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Why the Carnivore Diet is Probably Unhealthy and What to Try Instead

steak and high protein diets

Before we begin, some of you may be interested in a podcast interview I did recently with L. Amber O’Hearn, founder of the Carnivore Diet Conference, where we discussed most of the issues I outline in this piece. Now on to the post…

When it comes to food, no two people are alike.

What works for one may not work well for the next person. For example, we’ve written previously about how certain genotypes are very poorly suited to the butter coffee “Bulletproof” style diets and how these people are likely to see elevated LDL on a high fat diet.

Others can eat a diet higher in saturated fats and do just fine.

The answer to many of the nutrition debates seems to be genetic variability.

But there are exceptions. There are universal, overarching principles of healthy eating that almost all of us can live by. Avoid refined grains and sugar. Don’t eat vegetable oils. Identify food sensitivities, especially the big ones like gluten. And last, don’t overdo it with animal protein.

But what does it mean to overdo it with animal protein? Clearly, we all have different requirements, but a good rule of thumb is to eat no more animal protein than needed to maintain muscle mass.

Advocates of the carnivore diet cast this logic aside and instead love to list the toxins found in plants. Oxalates! Phytic acid! Lectin! Glyphosate!

Guess, what?

They’re right. Many of us are sensitive to some species of plants, and when we are, we should avoid eating them.

However, as we will learn in this post, the idea that all plants are unhealthy is demonstrably false and meat does not come free of its own toxic burden, especially when eaten to excess.

Deciding which plant foods to avoid

On a recent episode of the Gene Food podcast, I interviewed Joel Evans, M.D., medical director for a company called KBMO Diagnostics. KBMO has created a “next generation” food sensitivity test. Traditional food sensitivity tests tended to identify false positives which left people overwhelmed by the 30+ foods they could no longer eat. By contrast, I found my KBMO results far more manageable. Pineapple, avocado, pinto beans, sesame, chickpeas, blueberry, broccoli, vanilla, tomato and asparagus are all on my current do not eat list. Some of these I “opted in” for due to the potential of cross reactivity with my core list of sensitive foods.

Are these tests scientifically “proven?”

No, definitely not. In fact, some on my team (I won’t name names) are less than impressed with food sensitivity testing in general. But science doesn’t work on proof, that’s for the math world. Science works on probability. Pairing an inflammatory marker with IgG response (as KBMO does) is good enough for me to give KBMO a go and I will say that after one week I notice enhanced digestion and improved mood.

So, yes carnivores, I get that food and mood are linked.

In fact, I readily concede that not all plant foods are healthy for all people. Even absent food sensitivity testing, we know this by looking at traditional allergy, peanuts being a notable example. Wheat and celiac is another. Heck, my dog Ned does a poor job digesting poultry.

If we are lucky enough as individuals to reach an insight about our unique physiology, we should honor it. However, the insight of one individual, or even a handful of individuals, does not good nutrition policy make.

According to his Instagram page, well known carnivore dieter Paul Saladino maintains a uric acid level of 4.1 mg/dl while eating 3 pounds of meat a day. This is great news for him. But it doesn’t follow that that will be the case for everyone, or even for most people. One of my favorite YouTube rabbit hole destinations, Vegetable Police, developed gout on the carnivore diet.

And that is my “beef” with the carnivore dieters – they’ve discovered plants are bad for them, so they must also be bad for us.

Jordan Peterson and the carnivore diet

There can be no doubt that some with severe health issues find they do best on a carnivore diet. The Canadian intellectual Jordan Peterson and his daughter Mikhaila Peterson are two examples. It’s not for me to tell the Peterson’s how to eat. If they find their quality of life is enhanced eating nothing but red meat, then that’s exactly what they should do. In fact, I find their willingness to share their stories inspiring. Mikhaila Peterson went as far as to publish her blood work publicly and the results were impressive. By any measure, the carnivore diet appears to be working for Mikhaila.

