s not colorful, and it’s not fun.” Most people who try the diet are motivated by a strong desire to lose weight or to address an autoimmune condition.

The carnivore diet is often a step people take after trying?the paleo diet?or the?ketogenic diet, says Diana Rodgers, RD, of the Sustainable Dish, located in Concord, Massachusetts. Paleo (aka the “caveman” diet) focuses on fresh fruits, vegetables, grass-fed meats, and wild seafood, while eliminating added sugars, grains, dairy, and legumes.

The ketogenic diett — also called “keto” — is a very high fat, moderate protein, and very low carbohydrate diet. Not everyone enjoys eating the amount of fat required by a keto diet, and they may instead opt for a high-protein diet like carnivore, says Rodgers.

Potential Health Benefits of the Carnivore Diet

Fans of the carnivore diet say it has a range of benefits from weight loss to higher testosterone levels, but there is no evidence for this.

The carnivore diet has also gained some attention for its potential as an?anti-inflammatory diet?that may benefit people with autoimmune conditions. These claims were fueled by press coverage of the lifestyle guru Jordan Peterson and his daughter, Mikhaila Peterson, who have both publicly stated that a diet of beef, salt, and water relieved them of ailments including rheumatoid arthritis, depression, anxiety, gastric reflux, and psoriasis.

Again, no scientific evidence supports those claims, and anti-inflammatory diets traditionally tend to be plant-based, research shows.

The carnivore diet can be seen as an extreme form of an elimination diet, Schmidt says. Because people following this fad eat only a few different foods, they eliminate many of the items that commonly cause food sensitivities, like nuts, wheat, and soybeans. The carnivore diet is also popular with people who think it will result in weight loss, despite a lack of research showing that's true.

Can the Carnivore Diet Lead to Weight Loss?

There’s no arguing that all that protein is highly satiating — it is. And this could curb calorie intake (as might the monotony of eating the same foods over and over). As previously mentioned, there's no snacking on this diet. It eliminates mindless eating, says Schmidt. “You don’t mindlessly eat chicken breasts. It’s a very palatable diet, but you don’t lick your plate,” she says.

You may also enter into a state of?ketosis?on the carnivore diet, says Schmidt. In that state, your body is burning fat for fuel rather than carbohydrates. That’s not a guarantee, though. It’s a misconception that all you need to do is to severely limit carbs to get to ketosis — the amount of protein you eat matters, too. “In excess, protein can lead to an increase in blood sugar and insulin levels, and it can kick you out of ketosis,” says Schmidt. If ketosis is your goal, having some fat with your protein, for example with eggs, butter, and cheese, may help. Bear in mind that these additions may not have the greatest effect on your health in other ways.

Are There Any Disadvantages to the Carnivore Diet?

“There are a lot of downsides to the carnivore diet,” says Liz Weinandy, MPH, RDN, a dietitian at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. “We have multiple food groups for a reason: They each provide us with a range of nutrients.” Humans are omnivores, which means we derive nutrients from a variety of foods, both animal- and plant-based. Eating only one food group is a problem, no matter which one (even if it’s just vegetables). Limiting yourself to all meat can cause you to run low in certain nutrients that are abundant in plants, like vitamin C?and?vitamin E, Weinandy says.

Although some anecdotal reports suggest that?constipation?isn’t a problem on a carnivore diet, you will be missing out on?fiber, a nutrient important for colonic health, says Weinandy. Plus, a diet high in red and processed meats has been linked to an increased risk of gastric cancer.

?A meta-analysis of 42 studies reported that while case-control studies on red and processed meat consumption do show this association, cohort studies — a type of observational study — do not.

?Large amounts of meat protein can also put undue stress on kidneys.

Another consideration: Extreme restriction or labeling foods “good” or “bad” can also set off disordered-eating behaviors or full-blown?eating disorders, Weinandy says.

What’s more, eating an abundance of fruits and vegetables has been scientifically linked to increased happiness, life satisfaction, and well-being.


Many experts are worried about the risks of?saturated fat?from meats like fatty steaks and bacon, which is also one of the main concerns with a keto diet. While the risks of dietary saturated fat are being debated, an analysis that looked at more than 100 studies recommended that people replace sources of saturated fat with unsaturated fats in order to lower their?risk of heart disease.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines a healthy diet as one that includes fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains — all foods that are sources of carbohydrates — and prioritizes unsaturated fats, like fish and?avocado, while limiting saturated fat from fatty meat and butter.

Metabolizing high amounts of protein can also put a lot of stress on the kidneys, and you'll likely miss out on disease-fighting nutrients such as fiber and antioxidants like vitamins C and E, says Weinandy.

