What Are The Benefits of Carnivore?

This is the 4th and final part of a series on the carnivore diet. If you haven’t read out the first 3 parts, check them out below.

This article is a breakdown of the potential benefits of following a carnivore diet. While the health benefits of carnivore have not been extensively studied in the clinical setting, there are many anecdotal stories of the diet’s benefits and mechanisms of action to support several potential benefits.  

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Note that due to the lack of research, at times throughout this section I will be using what we know about the ketogenic diet as support since many of carnivore’s mechanisms of action are similar to that of keto.

I also want to point out that much of the evidence used against a carnivore diet is not actually looking at a carnivore diet. It is looking at diets that contain a lot of carbohydrates but also contain meat. These cannot be used to make claims against carnivore because we know that the addition of carbohydrates, especially processed carbohydrates, is what leads to these studies showing impaired health.

Let’s go over some of the benefits of carnivore that I believe has the most supporting evidence for.  

Weight Loss:

Many people’s first experiences with carnivore are for weight loss.  It is no secret that low carb diets are superior for weight loss, and for some people, this is even truer on a carnivore diet.   

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It’s a very simple formula.  When you restrict your carbohydrate intake, as you would on a carnivore diet, your insulin levels lower.  When insulin levels are low, your body burns more fat. Following a low carb diet actually puts your body in a prime fat-burning mode.

Additionally, due to some of the upcoming benefits, carnivore tends to lead to caloric restriction.  While research has shown us that calories are not the determining factor of weight loss success, they do still play a role and caloric restriction as a result of carnivore dieting is a contributor to the weight loss potential of the diet.

We will also get into the anti-inflammatory benefits of carnivore and improvements in gut health in this article which are additional contributing factors to the weight loss experienced on this diet. 

To learn more about the weight loss potential of the carnivore diet, check out this video from Dr. Anthony Gustin and I

Reduced Hunger:

This benefit is the most interesting to me.  We know that keto, in general, has a potent ability to reduce hunger through several different mechanisms such as improved appetite signaling, reductions in hunger hormones, and stability of blood sugar (1).  While these mechanisms would also be in play for carnivore, there is something else going on that I first heard an explanation from Dr. Anthony Gustin, founder, and CEO of Perfect Keto.  

A carnivore diet is not hyper-palatable, meaning there is not a ton of flavor.  Even a keto diet can be hyper-palatable. Just think of a cobb salad with all of its variety; steak, eggs, greens, blue cheese, and nuts.  All of this flavor can stimulate additional hunger.

On a 100% carnivore diet, you are only eating meat.  While meat is delicious, it lacks variety and flavor, it lacks palatability.  This can prevent you from stimulating additional hunger and prevent overeating.  This is something I have experienced first hand. On meat only carnivore, I found it much easier to calorie restrict if I wanted to and I found it much easier to follow OMAD, which I wanted to do to maximize productivity.  I noticed when I started adding back vegetables and more flavors into my diet, these benefits were less noticeable.

While this lack of hunger can be beneficial for those who are trying to calorie restrict or control their hunger, it does come with potential cons.  I have found it hard to eat enough on carnivore because of this feature. For this reason, I recommend tracking your calories when following carnivore.  While I believe that calorie restriction has its benefits, chronic severe calorie restriction could be harmful to health.

Low Blood Sugar:

This one may surprise you if you believe that having too much meat will lead to higher blood glucose via gluconeogenesis.  Check out part 1 of this 4 part series to have that myth debunked for you.  In short, excess protein is NOT converted to glucose.

Low carb diets lead to a decrease in blood sugar and the same can be said for a carnivore diet.  Especially since the diet is nearly a zero-carb diet. While there is no evidence looking directly at the carnivore diet and blood sugar, I have put this to the test myself and have found that on a carnivore diet, my glucose levels are the lowest they have ever been and ketones the highest they have ever been.  

In fact, just the other night after consuming about a pound of different meats, my fasted morning blood glucose and ketones read at 88 and 1.2 mmol. I will follow that up by saying I have found my body to be resilient when it comes to foods spiking my blood sugar likely due to the length of time I have been following keto so this may be something that you need to test in yourself. 

Regardless, anecdotal evidence is demonstrating that a carnivore approach is still an effective approach for lowering blood sugar.

Decreased Inflammation:

Keto, in general, is an incredible diet for lowering inflammation (2).  Carnivore seems to possess an even more potent ability to reduce inflammation.  This has been reported by many including Chris Bell who uses the diet to manage his arthritis.  Anecdotally, I can say that after following carnivore for 8 weeks, I measured the lowest c-reactive protein reading, the most common inflammatory marker, I have ever registered on any diet. 