However, I part company when the carnivore dieters step into the world of advocacy. Advocating for a carnivore diet, as Mikhaila Peterson is now doing with her website “Don’t Eat That,” is unfortunate. Unfortunate because, as I am about to explain, the carnivore diet is likely a bad idea for most people over a long period of time, especially when the new convert fails to test some basic biomarkers, perhaps the two most important being whether they have entered a state of ketosis as well as their LDL-P count.

What lab tests should carnivore dieters focus on?

This is a good one to get out of the way right off the bat as lab tests come up in all the podcast discussions. Many of the devoted carnivore diet followers claim their lab tests are “normal.” Mikhaila Peterson’s blood work is quite a bit better than normal to be frank, but for anyone embarking on the carnivore diet journey, consider running these tests from a provider like Wellness FX.

  • LDL-P – number one predictor of heart disease; or
  • APOB – protein that makes up LDL particles
  • sdLDL-C – small dense LDL cholesterol mass
  • LDL-C – cholesterol mass within LDL
  • TMAO – an atherogenic metabolite of L-carnitine and choline
  • C reactive protein – produced by liver when inflamed
  • Serum ammonia – toxic byproduct of protein metabolism disposed of via the urea cycle
  • Creatinine – test related to kidney function
  • Blood pressure – how hard does your heart have to pump to deliver blood?
  • Fasting glucose – level of blood sugar in the blood when not eating
  • Lp(a) – unique class of lipoprotein that puts people at higher risk for heart disease
  • Homocysteine – common amino acid in blood associated with heart disease, can be elevated when eating meat
  • Sitosterol – prior to going carnivore and while eating plants. I add this because of my belief that many carnivore dieters are undiagnosed cases of sitosterolemia.

Most of these tests are markers for heart disease and inflammation in the body and they don’t show up on regular blood tests. If a carnivore diet is healthy, these tests would all come back in range.

Potential health problems for carnivore dieters

First, let me be clear – I am not saying all people who follow a carnivore diet will develop these issues!

I am saying we have reason to believe there is a greater probability of developing these illnesses while pursuing a carnivore diet over the long haul.

Some may avoid all of the ailments I list below.

Some, perhaps most, will succumb given a long enough time horizon. The point: there is a statistical landmine of probability waiting in front of you when you decide to embark on this diet. Proceed with caution and know the alternatives.

Carnivore diet, heart health and the Feldman energy model

Warning: this is a very nerdy section. If you want to move on, you can do so with the knowledge that metrics of “bad cholesterol” will go up on a carnivore diet in some people. When this happens, I believe the risk for heart disease increases as well.

The Retterstol study teaches us that some people will see an uptick in their lipid numbers on a high fat or carnivore diet, specifically LDL-C and LDL-P.

This much we know.

In fact, most serious commentators concede that saturated fat intake generally increases LDL-C to some degree, what they dispute is that elevated LDL is causal in heart disease.

The “LDL denier” movement is growing among low carb enthusiasts.

The best of the voices challenging LDL orthodoxy is Dave Feldman, a former software engineer turned lipid researcher. Dave’s theory, he calls the “lipid energy model,” claims high LDL-C and high LDL-P is not dangerous when HDL is high and triglycerides are low, or in other words, when a patient has elevated lipids, but is insulin sensitive.

VLDL on a carnivore diet

To understand Dave’s theory, we first need to touch on VLDL.

VLDL is a type of lipoprotein that originates in the liver to traffic fat as energy.1 You can think of lipoproteins as “fat taxis” whose job it is to shuttle cholesterol, triglyceride and phospholipids around the body. Most of the VLDL lipid cargo is triglyceride. People that deal poorly with sugar, carbohydrates and glucose (individuals who are insulin resistant or pre-diabetic) are the ones who trend towards higher triglyceride rich LDL and VLDL. This is the case because when the body can’t use or store glucose, it turns the sugar into fat through a process called de novo lipogenesis.

