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

beef chicken salmon pork
Meat can be part of a healthy eating plan, but most experts say the carnivore diet goes too far.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.

What Is the Carnivore Diet?

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 diet?— also called “keto” — consists of eating lots of fat, moderate protein, and very few?carbohydrates. 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.

The Carnivore Diet: Pros and Cons

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. That said, here are some of the anecdotally reported pros and scientifically backed cons of the carnivore diet.

Pros

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 that include 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 to back it up.

Cons

“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.

Here are some of the main risks:

Constipation?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.

Gastric Cancer?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.

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

Saturated Fats?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.

Kidney Health?Large amounts of meat protein can also put undue stress on kidneys. Metabolizing high amounts of protein is the cause of this. You’ll likely miss out on disease-fighting nutrients like fiber and antioxidants like vitamins C and E, says Weinandy.

In Summary

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, such as 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.

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, such as fish and?avocado, while limiting saturated fat from fatty meat and butter.

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

How Much Does the Carnivore Diet Cost?

The carnivore diet is an expensive diet because meat, in particular the low-fat red meats that are optimum for this diet, tend to be quite pricey. The same goes for fish and seafood. Since you have to eat meat and fish three times a day, the cost can add up pretty quickly.

A Detailed Carnivore Diet Food List

A meat-only diet is pretty self-explanatory since you’re going to be eating only meat and fish. Nonetheless, as with all diets, there are a few gray areas.

Top 10 Foods to Eat

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.

Top options include:

  1. Organ meats
  2. Poultry
  3. Fish
  4. Eggs
  5. Lard
  6. Bone marrow and bone broth
  7. Butter
  8. Salt?and pepper
  9. Water
  10. Sauces or gravies, provided they are made only with meat drippings that are mixed with butter or ghee and no binders like flour

Top 10 Foods to Limit or Avoid

Anything else that isn’t meat, poultry, or fish or derived from one of those is not allowed on the carnivore diet. Top foods to limit or avoid include:

  1. Vegetables
  2. Fruit
  3. Seeds
  4. Nuts
  5. Legumes
  6. Bread
  7. Pasta
  8. Grains
  9. Probiotics
  10. Alcohol

A 7-Day Carnivore Diet Sample Menu

One of the benefits of a carnivore diet is the fullness factor of high protein consumption, so people are usually not hungry between meals. This means there is no need for snacks on the carnivore diet.

That said, we do provide some options?in this 7-day carnivore diet meal plan.

Day
Meal
Food
Day 1
Breakfast
3 fried eggs cooked in butter, with ham and and cheese (optional)
Lunch
Rib-eye steak cooked in sea salt
Dinner
Hamburger patties
Snack
Beef jerky (sugar- and soy-free)
Day 2
Breakfast
Scrambled eggs with bacon
Lunch
Beef ribs with sea salt
Dinner
Baked trout with sea salt and pepper
Snack
Bone broth
Day 3
Breakfast
Eggs with liver
Lunch
NY strip steak
Dinner
Scallops cooked in salt and pepper
Snack
Bone marrow
Day 4
Breakfast
Scrambled eggs with salmon
Lunch
Pork chops
Dinner
Trout
Snack
2 hard boiled eggs
Day 5
Breakfast
Scrambled eggs with bacon
Lunch
Burger patties
Dinner
Peppered chicken thighs
Snack
sardines
Day 6
Breakfast
3 fried eggs, cooked with ham and butter
Lunch
Lamb chops
Dinner
Fried shrimp and mussels
Snack
Pork rinds
Day 7
Breakfast
Trout and shredded chicken
Lunch
Pork shoulder
Dinner
Lamb chops, mussels, and shrimp
Snack
Salmon jerky (soy- and sugar-free)

Carnivore Diet Shopping List

Here are the foods every carnivore diet beginner needs to add to their grocery list, registered dietitian nutritionists say:

Meat

  • Ribeye steak
  • New York strip steak
  • Brisket
  • Pork chops
  • Pork ribs
  • Chicken thighs
  • Chicken breast
  • Liver
  • Kidneys
  • Lamb chops
  • Beef jerky

Seafood

  • Shrimp
  • Mussels
  • Scallops
  • Lobster
  • Trout
  • Salmon
  • Salmon jerky
  • Sardines

Other

  • Bone broth
  • Bone marrow
  • Pork rinds
  • Eggs
  • Sea salt
  • Peppercorns
Grocery Delivery Services can make it easier to follow specific diets. We rounded up the 5 best options for getting heathy groceries delivered.

How Much Should You Exercise on the Carnivore Diet?

The carnivore diet is encouraging of consuming animal fats during workouts. Carnivore diet advocates suggest that this is needed for sustained workouts in the absence of carbs.

Hydration is also really important. While the meat you eat contains some water, you will need more to aid in your overall health as well as digestion.

Carnivore diet followers do, however, express that if weight loss is your goal, diet is more important than exercise.

They also note that exercise increases hunger, which can counter the weight loss of following this meat-only diet.

How to Get Started With the Carnivore Diet

Starting a new diet can always be a little confusing and challenging at first, but these tips are designed to help you make the best transition if you are looking to try the carnivore diet.

Tip 1: Be Responsible

We’ve outlined the many risks of the carnivore diet and also alluded to the fact that there is limited concrete evidence as to any of its supposed benefits. That said, if you do want to try the carnivore diet, do so responsibly. That means keeping an eye on your health and being aware of how you feel. If you notice any changes in your mood, energy levels, and digestive habits, consult a doctor or dietitian. Always consult your healthcare team before making changes to your diet, especially if you have preexisting medical conditions.

Tip 2: Don’t Rush Into It

Switching to an all-meat diet is going to have a significant effect on you and your health. Try increasing your meat intake first before committing to the diet fully.

Tip 3: Don’t Be Afraid to Make Alterations?

The carnivore diet is extreme, and modern science and medicine do not support it. If, in spite of that, you are still eager to try it, don’t be afraid to make some tweaks. The carnivore diet includes no fiber or vitamin C, for example. So if you want to add some high-fiber foods and vitamin C foods to your diet, most dietitians would recommend that.

Tip 4: Use Supplements

The carnivore diet is lacking in several key nutrients, so you should absolutely take supplements if you are going to follow this unadvisable diet. These may include multivitamins, magnesium, calcium, potassium, curcumin (a polyphenol), resistant starch (soluble fiber), and psyllium husk (insoluble fiber). Speak with a dietitian to determine the exact supplements for your specific needs.


Tip 5: Try Keto or Another Diet Instead

If you want to try the ketogenic effects that the carnivore diet supposedly offers, why not try the keto diet instead? It’s a much more varied and nutrient-dense diet with less risks. Several other diets also offer many more benefits and fewer risks to your health.

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.

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 so 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.
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 28, 2018.
  2. Marcason W. What Is the Anti-Inflammatory Diet? Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. November 2010.
  3. Zhao Z et al. Red and Processed Meat Consumption and Gastric Cancer Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Oncotarget. May 2, 2017.
  4. Sacks FM et al. Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: A Presidential Advisory From the American Heart Association. Circulation. June 15, 2017.
  5. Healthy Diet. World Health Organization. April 29, 2020.
  6. Mujcic R et al. Evolution of Well-Being and Happiness After Increases in Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables. American Journal of Public Health. August 2016.
  7. Anatoli. Working Out on Carnivore Diet. Medium. February 17, 2024.
  8. How to Lose Weight With a Carnivore Diet. Carnivore.Diet.
  9. Foster J. 17 Deficiencies From the Carnivore Diet. SelfDecode. November 3, 2021.
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