This benefit is not well accepted because we have been taught that eating red meat will increase inflammation.  However, this is not what is found in the research. In fact, one group of researchers had 60 participants replace carbohydrate-rich foods with 200g/d of red meat per day for 8 weeks. The results demonstrated decreased markers of oxidative stress and inflammation compared to control! These researchers concluded that increases in the intake of red meat is unlikely to increase oxidative stress or inflammation and may even offer a protective effect (3).

Additionally, I would speculate that some of the inflammation lowering potentials of the diet could also be a result of improved gut health, which is next on the list.

Gut Reset: 

In my opinion, this may be one of the strongest potential benefits of a carnivore diet and one of the many reasons why so many people are reporting improvements in their autoimmunity symptoms on carnivore.

Carnivore is essentially an elimination diet because you are cutting out all foods and focusing on one, meat.  I think this gives the diet an ability to act as a gut microbiome reset. While this has not been supported by research yet, and we are not sure of the long term impact of carnivore on the gut microbiome, I do believe that the shifts in the microbiome that occur on a carnivore diet could be beneficial for those with impaired gut health.

Based on the many different ways our gut health impacts our overall health, I think this is an extremely important factor.  This may seem counterintuitive to people who still believe that fiber is necessary for health, but we already debunked that in part 2 of this carnivore series

Hormone Production:

Before I dive into this one, I want to again set the disclaimer that we need much more evidence here as well.

High-fat diets tend to lend themselves to improved hormonal production due to the importance of fat in this process.  Since a carnivore diet tends to be high in red meat, saturated fat intake is increased. Saturated fat, despite getting a bad reputation, is important for the production of hormones and is one of the reasons why many report better energy and sexual function from being on a carnivore diet.

Research has already supported that lowering fat intake and increasing fiber intake results in a decrease in testosterone (4) and that a ketogenic diet can provide a boost in testosterone levels (5).

It is important to note that while carnivore can improve hormones, that doesn’t mean it will.  Due to the possibility of severely undereating calories on the diet as mentioned earlier, it is possible to experience hormone impairments if this is not properly accounted for.  

Muscle Growth:

The same study mentioned above that demonstrated increases in testosterone on a low carb high-fat diet also displayed decreases in fat mass and increases in lean body mass supporting the fact that low carb high-fat diets can stimulate muscle growth.

This leads to no surprise that increased lean body mass, or muscle growth, are amongst the most commonly reported outcomes from people following the carnivore diet.  

In addition to the improved hormone levels previously mentioned, an additional culprit for this is the increase in high-quality protein intake. Meat is rich in protein and in particular the essential amino acid leucine. Leucine is regarded as the most effective amino acid for stimulating muscle protein synthesis which is the anabolic process your body needs in order to increase muscle mass and drive muscle recovery. Therefore, having a diet rich in high-quality protein gives your muscles the fuel they need to rebuild.

Another reason for improved muscle mass and recovery on carnivore may be attributed to circulating ketones. Ketones have previously been shown to be “muscle sparing” meaning they prevent the breakdown of leucine (6).  Additionally, there is some research suggesting that ketones may be able to stimulate muscle protein synthesis as well (7)!

Better Exercise Performance:

While many people think that low-carb diets impair exercise performance, research has not found that to be true.  In fact, it is now becoming widely accepted that low carb diets can be great for exercise performance, especially endurance performance (8,9). 

Most reports of impaired exercise performance both anecdotally and in research is a result of insufficient time to allow for adaptation to the diet.  When adequate time for adaptation to low carb dieting is allowed for, many report either improvements or at least maintenance of exercise performance on low carb diets.  

While there is not a lot of research looking directly at the carnivore diet’s impact on exercise performance, there are a lot of anecdotal stories reporting improvements.  Here is a quote from Carnivore advocate and health coach William Shewfelt:

“The Carnivore Diet in my experience has been an absolute performance enhancer. When I transitioned to carnivore—a few things happened. My satiety increased. My strength increased, without changing my training. My lean mass went up and my fat mass went down. I subjectively felt stronger, faster, and a lot more energetic throughout the day.

I believe the removal of plant antigens and the increase in protein and nutrients thanks to red meat, eggs, and seafood helped my body repair from the training stimulus better than ever.

My training is based around both aerobic endurance and strength. Aerobically, I’m in the best shape of my life thanks to ketones. Strength-wise, I’m stronger than ever. Red meat is the poor man’s steroids.”

This quote summarizes much of what we already talked about.  The increase in high-quality protein and hormone production on carnivore as well as the ability to tap into stored fat and produce ketones on the diet is a big reason why so many people are reporting improved exercise performance on the diet. 

Better Exercise Recovery:

In addition to better exercise performance, many carnivore dieters also report better recovery from that exercise.  There are a couple of mechanisms at play here, which I have already mentioned in this article.

The higher protein intake and subsequent stimulation of protein synthesis are conducive of better muscle repair following exercise.  Additionally, the ketogenic diet is a great diet for reducing inflammation (10). Together these two mechanisms make for a great recipe for optimal exercise recovery.

