Debunking The Carnivore Diet

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The “Carnivore diet” is the latest and greatest fad diet eating plan to gain popularity in the health and fitness movement.

I thought it would be wise to dedicate a blog post to debunking this very nonsensical, dangerous and unhealthy fad diet.

The “Carnivore diet” is an all meat diet in which no plant-foods are consumed and is usually excessively based around red meat.

All meat diet patterns are being popularized on the likes of youtube currently from proponents such as Dr Shawn Baker, Sv3rige and others.

Many of these individuals also consume meat and animal foods in their raw uncooked state, which is another blog post in itself and very potentially dangerous as far as foodborne pathogens such as Salmonella are concerned.

Back to debunking the so-called “carnivore diet”…..

There is literally no scientific evidence to support an all meat diet pattern and the current research all typically indicates that animal food/red meat rich diets to increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, colorectal cancer and increased risk of mortality from these diseases.

Now don’t get me wrong I’m no vegan diet proponent, I consume a small amount of animal foods myself as part of a balanced plant-based diet and have experimented with vegan diets in the past previously with very poor results.

My main criticism of vegan diets is that they are so restrictive nutritionally that you need to resort to consuming synthetic supplements such as Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, longchain Omega-3(DHA) and so on, because a vegan diet cannot reliably provide these basic essential nutrients.  This I suspect is what makes diets such as “the carnivore diet”, paleo and ketogenic diets so appealing to those who aren’t interested in the vegan idealogy or having to take supplements.

The diet I follow these days is a “loose” Mediterranean style plant-based diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, olive oil, beans, legumes, oily fish, lean poultry, minimal red meat and only occasional low-fat dairy such as yogurt.  The Mediterranean diet pattern is consistently associated with good health, nutritional adequacy and reduced risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Animal foods do provide many valuable nutrients including Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, longchain Omega-3 fatty acids(EPA/DHA), heme-iron, rich quantities of zinc, iodine and conditional essential amino acids such as taurine and carnitine.  Many of these nutrients studies have found vegans are commonly deficient or lacking in.

However, at the same time there is literally no evidence-based or logical reason for excluding healthy plant-foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes completely from the diet.  These plant-foods provide many valuable nutrients and phyto-chemicals, which benefit health in a variety of different ways.

All of these wonderful healing plant-foods from fruits to nuts to legumes have been shown in studies to be associated with reduced risk of mortality from serious diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.  Why anybody would want to purposely restrict some of the most healing foods we have access too makes no logical sense to me.

An all-meat diet would be likely lacking in many nutrients such as fiber which is essential for healthy digestive function and maintaining the gut microbiome.

Vitamin C would also likely be virtually completely absent from the diet, one of the most important nutrients for immune system function.  Folate would probably also likely be low depending on what animal foods were consumed, another important nutrient for cardiovascular health and methylation.

Let’s take a look at some of the most serious health consequences of a diet pattern excessively rich in red meat such as The Carnivore Diet.

Increases Risk Of Colorectal Cancer

Red meat increases colorectal cancer studyHigh intake of red meat has been implicated in many studies for potentially increasing the risk of developing colorectal cancer.

One study published 2015 concluded:

As a conclusion, accumulated evidence of prospective epidemiological studies and their meta-analyses shows that red meat and processed meat convincingly increases CRC risk by 20-30%. [1]

White meat (fish and poultry) is not associated with CRC risk and is recommended safely.  Meat is an important source of nutrients and should be consumed moderately and balanced with other foods.

Increases Inflammation

High Red Meat Intake Increases InflammationProponents of the carnivore and all-meat diets often claim that the diet can help to lower inflammation, however this doesn’t appear to be an evidence-based claim.

In fact, the research has found completely the opposite, which is that a diet pattern excessively rich in red meat to increase inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein(CRP).

A 2014 Harvard study reported that as total red meat consumption increased among women from the Nurses’ Health Study, so did biomarkers of inflammation. [2]

Inflammation plays a role in the etiology of pretty much every single common degenerative disease from heart disease to cancer to autoimmune disorders.

It is generally recommended to lower intake of red meat and opt for oily fish instead, which are a great source of anti-inflammatory long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and are also a rare dietary source Vitamin D.

Increases Risk Of Type 2 Diabetes

Red Meat Increases Type 2 Diabetes Risk StudyRed meat consumption has been consistently associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM).

Red meat provides substantial quantities of heme-iron, which is significantly better absorbed than non-heme iron from plant-based foods.

Elevated body iron stores are associated with insulin resistance, and even moderately elevated iron stores are associated with increased risk for type 2 diabetes

A study published 2013 in the JAMA internal medicine journal concluded:

Increasing red meat consumption over time is associated with an elevated subsequent risk of T2DM, and the association is partly mediated by body weight. Our results add further evidence that limiting red meat consumption over time confers benefits for T2DM prevention. [3]

Increases Risk Of Cardiovascular Disease

Red Meat Cardiovascular Disease RiskMany studies indicate that animal food rich diet patterns to potentially increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.  Red meat consumption is considered a dietary risk factor for CVD. [5]

Red meat is historically referred to increase CVD due to its saturated fatty acids (SFAs) content.

Red meat is a rich source of the amino acid L-carnitine, which is thought to be potentially metabolized by the gut bacteria into pro-atherosclerotic compounds.

A study published 2016 examined and quantified the potential dose-response relationship between red and processed meat consumption and risk of all-cause, cardiovascular and cancer mortality.

The present meta-analysis indicates that higher consumption of total red meat and processed meat is associated with an increased risk of total, cardiovascular and cancer mortality. [6]

The association between unprocessed red meat consumption and mortality risk was found in the US populations, but not in European or Asian populations.

Whilst it appears that processed red meat is the main villain when it comes to increased cardiovascular disease risk, excessively high intake of unprocessed red meat has a number of potential health consequences as we have already discussed above.

Plant-foods are also extremely important for supporting heart health by providing rich intake of antioxidants such as vitamin C, polyphenols, flavonoids, fiber and many other phyto-nutrients which possess potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

As always seek the help of a professional nutritionist before making any significant dietary or lifestyle changes.

References

[1] Red Meat and Colorectal Cancer

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4698595/

[2] Associations between red meat intake and biomarkers of inflammation and glucose metabolism in women.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24284436

[3] Changes in red meat consumption and subsequent risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus: three cohorts of US men and women.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23779232

[4] Meat Consumption as a Risk Factor for Type 2 Diabetes

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3942738/

[5] A Contemporary Review of the Relationship between Red Meat Consumption and Cardiovascular Risk

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5474906/

[6] Red and processed meat consumption and mortality: dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26143683

The information in this article has not been evaluated by the FDA and should not be used to diagnose, cure or treat any disease, implied or otherwise.

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