When VLDL sheds its triglyceride cargo, as it does when it delivers triglyceride to muscle tissue, it becomes what is called a remnant.2 Because they are small, hard and dense tiny balls of cholesterol, remnant VLDL cholesterol are thought to be a particularly dangerous type of particle which represent an independent risk factor for heart disease when elevated.3

VLDL morph into LDL

VLDL remnants are also known as intermediate density lipoproteins (IDL) which eventually morph into LDL, a run of the mill APOB lipoprotein.In this way, you can think of VLDL as the moth, and LDL the butterfly since VLDL eventually become LDL with small amounts of cholesterol.

Dave believes that this cholesterol “ride shares” on VLDL as a type of backup energy system, a life raft attached to the primary boat. He believes cholesterol is used by the body for energy, so cholesterol, and not just triglycerides, go up when VLDL production is high. VLDL production is high when we eat or burn triglyceride (VLDL takes the fat to be used for energy) or when insulin resistance is present.

Dave’s idea is that lean mass hyper responders (the name for people who see a huge uptick in LDL on high fat diets) are ripping through so much VLDL to traffic triglyceride that the end result is a ton more LDL-P. The idea is that the VLDL remnant life cycle, in the aggregate, adds up to a truck load more cholesterol rich LDL-P in the “lean mass hyper responders.” This means that, under Dave’s theory, those who see a huge uptick in LDL-C on a high fat diet have this response because the VLDL fuels that growth.

In Dave’s model, all the VLDL triglyceride moths eventually become cholesterol butterflies and in some way this is good because it’s all part of an energy distribution system.

Problems with the energy model

But how do the lean mass hyper responders get so much more cholesterol on a high fat diet? Why is the body using VLDL remnant to traffic cholesterol “energy” when the body can just make its own cholesterol at the cellular level?

My reading of Dave’s theory had me expecting to see more LDL-P, but triglyceride rich LDL-P.

Instead we have just the opposite.

We do know that some percentage of VLDL ultimately hang on to their cholesterol and transition to LDL particles carrying cholesterol, but we don’t have a good way of measuring VLDL remnant using VLDL.

And here’s another problem: in insulin sensitive patients (low triglycerides), which carnivore dieters are likely to be, the VLDL count tends to go down, not up, and it does so reliably.456

While LDL sky rockets on the high fat diet, VLDL is low.

For this reason, I think it’s unlikely that you can account for a massive uptick in cholesterol rich LDL particles by pointing to VLDL remnant transitioning into LDL-P. Four moths can’t make 1,000 butterflies.

Instead, at least to my eye, it seems far more likely that the body is synthesizing more cholesterol in response to the increased saturated fat intake and then clearing less of the particles it makes. The result is a major uptick in LDL-P, not for more energy, but as part of a genetic response to a high fat diet.

In sum, the “white water rapids” like increase in cholesterol rich LDL-P (it’s not triglyceride rich particles that make up for the LDL-P boom in Dave’s model) can’t from the “dry creek bed” of the VLDL remnant that occurs when insulin is no longer pumping out of the pancreas at an accelerated rate. As Peter Attia said so well in his interview with Dave, the energy model doesn’t respect mass balance. You can’t pull such a big cholesterol rabbit out of such a small VLDL hat.

Now, to be fair, I am not necessarily demonizing saturated fat across the board, and on a personal note, I admire Dave and his knowledge of lipids.

We have written previous about how the consensus has shifted on dietary fat and cholesterol, which is now believed to be less of a problem than previously thought, but saturated fat and cholesterol are two different things. With a constant daily mega-dose of saturated fat, many people will significantly increase their risk for heart disease on a carnivore diet, with carriers of risk alleles for the SNPs I list below being especially vulnerable.

SNP IDGene(s) of interest within or near associated intervalMajor allele, Minor allele (Risk)
C, T
C, T
G, T
C, T
C, A
C, G
G, T
C, T
T, C
T, C

The remaining issue is whether increased LDL is causal in heart disease, a mega topic beyond the scope of this post. Here is a link to a massive study I have been influenced by.