What’s the Deal with #meatheals?

Since carnivore has blown up, I have started seeing many people use the hashtag #meatheals on social media.  While I do believe that meat does have an ability to heal, especially for people suffering from autoimmunity, I want to point out that some of the benefits of carnivore are a result of what you are avoiding on the diet. 

A quote I have adapted from Dr. Georgia Ede is, “Do not mistake a diet for something because of something it is not.”  While this quote was not directed towards a carnivore or even a keto diet, it applies in this situation as well.  

I do believe that meat can provide our body with so many nutrients that we can actually absorb and use to heal our body.  However, it is important to note that SOME of the benefits associated with a carnivore diet is not necessarily what the meat is doing but rather what it is not doing.  When the Inuit people, who were previously eating primarily meat, were first introduced to carbohydrates, researchers demonstrated increases in hypertension and diabetes (11).  This wasn’t necessarily because the meat they were eating was keeping these diseases at bay, it was because they were not eating carbohydrates.

I do not say this with the intention to take away from the power of carnivore but rather to point out that some of the benefits come from the junk that we are taking out of our diet, which should not be overlooked. 

Conclusion

I will close this article as I started it. We need a lot more research. There is not enough evidence looking at specifically at the carnivore diet. But the reports I am hearing from so many people tell me that this diet has a lot of benefits and is something that we should be considering. I have found it to be beneficial in myself in ways that have extended past a ketogenic diet.

As always, self-experimentation is key. Don’t be afraid to try new dietary strategies to test their impact on your body. You may be surprised by what you find!

This concludes this 4 part series on the carnivore diet. If you want to be notified when new content of mine drops, sign up for my newsletter below!

References

  1. Gibson, A. A., Seimon, R. V., Lee, C. M., Ayre, J., Franklin, J., Markovic, T. P., ... & Sainsbury, A. (2015). Do ketogenic diets really suppress appetite? A systematic review and meta‐analysis. Obesity Reviews, 16(1), 64-76.

  2. Ruth, M. R., Port, A. M., Shah, M., Bourland, A. C., Istfan, N. W., Nelson, K. P., ... & Apovian, C. M. (2013). Consuming a hypocaloric high fat low carbohydrate diet for 12 weeks lowers C-reactive protein, and raises serum adiponectin and high density lipoprotein-cholesterol in obese subjects. Metabolism, 62(12), 1779-1787.

  3. Hodgson, J. M., Ward, N. C., Burke, V., Beilin, L. J., & Puddey, I. B. (2007). Increased lean red meat intake does not elevate markers of oxidative stress and inflammation in humans. The Journal of nutrition, 137(2), 363-367.

  4. Wang, C., Catlin, D. H., Starcevic, B., Heber, D., Ambler, C., Berman, N., ... & Hull, L. (2005). Low-fat high-fiber diet decreased serum and urine androgens in men. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 90(6), 3550-3559.

  5. Volek, J. S., Sharman, M. J., Love, D. M., Avery, N. G., Scheett, T. P., & Kraemer, W. J. (2002). Body composition and hormonal responses to a carbohydrate-restricted diet. Metabolism-Clinical and Experimental, 51(7), 864-870.

  6. Nair, K. S., Welle, S. L., Halliday, D., & Campbell, R. G. (1988). Effect of beta-hydroxybutyrate on whole-body leucine kinetics and fractional mixed skeletal muscle protein synthesis in humans. The Journal of clinical investigation, 82(1), 198-205.

  7. Vandoorne, T., De Smet, S., Ramaekers, M., Van Thienen, R., De Bock, K., Clarke, K., & Hespel, P. (2017). Intake of a ketone ester drink during recovery from exercise promotes mTORC1 signaling but not glycogen resynthesis in human muscle. Frontiers in physiology, 8, 310.

  8. Volek, J. S., Freidenreich, D. J., Saenz, C., Kunces, L. J., Creighton, B. C., Bartley, J. M., ... & Lee, E. C. (2016). Metabolic characteristics of keto-adapted ultra-endurance runners. Metabolism, 65(3), 100-110.

  9. Phinney, S. D., Bistrian, B. R., Evans, W. J., Gervino, E., & Blackburn, G. L. (1983). The human metabolic response to chronic ketosis without caloric restriction: preservation of submaximal exercise capability with reduced carbohydrate oxidation. Metabolism, 32(8), 769-776.

  10. Dupuis, N., Curatolo, N., Benoist, J. F., & Auvin, S. (2015). Ketogenic diet exhibits anti‐inflammatory properties. Epilepsia, 56(7), e95-e98.

  11. DiNicolantonio, J. J., & O’Keefe, J. H. (2018). The introduction of refined carbohydrates in the Alaskan Inland Inuit diet may have led to an increase in dental caries, hypertension and atherosclerosis.

Christopher Irvin