What is the carnivore diet and can it ever be healthy to only eat meat?

21st Sep 18 | Lifestyle

The latest diet trend claims that eating only meat can supercharge your health.

When somebody tells you they’re going on a diet, the last thing you’d expect them to do is load up on fatty meats like bacon, sausages and burgers.

But a new type of controversial eating plan says that instead of chowing down on vegetables, watery broths and ancient grains to promote wellness, we should stay away from eating anything but meat.

Dubbed the ‘carnivore diet’, its restrictive rules are simple: Avoid plant-based foods, like fruit or vegetables, and processed carbohydrate foods, like cereals and pasta.

Instead, carnivores dieters eat like… well, a carnivore, and believe that animal meat can provide all of your nutritional needs.

The high-protein diet also eliminates all drinks apart from water – so there’s no coffee, tea or alcohol – although you can eat seafood and animal byproducts like butter, eggs, cheese and cream.

It’s basically a more extreme version of the popular ketogenic diet, which favours fats and proteins over carbohydrates. With the keto diet, you’re still encouraged to eat plant foods alongside meat dishes, while the carnivore plan takes everything off the menu but animals.

Butcher measuring pork temprature
The carnivore diet is a more restrictive version of the ketogenic diet (Thinkstock/PA)

Proponents of the diet claim it can provide mental clarity, aid weight loss, decrease inflammation and improve digestion.

US podcast host Joe Rogan recently threw a spotlight on the movement during an interview with Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson. In the episode, Peterson said his daughter Mikhaila introduced him to the idea of living on only beef and water, after she claimed it cured her depression.

“I lost 50 pounds,” he told Rogan. “My appetite has probably fallen by 70%. I don’t get blood sugar dysregulation problems. I need way less sleep… and my gum disease is gone. Like, what the hell?”

Mikhaila’s diet blog Don’t Eat That, which provides information and advice on the carnivore diet, claims that “the food pyramid is a lie”, adding: “Fat is good for you, and many (if not most) health problems are treatable with diet alone.”

“I’m in remission from severe arthritis (multiple joints replaced), chronic fatigue, depression and a plethora of other symptoms from changing how I eat,” explains Mikhaila. “This blog chronicles how my family and my parents eat and what it’s done for us.”

So can eating meat – morning, noon and night – ever be healthy?

Nutritionists suggest not.

“One thing you can’t ignore is there are some nutrients you just can’t get from meat,” says leading Harley Street nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert, author of Re-Nourish: A Simple Way To Eat Well.

“Folate, vitamins C and E all pretty much only come from veggies – that’s why sailors used to get scurvy with not enough vitamin C in their largely fish diets.

“Then there’s fibre. The carnivore diet has none of it, yet we know fibre promotes good gut health and research suggests your microbiome impacts everything from digestion to your immune system to your mood. You need fibre, and meat can’t give it to you.”

Lambert explains that meat also tends to push the balance of our good and bad cholesterol (called HDL and LDL) towards the bad end of the scale.

Fresh chicken meat on supermarket shelf, all logos removed
Nutritionists warn against the trend (Thinkstock/PA)

She also believes restrictive diets can encourage disordered eating. “Rigidity can lead to a distorted attitude towards foods and social isolation too. There’s no one way of eating, but be wary of any claims of ‘curing’ conditions thought of as treatable only with medicine.

“Please never ignore medical recommendations in favour of food-based treatments,” she warns.

Basically, it’s probably not a diet you’d want to try anytime soon, but even the most avid meat eater would likely admit that’s a blessing in disguise. After all, it’s hard to stomach the idea of sitting down to a mammoth steak day-in, day-out – especially first thing in the morning.

© Press Association 2018

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