JAMA: after reviewing 34 clinical trials looking at more than 270,000 patients, more aggressive lowering of LDL-C was found to reduce risk of all cause mortality (not just heart disease deaths) when compared to less aggressive treatment. BUT the all cause mortality risk reduction was only found when LDL-C started at >100 mg/dl. Greatest benefit was found for those who started at >160 mg/dl and dropped aggressively, in other words people with what would be considered pretty “bad” lipid profiles by most people. Perhaps the goal of 50 mg/dl LDL-C is not necessary, but I don’t think the low carb crowd headed to bed each night with LDL-P of 2,000 should sleep all that soundly either.

Ultimately, the issue of whether the carnivore diet increases the risk for heart disease in some people will come down to whether you believe the low carb position on LDL.

I do not.

Carnivore diet may turn on cancer pathways

Scientists have taken the time to conduct in vitro studies where various fruit compounds are dripped on liver cancer cells to see what happens. Many of them significantly inhibit the growth of the cancer cell.

To my knowledge, I haven’t seen any studies which drip meat compounds on cancer cells, but some researchers have come close.

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Humans digest protein and use the different amino acids for all sorts of processes in the body, including building muscle and making neurotransmitters. But not all amino acids are created equal, some act as both good and bad guys at same time. Unfortunately, the carnivore diet offers a steady mega-dose of some of the “bad guy” amino acids which have been linked to increased risk for certain diseases such as cancer.

We’ve written previously about the different amino acid profiles of plant protein vs. animal protein. Plant proteins contain different types of amino acids and in different amounts than animal protein. Plant proteins are often low in some of the muscle building amino acids like methionine, tryptophan, lycine and isoleucine. This is why it’s harder to be a Vegan bodybuilder, the amino acid profile of plants doesn’t stimulate the body’s growth pathways in the same way that animal proteins do.

This is both a good and a bad thing. It’s a bad thing if you want to get ripped, but the altered amino acid profile of plants is helpful in turning off some disease states in the body.

Researchers like Valter Longo at USC have published research showing how the amino acid composition of animal protein turns on cancer pathways in the body by increasing levels of a hormone known as insulin like growth factor one, or IGF-1. To quote from one of Dr, Longo’s research papers:

In humans, protein restriction (PR) has been associated with reduced cancer, diabetes, and overall mortality. Thus, interventions aimed at lowering the intake of proteins or specific amino acids can be beneficial and have the potential to be widely adopted and effective in optimizing health span.

To date, several studies have shown decreased age-related pathologies and lifespan extension through the modulation of protein intake. Low protein diets have been demonstrated to reduce spontaneous tumor formation, as well as in mimicking the effects of calorie restriction in improving renal function. In the past few decades it has also been demonstrated that protein restriction or restriction in tryptophan or methionine, can extend longevity.

The bottom line here is that consuming large daily doses of the pro-inflammatory amino acids found in animal proteins is not a great idea.

If you trust in Dr. Longo’s work as I do then consuming animal protein exclusively makes very little sense. But it’s not just Dr. Longo who has published data on meat consumption, amino acid balance and cancer. Aaron dug up this study which links an excess of animal protein to cancer: Leucine (amino acid typically found in meats) induces resistant breast cancer.7

Look, I am not saying you will get cancer if you eat meat. I am saying eating nothing but meat for years will increase the risk for some people.

But even this study, which casts doubt on the link between eating red meat and colon cancer, offers as its explanation a diet that is abnormally high in meat and lacking in plant compounds as the reason for what it sees as an overstated link between colon cancer and red meat consumption.

To quote the study:

Experiments where protective dietary compounds were used to mitigate the extreme levels of meat and meat-derived compounds showed protection against colon cancer, with some essentially negating the impact of meat in the diet.

I’m sure you can guess what those protective compounds are (Vitamin A, chlorophyll and resistant dietary starches).