Some people who follow this diet, including its creators, point to human groups in history who survived only on certain foods. People talk about how the Inuit peoples of the Arctic traditionally eat mainly blubber and liver, but, as one news article pointed out, they also eat a variety of animal products, such whale skin, that contain vitamin C and unsaturated fat.

?This is not how modern carnivore dieters are making their food choices.

Because there is no research on the long-term safety or risks involved with following this kind of diet for an extended period of time, it is not wise to do so. If you’re prone to disordered eating, you should avoid this or any fad diet. Anyone who has a chronic disease, like diabetes or heart disease, should talk to their doctor before trying an extreme diet like this one. Lastly, do not follow the carnivore diet if you have any level of kidney disease.

A Detailed Carnivore Diet Food List

A meat-only diet is pretty self-explanatory — you’re going to eat only meat. Nonetheless, as with all diets, there are a few gray areas.

Foods to Eat on the Carnivore Diet

Here’s what you’ll be eating: Red meat (beef, pork, lamb), with an emphasis on fattier cuts of meat so you'll take in enough calories.

Other options include:

  • Organ meats
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Lard
  • Bone marrow
  • Butter
  • Salt?and pepper
  • Water
  • Bone broth
  • Sauces or gravies, provided they are made only with meat drippings mixed with butter or ghee and no binders such as flour

Foods That May Be Okay on the Carnivore Diet

Foods that might be acceptable, as some people interpret the “comes from an animal” part of the carnivore diet, says Schmidt, include:

  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Coffee?and tea: These are plant-based, but some people keep these in the diet.

Foods Not Allowed on the Carnivore Diet

  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Seeds
  • Nuts
  • Legumes
  • Bread
  • Pasta
  • Grains
  • Alcohol

Anything else that isn’t meat, poultry, or fish, or derived from one of those, is not allowed on the carnivore diet.

A 1-Day Carnivore Diet Sample Menu

Breakfast:?Three eggs cooked in butter; ham; and cheese (optional)

Lunch:?Rib-eye steak

Dinner:?Hamburger patties and bacon

Notice there are no snacks here. One of the benefits of a carnivore diet is the fullness factor of high protein consumption, so people are usually not hungry in between meals. Some people also opt to skip breakfast, though registered dietitians don’t recommend this for optimal health.

Common Questions & Answers

What do you eat on a carnivore diet?
On a carnivore diet, you can eat red meat, poultry, fish, and eggs. The diet excludes all produce, as well as grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Dairy is sometimes allowed.
What vegetables can you eat on the carnivore diet?
No vegetables of any kind are allowed on the carnivore diet, not even nonstarchy types that would otherwise fit into other diets, such as keto.
Do doctors recommend the carnivore diet?
This is more of a fad diet than one that would be recommended by nutrition experts and the medical community. If you’re interested in trying the diet, talk to your doctor about your existing health issues and concerns and you can determine together if this is right for you.
How long should you do the carnivore diet?
With no short- or long-term research on the effects of this diet, it is inadvisable to eat only meat for extended periods of time, because you'll deprive yourself of essential nutrients.
Can you survive on a carnivore diet?
You can survive on a carnivore diet, but you'll miss out on important nutrients, such as fiber and vitamins C and E. It is not safe for certain groups, including those with kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, or those with risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

The Takeaway

While this diet may sound crazy to some people, “as a dietitian, I try to be as open-minded as possible,” says Rodgers. “If there’s an intervention that’s working for people, I don’t discount that.” That said, there is no research into the short- or long-term effects of this diet, which makes it risky.

As with any diet, “it’s okay to experiment with getting your nutrition, but make sure it doesn’t harm you. Be realistic about your health, and if your health is suffering, it’s time to look at another solution,” Rodgers says. No diet is a panacea.

Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking

Everyday Health follows strict sourcing guidelines to ensure the accuracy of its content, outlined in our editorial policy. We use only trustworthy sources, including peer-reviewed studies, board-certified medical experts, patients with lived experience, and information from top institutions.

Sources

  1. Hamblin J. The Jordan Peterson All-Meat Diet. The Atlantic. August 2018.
  2. Marcason W. What Is the Anti-Inflammatory Diet? Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. November 2010.
  3. Meat Intake and Risk of Gastric Cancer in the Stomach Cancer Pooling (StoP) Project. International Journal of Cancer.
  4. Zhao Z et al. Red and Processed Meat Consumption and Gastric Cancer Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Oncotarget. May 2017.
  5. Mujcic R et al. Evolution of Well-Being and Happiness After Increase in Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables. American Journal of Public Health. August 2016.
  6. Sacks F et al. Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: A Presidential Advisory From the American Heart Association. Circulation. June 2017.
  7. Healthy Diet. World Health Organization. April 2020.
  8. Chodosh S. Please Do Not Try to Survive on an All-Meat Diet. Popular Science. August 2018.
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