Debunking Fad Diets Part 1: The Carnivore Diet

Debunking Fad Diets Part 1: The Carnivore Diet

Starting off our new Debunking Fad Diets series and up first we have “The Carnivore Diet”.

The Carnivore diet has become one of the most popular fad diets of recent years in the alternative diet community and on social media.

The “Carnivore Diet” is typically an all meat/animal food based fad diet, which contains no healthy plant-foods.

Meals are usually based around excessive consumption of red meats preferably and organ meats such as liver, and other saturated fat rich foods such as beef tallow, butter and so on.

In my opinion The Carnivore Diet has the potential to become one of the most dangerous fad diets of all time for health and I have been debunking various fad diets for over a decade now.

Lets take a look at some of the most common nutritional concerns regarding “The Carnivore Diet” and also debunk some of the popular claims that are used to market the diet in the process.



1. Low In Vitamin C

The Carnivore Diet Vitamin C

One of the most immediate nutritional concerns with an all meat/animal food fad “diet” is the abnormally low dietary intake of Vitamin C.

Most carnivore sample diets I have come across do not reliably provide even the low amount of Vitamin C required to stave off scurvy, let alone the actual DRI for Vitamin C and optimal RDA for health/disease protection, which is significantly higher(100mg/d+).

Carnivore diet proponents often like to try and claim that one can obtain enough vitamin C from the likes of organ meats such as beef liver.

However, the likes of beef liver only provide around 10% of the DRI for vitamin C per 100g, so it would be nonsensical and unhealthy to rely on the likes of beef liver for your entire dietary Vitamin C intake daily.

Because the RDA is defined as “the average daily dietary intake level that is sufficient to meet the nutrient requirement of nearly all healthy individuals in a group,” it is appropriate to reevaluate the RDA for vitamin C.

Therefore, we reviewed the biochemical, clinical, and epidemiologic evidence to date for a role of vitamin C in chronic disease prevention.

The totality of the reviewed data suggests that an intake of 90-100 mg vitamin C/d is required for optimum reduction of chronic disease risk in nonsmoking men and women. [1]

We are now living in a time period where optimal nutritional support of the immune system for the prevention of infections is more vital and necessary than it has been in many years.

Prophylactic prevention of infection requires dietary vitamin C intakes that provide at least adequate, if not saturating plasma levels (i.e., 100-200 mg/day), which optimize cell and tissue levels. [2]

As said The Carnivore diet cannot even reliably provide the low amount to stave off scurvy, let alone optimal intakes of Vitamin C to prevent infection and support the immune system.

This is just one factor that highlights the importance of Vitamin C rich plant-foods such as fruits and vegetables in the diet.

2. Completely Lacking Dietary Fiber Intake

The Carnivore Diet Dietary Fiber

The Carnivore diet usually involves irrationally removing all healthy plant-food groups and as a result you are left with a diet pattern that is completely void of dietary fiber for supporting gastrointestinal health.

Not surprising then that one of the chief complaints and side effects reported from those on the carnivore diet is constipation and/or alternating IBS.

In recent years there are few nutritional factors more unfairly demonized and subjected to misinformaton than dietary fiber has been.

Higher intakes of dietary fiber are consistently associated with either health benefits or beneficial health outcomes such as reduced disease risk and mortality.

Higher intakes of dietary fiber reduce the risk of developing several chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers, and have been associated with lower body weights. [3]

Research has found that the typical Western diet pattern(low in dietary fiber/high-fat, high-protein, and red meat) to negatively influence the balance of the gut microbiome favoring pathogenic strains of bacteria associated with CRC(colorectal cancer) conditionally.

High-fat diets, high-protein diets, red meat, and processed meat is high-risk factors for tumorigenesis.

Whereas dietary fiber and prebiotics have been shown to increase beneficial strains of gut bacteria associated with a lower risk of CRC and/or gut supportive mechanisms. [4]

3. Excessive Red Meat Intake & Increased Disease Risk

Carnivore Diet Red Meat Disease Risk

Numerous studies have now found that higher intake of red meat is associated with an increased risk of many serious diseases including colorectal cancer, stroke, cardiovascular mortality and others.

“Based on at least six cohorts, summary results for the consumption of unprocessed red meat of 100 g day-1 varied from nonsignificant to statistically significantly increased risk (11% for stroke and for breast cancer, 15% for cardiovascular mortality, 17% for colorectal and 19% for advanced prostate cancer).

The evidence-based integrated message is that it is plausible to conclude that high consumption of red meat, and especially processed meat, is associated with an increased risk of several major chronic diseases and preterm mortality. [5]

There is absolutely no logical or scientific reason to consume a diet that consists of nothing but red meat as some of the more extreme carnivore diet proponents often like to recommend.

Red meat is indeed a valuable and great source of many nutrients including protein, Vitamin B12, zinc, highly absorbably heme-iron and many other conditional essential nutrients that can be lacking on vegan diet patterns for example.

However, red meat must be consumed in sensible quantities as part of balanced diet patterns in order to receive these nutritional benefits and remain healthy.

4. Anti-Nutrients Or Indispensible Components Of Healthy Diets Exerting Medicinal Benefits?

Carnivore Diet Anti-Nutrients Phytic Acid

Much like the misinformation that surrounds dietary fiber in the carnivore diet movement, there is also significant misunderstanding when it comes to various “anti-nutritional factors” such as phytic acid, tannins, lectins and so on.