Same result for this bladder cancer and meat study. Link not established and may be mitigated by meat plus fiber intake.

Hmmm, so red meat may be healthy after all, that is when it’s eaten in moderation and paired with protective plant compounds? Doesn’t sound very carnivore to me.

Carnivore diet is not always ketogenic

I can hear some of you saying, wait John, forget all that research on amino acids by Dr. Longo, I prefer to get my nutrition science from Dr. Dom D’Agostino at the University of South Florida.

First off, as a fellow member of the “last name with an apostrophe” club, I love Dr. D’Agostino.

He has done extensive research on the protective effect of ketone bodies against cancer and is a darling of the podcast circuit. Dr. D’AGostino is clearly a formidable researcher, as are early pioneers in ketone research like Dr. Veech.

However, regardless of what you may think about the health benefits of ketosis, the subject isn’t always relevant to the carnivore diet.

The carnivore diet often includes too much protein to be a ketogenic diet. When the body takes in more protein than it needs, the excess is disposed of through the liver (which we will get to in a minute) but also through a process known as Gluconeogenesis, where protein is converted by the body into glucose.8

The process of Gluconeogenesis is what prevents many carnivore dieters from reaping the benefits of ketosis and instead eating what is probably the worst diet known to man – very high fat, very high protein.

Carnivore diet burdens the liver and kidneys

When we eat protein, the body breaks down the nitrogen molecules and turns them into ammonia, which is then processed by the liver into something called urea, which goes through the kidneys on its way out of the body as urine.

This process is known as the urea cycle. To break down the nitrogen in protein, the body uses a series of enzymes which are coded for specific genes. For example, the CPS1 gene makes an enzyme that represents the first step in the urea cycle. Children born with reduced urea cycle function end up very sick with ammonia toxicity.9

This Harvard Health blog post does a nice job explaining how variants in urea cycle function may play an important role in how adults respond to high protein diets:

Urea cycle disorders are viewed as rare and primarily pediatric conditions, but there might be a whole range of unrecognized, genetically determined problems with protein metabolism experienced by adults. Some people may have mild mutations that compromise a gene’s function and cause slight symptoms. This may explain why one person eschews meat while another loves nothing more than a steak meal. Defects in protein metabolism may also explain why some people have bad reactions to high-protein diets like the Atkins diet.

Clearly, people with genetic variants in the urea cycle pathway (which are common, 33% of people have at least one copy of the risk allele for CPS1) will have major problems on the carnivore diet.

Ammonia, a known neurotoxin, will pool in their body, leading to a range of different health problems over time. However, even people with a strong urea cycle may eventually become overloaded with ammonia after eating nothing but large portions of meat for months and years on end. Ammonia is an inevitable waste product of protein metabolism. It’s something the body needs to clean up, the question becomes: how much ammonia can your body clear before your liver and kidneys are damaged? As with histamine, no two people will be exactly the same.

Carnivore diet and urinary tract infections

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have published some excellent research showing that E. Coli, a pathogenic strain of bacteria responsible for most urinary tract infections, grows best in acidic urine. Without an acidic environment, E. Coli can’t get the iron it needs to survive and thrive.

How does this impact on the carnivore dieters? The flood of meat eaten on the carnivore diet will rapidly create an acidic environment in the body and urine. In women, this will create the perfect conditions for E. Coli to thrive. In men, the acidity of urine plays a role in prostate health and the likelihood of developing prostatitis. The Central European Journal of Urology published a study which showed that most cases of prostatitis in young men were actually fungal infections brought to the urogenital region by, you guessed it, E. Coli. One of the protocols the researchers used was potassium citrate because it alkalizes the urine.

The carnivore diet has the potential to create an acidic environment perfect for urinary tract infections and prostate inflammation in women and men respectively.

Carnivore diet and bone density

The acidity issue carries over into the osteoporosis and bone density conversation. This is a problem many women in the west have issues with. Sadly, Mikhaila Peterson, fresh off of a Joe Rogan appearance, dismisses the role of consuming animal protein in bone density loss in about 100 words.

