If you thought keto or the raw meat diet were extreme, wait until you hear about the newest craze to hit the internet — the carnivore diet. It involves eating red meat and pretty much just red meat for every meal. Some rebellious followers of the diet allow eggs and dairy, too. But that’s it. No vegetables allowed.
A diet that loads up on greasy burgers and banishes kale? For some meatheads, it sounds too good to be true. Proponents of the diet live by the motto: Eat meat, drink water. The fattier the cut of meat, the better. Lean meats like chicken are permitted, but frowned upon. If you do choose one of these lighter cuts, they recommend you add a generous smear of butter — for “energy” and “satiety.”
You might be wondering: Are people actually trying this? Yes, they are. In fact, the fad has mustered up quite the active online community. A Facebook group focused on the diet has over 15,000 members. On Instagram, the diet’s hashtag #MeatHeals has over 17,000 posts. And the subreddit, /r/carnivore has 877 active users.
The diet was pioneered by Shawn Baker, a former orthopedic surgeon who, for just $49 a month, will coach you to eat red meat and nothing else using his “Carnivore Training System.” Baker’s medical license was revoked in 2017 — but that hasn’t stopped people from taking his advice. Baker has over 40,000 Instagram followers and plans to release a book in February of 2019.
Baker firmly believes that people can greatly benefit from excluding everything but meat from their diets. He believes meat provides all the nutrients that the body needs.
“Kind of sad walking around the store and seeing so many people my age that are just literally deteriorating from a garbage diet of grain, processed carbs, vegetable oils and the illusion of protection by some vegetables,” Baker says in an Instagram post. “Meanwhile I’m thriving, get stronger and faster and basically barely aging!”
Advocates of the diet insist that mainstream medicine is misguided and that there is a wealth of science on their side.
Much of this “science” is anecdotal. Shawn Baker, for instance, is something of a medical marvel. He’s in his 50s, ripped, and stakes claim to not one, but two world records for indoor rowing.
Supporters point to a number of “n=1” experiments (like this one and many others), insisting that if you have a large number of studies involving only one subject, it’s substantial enough to prove something’s success. (In journal-approved science, this type of study is hugely frowned upon.) On his Instagram, Baker features personal “success stories” of carnivore dieters.
“This isn’t a weight loss diet,” a Reddit thread insists. “This is about health.”
But there’s little that’s healthy about this eating plan. Plants, believe it or not, tend to be good for people. And it should come as no surprise that a diet in which “chicken wings are a staple” could come with consequences.
Without nutrients from other foods, a meat-based diet can result in consequences like scurvy and extreme constipation — both of which are discussed extensively by the diet’s proponents on Reddit.
One thread titled “Day 97” confesses, “I am struggling with constipation, at times, too horrible to imagine. You cannot imagine how bad my constipation was. I was actually so frustrated that I was slamming my knees in a frustrated rage.” One respondent advised this poor soul to try drinking milk to ease the digestive distress.
“Today is day 90 for me — I still don’t have scurvy!” another rejoiced. They did, however, admit to experiencing severe constipation and insomnia.
But the time you’ll spend on the toilet isn’t the only thing you have to lose trying this diet. According to Jackie Elnahar, a registered dietitian and co-founder of TelaDietitian, there are far worse health consequences.
“Fiber helps the digestive system keep regular movement to prevent constipation,” she explained, “and also assists with the absorption of nutrients.” In addition to discomfort, this digestive distress could prevent you from reaping some of the health benefits you could be getting from your food.
Carnivore dieters insist that they get enough vitamins and minerals from supplemental servings of liver and broth, replacing the vegetables they refuse to eat. However, Elnahar explains that there’s more to be concerned about than mere nutritional deficiencies.
“Eating too much saturated fat and cholesterol — both found in animal products — leads to clogged arteries, which contribute to heart disease and fatty liver disease,” Elnahar told The Daily Meal in an email. “Furthermore, these animal products only have LDL cholesterol, the ‘bad’ cholesterol, and not HDL, which could exacerbate the risk of heart disease.”
Elnahar was also concerned about the hormones and antibiotics used in many meat products. A person relying solely on these foods would eat a far greater portion of these substances than the average American — especially if they’re attempting the diet on a budget, buying marked-down meats that aren’t of the highest quality.
“Hormones and antibiotics can contribute to certain androgenic cancers,” Elnahar said.
So the diet may not be the miracle cure its cult followers have been looking for. Here’s to hoping this one goes in and out of style quickly — these other wacky diet trends of decades past certainly did.