Carnivore diet proponents typically claim that all healthy plant-food groups should be removed from the diet due to anti-nutrients such as phytic acid.

Not understanding that the likes of phytic acid don’t exert any significant “anti-nutritional factor” in the context of healthy individuals consuming nutritionally sufficient diets.

It also ignores the significant research which has found the likes of phytic acid to exert many health benefits and medicinal properties as a component of the diet.

So lets clear up some the confusion surrounding the likes of “anti-nutrients” such as phytic acid with the latest research below:

The published peer reviewed literatures searched showed that phytic acid, though an anti-nutrient, plays an indispensable role directly or indirectly in several disease conditions.

It exhibits antioxidant function, a property that qualifies it to possess multiple medicinal values like: anti-diabetic, anticancer, anti-inflammatory properties to mention a few.

Its chelating property affects the absorption and toxicities associated with essential and nonessential heavy metals, a scenario that could prevent neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson diseases and other related diseases.

The medicinal values of phytic acid outweighed its negative impact. [6]

Overall “anti-nutrients” such as phytic acid and tannins(which also have been shown to posses health benefits) are not valid or scientific reasoning to exclude or remove all healthy plant-foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, wholegrains and beans/legumes from the diet.

5. Does a Zero Calcium Score mean you are immune to CVD, despite having several other traditional CVD risk factors?

Carnivore Diet Zero Calcium Score Heart Disease Risk

Many of the “carnivore diet gurus” like to boast their zero calcium score tests claiming they are “free” of cardiovascular disease and/or CVD risk as a result.

This is despite typically having an array of other worrying traditional CVD risk factors such as highly elevated LDL-C levels, abnormal particle size number and so on.

The most worrying part is that the research has actually found:

In older asymptomatic patients with risk factors, CAC=0 is associated with a moderate increased risk of events. [7]

Also:

The frequency of atherosclerotic plaque with zero CS was relatively high, indicating that the absence of calcification does not exclude the presence of plaques, many of which obstructive, especially in non-obese subjects and alcohol drinkers. [8]

Generally speaking the Carnivore diet “gurus” don’t believe that elevated LDL-C is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Research has now definitively concluded that LDL-C plays a pathophysiological role in ACVD (Atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease).

This isn’t up for debate at this point and is based on a fairly recent consensus statement from the European Atherosclerosis Society Consensus Panel. [9]

Consistent evidence from numerous and multiple different types of clinical and genetic studies unequivocally establishes that LDL causes ASCVD. [10]

Common Reported Side Effects/Health Problems

Here are a list of the most common reported side effects and short-term health problems associated with The Carnivore Diet.

Constipation/GI disturbances

Severe muscle cramping(most likely due to lack of magnesium and/or potassium)

Scurvy/Low Vitamin C

Abnormal Kidney Function Markers(eGFR to creatinine)

Extreme fatigue and tiredness

Feelings of malaise

Summary

The carnivore diet poses numerous immediate nutritional risks including being severely low in vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, completely lacking in dietary fiber and no intake of healthy plant-foods.

A diet that contains absolutely no healthy plant-food group intake should by standard never be considered safe or good for health, especially for reducing risk of common degenerative diseases.

No qualified nutritionist would ever prescribe this type of diet pattern and especially not as a dietary intervention to attenuate or modify any serious disease.

There is also absolutely no scientific research to support an all meat/animal food diet pattern that is also void of all healthy plant-food intake.

Overall:

The carnivore diet is one of the most dangerous fringe fad diets to become popular in recent years, although the popularity appears to now be slowly waning.

There are several reasons why the popularity of the carnivore fad diet is now beginning to phase out.

One reason is that several of the carnivore diet “gurus” have had to reintroduce various plant-foods back into their own diets due to developing various health complaints and inability to sustain their own extreme all meat/animal food pseudo-science diet advice.

Many fans who have briefly experimented with 100% all meat diets, have no witnessed just how unsustainable and impractical an all meat/animal food diet is without adequate plant-food intake to balance out nutritionally.

Several very worrying blood tests from carnivore dieters posted up on social media have also put many off trying this frankly dangerous fad diet.

Some of these abnormal tests include kidney function markers, cholesterol levels, elevated Hba1c and fasting blood sugars, amongst others.

Overall avoid The Carnivore Diet like the plaque if you value your health.

References

[1] Toward a new recommended dietary allowance for vitamin C based on antioxidant and health effects in humans

[2] Vitamin C and Immune Function

[3] Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Health Implications of Dietary Fiber

[4] A Reasonable Diet Promotes Balance of Intestinal Microbiota: Prevention of Precolorectal Cancer

[5] Potential health hazards of eating red meat

[6] Investigation of the medicinal significance of phytic acid as an indispensable anti-nutrient in diseases

[7] How Low-Risk Is a Coronary Calcium Score of Zero?

[8] Atherosclerotic Plaque in Patients with Zero Calcium Score at Coronary Computed Tomography Angiography

[9] Low-density lipoproteins cause atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease: pathophysiological, genetic, and therapeutic insights: a consensus statement from the European Atherosclerosis Society Consensus Panel

[10] Low-density lipoproteins cause atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. 1. Evidence from genetic, epidemiologic, and clinical studies. A consensus statement from the European Atherosclerosis Society Consensus Panel

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.

Always consult with a qualified healthcare professional before making any significant dietary or lifestyle changes including supplements and herbs.


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