To quote Mikhaila’s blog responding to this Good Housekeeping article which is critical of the carnivore diet:

This one is soooo bad. Healthy grains are good and eating only meat leads to bone loss and organ failure. Of which there are how many cases? Oh zero? Literally just lying. And it’s written by a registered dietician. Shameful.

This is exactly the problem with the diet debates! A diet works for one person, and then the advocacy begins with no recognition of bio-individuality or in this case, of the available data. If Mikhaila had come out and said “the carnivore diet works for me and my father, but we recognize it is a tad extreme and please be careful if you decide to try it,” that’s one thing. But that’s never what happens. Instead we get attacks against dietitians making legitimate points.

On the one hand, some studies do show that a diet slightly higher in protein has been shown to be beneficial for bone density (and other health metrics) (R). But, and this is a big but, it is worth noting that all of the studies looking at protein (or specifically) meat intake in relation to bone density in humans, rely on recording food as part of a “balanced” diet, i.e., one with a good fruit, vegetable and other dietary intake. There are no studies looking at the effect of a meat only diet on bone health (or other health impacts), most likely because such a study wouldn’t pass ethical guidelines. In animal models where such studies are allowed there is a consistent trend for seeing reduced bone density.10

There is likely a strong genetic component tied to the VDR genes. We have written previously about how variants in the VDR genes (which affect calcium uptake from the gut) play a role in bone loss associated with drinking coffee. Certain VDR genotypes are better served limiting caffeine intake as high caffeine consumption has shown to have bone leaching effects. Lower calcium uptake from the gut coupled with the diuretic effect of coffee, which causes greater excretion of minerals from the body, leads to loss of bone density. Coffee is also highly acidic and it’s the acid load that is blamed for osteoporosis in women on high animal protein diets. The theory is that the body leaches calcium from the bones to neutralize PH which has turned acidic by eating animal products.1112

Carnivore diet and gut health

The carnivore diet could damage the colon and degrade gut health. In fact, changes to the microbiome eating nothing but meat could colonize the gut with bacteria that also increase the risk for heart disease. Animal protein is high in L-Carnitine, a type of amino acid. The New England Journal of Medicine has published a study which demonstrates certain strains of bacteria turn carnitine, as well as choline in eggs, into TMAO, a compound that has been shown to damage the arteries. Not everyone who eats meat will have high TMAO levels, however, an unhealthy microbiome combined with a constant supply of red meat at every meal could result in the perfect storm for TMAO to get out of hand.

There are many sound reasons to eat fiber, with one of the most important being the impact fiber rich foods have on the microbiome. When we eat complex carbohydrates like yams, broccoli, rolled oats, apples, and other plant foods, the plant matter ferments in the colon, which is a good thing. It’s the fermentation process that generates short chain fatty acids like butyrate which we use for energy and which also line and protect the wall of the gut. By removing all fiber from the diet and eating only meat, you increase the likelihood two things will happen:

  1. Your microbial diversity will suffer and;
  2. Some of that flesh will putrefy in the gut which can break down the gut wall and increase the risk for cancer of the colon in the future.

Don’t believe me?

I already cited the study above from Texas A&M, which was designed to push back on the link between red meat and colon cancer, but their reason for doing so was that plant foods consumed with meat are protective.

There is also this meta-analysis of studies examining the link between colon cancer and red meat consumption. The evidence shows an increased risk for colon cancer and none of these studies look at a diet that is exclusively comprised of red meat. The carnivore diet is potentially bad for your microbiome, increases the risk of intestinal permeability and may increase colon cancer risk specifically.

The mechanism seems to be undigested meat, which then ferments in the colon, leading to increased ammonia production and strains of bacteria that produce histamine.13 In our podcast on the histamine leaky gut connection, we identified uncleared histamine as a cause of leaky gut.

This NPR Article does a nice job summarizing the findings of a study that appeared in the Journal Nature which looked at the short term impact on the microbiome of a meat heavy diet vs. a diet that included much more plant fiber. The meat heavy diet was very similar to the carnivore diet and it altered the microbiome for the worse in just two days. In particular, bacterial species that feed on bile, called Bilophila, started to colonize the guts of the group on the carnivore diet. Bilophila bacteria, like Candida, aren’t necessarily “bad.” However, when they take over the gut as they are prone to do on extreme diets, that’s where problems can begin. Studies have linked Bilophila to colitis in mice.14

Carnivore diet and gout

As I mentioned in a recent post I wrote on lowering uric acid, many leading physicians now seem to believe that gout is a condition marked by an excess of sugar and alcohol in the diet, but it is also brought on by high meat diets.

Vegans often have high uric acid, so this isn’t exclusively a carnivore issue.15

However, beef, shellfish and poultry are all high in purine, a crystal like compound in food that creates uric acid when it’s broken down by the body. A diet very high in purine can lead to gout and kidney stones as the levels of uric acid accumulate to unhealthy levels. Further, elevated uric acid is also one of the primary causes of joint pain. The condition, known as “gouty arthritis,” is marked by the formation of crystal compounds in joints, leading to pain in the big toe, feet and elbows.

Alternatives to the carnivore diet

While it’s clear that I am no fan of the carnivore diet, I am also sympathetic to the fact that an increasing number of Americans are developing food sensitivities.

I have written previous about my own issues with histamine intolerance. If you feel better on a carnivore diet, you’re not imagining it. You’ve cut something out of your diet your body didn’t like, and the absence of that irritant has improved your health in the short term.

However, this doesn’t mean that a carnivore diet is the only way you can be healthy. It also doesn’t mean the carnivore diet won’t take a year, two, or even ten to do some bad things to your health.

But before “throwing in the towel,” and going on a carnivore diet, a more traditional elimination diet is worth a shot. By isolating foods that most commonly cause problems one by one, you can get to the bottom of your sensitivities without being forced to take the extreme measure of eating nothing but meat everyday.

Dr. Gundry’s lectin removal protocol

Dr. Gundry, of Plant Paradox fame, created a rigorous elimination diet protocol aimed at first reshaping the microbiome and then eliminating all high lectin and otherwise toxic foods. I have spoken to more than a few friends who have seen great results on Dr. Gundry’s protocols, and even wrote a blog post defending lectin sensitivity and the Plant Paradox book.

If you want to explore Gundry’s protocols further, his approved shopping list and list of foods to be avoided can be found here.

Fasting mimicking diets

If you’re suffering from multiple food sensitivities, it may also be worthwhile to give a fasting mimicking diet a try. Companies like Prolon have created kits that help people plan a fast according to the research of Dr. Valter Longo, a longevity researcher at the University of Southern California whose research on autoimmune disease I mentioned earlier in this post.

KBMO diagnostics food sensitivity tests

I referenced it at the beginning of the post, but KBMO Diagnostics offers a new testing protocol called the FIT test which is designed to help identify true food sensitivity. This would be a test I would run and follow before going carnivore.

Key takeaways

If you dig into the research supporting plant based diets and find it lacking, I can’t blame you. Although I think a plant forward diet is a healthy option for many people, it doesn’t follow that all of us will thrive as strict vegans.

However, this doesn’t mean that we can throw the baby out with the bath water.

Plant based science is imperfect but voluminous.

Carnivore literature is nonexistent.

The research challenging the role of red meat as a cancer causing agent does so because of evidence indicating that eating meat alongside chlorophyll rich plants has a protective effect.

Cut out gluten. Stop eating grains. No sugar. Heck, remove lectins. Drill down on food sensitivities.

Just don’t go carnivore. Not unless you are 100% sure this is an intervention you need to maintain good health.

John O'Connor

John O'Connor is the founder of Gene Food, a nutrigenomic startup helping people all over the world personalize nutrition. John is the host of the Gene Food Podcast and a health coach trained at Duke's Integrative Medicine Program. Read his full bio here.

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  1. Jim Turner says:

    Life is to short even if we live to be 100. Food is also a great pleasure. The carnivore diet is to limiting for me. I love vegetables, a little organic dairy meat and a small amount of whole grains and fruit. I have no problems on this diet. I have seen many people recover their health on a raw food vegan diet. But long term, the vegan raw food diet is not for me.

  2. Angel Shining says:

    I don’t know much about it but what i saw with my own eyes is my friend used to be on 4 medications, blood pressure, metforim and some other ones, had bad tests results, everything high, then moved toward keto/ carnivore and was taken off meds and numbers are down. Moved to Mexico to retire!! I think what you believe about something attracts that to you so yeah for the writer…don’t eat carnivore…it might kill u since your convinced of it!!!

  3. Peter says:

    Yeah, that’s a lot of nonsense in 1 article.

    The carnivore diet seems to be unhealthy in people that never tried it and very healthy in people that eat it.

  4. Peter says:

    I measure my ketone levels with a blood sample, and know that the Carnivore diet is extremely ketogenic – The Carnivore diet isn’t about eating red meat – It’s about eating animals and for some about eating the produce of animals(e.g. Eggs) Consequently it is a high (healthy) fat diet with moderate protein and near zero carbs.
    I have also suffered from gout – through various diet trials I found that a diet high in fructose gave me the worst case of gout!! – What was I eating – apples and grapes. These two appear healthy but are high in fructose. Eating meat (i.e. animal based diet) has reduced my inflammatory response significantly and joints that used to get stiff are now very mobile (I’m 56 years old btw)
    Auto-immune diseases? – Sorry that doesn’t fly – Too many anecdotal statements of evidence to the contrary for that to be true
    And – well the rest of this article is down some rabbit-hole of bias thinking it’s not worth commenting on.
    The question should be – Are you a scientist or not? A scientist will change their mind based on new facts/information.

  5. Randy says:

    When you started with the cholesterol patter my eyes rolled and I checked out. You need to check in with actual peers in cardiology from America, Britain, New Zealand, Australia, India… about the cholesterol “myth”. They can and will explain to you why LDL goes up on carnivore diet and “why” that isn’t a bad thing. The myth of cholesterol is falling, just like the myth of fat being bad for you. You obviously came at this writing as a skeptic and with conclusions established and wrote to meet both. It is also obvious that you did zero parallel study on lipids, oxalates, insulin, or anything that would disrupt your line of the status quo and detract from getting pats on the back from “your” peers to further your standing. Job security might factor in your assessment, or just a pitiful education in medicine based on numbers and prescriptions. Grow a set and do what’s right.

  6. Brian Bucar says:

    3 years ago I would have believed this page as I was embarking on a plant and reduced lean meat diet to help with psoriasis that Ive had for 20 years.

    Now? Not a chance. 3 years of a strict high vegetable, low meat, low fat diet steeped in all the conventional diet wisdom of our culture (grunt, grunt, plant good, meat bad, grunt, grunt) and I was still red skinned as ever, sore as ever and depressed as ever.

    I saw Jordan Peterson’s podcast and scoffed…. then I said to myself, “What have I got to lose….” and tried the carnivore diet.

    I’m 3 months in. It’s the best I’ve felt since my teens and early 20s. My skin is 80% cleared, I feel blissful and my joints feel good.

    On all the forums I was on discussing plant based diets to heal disease, the success rate was very low. The carnivore success rate is through the roof.

    I have other friends trying the diet after they saw my success, helping with autoimmune issues, depression, and even mental illness SUCCESSFULLY.

    Do your own research. Try it for at least 2 months. (especially cause the adaptation period is hard) I doubt youll be disappointed.


      • Brian Bucar says:

        Hi John,

        My protocol is pretty much beef, Himalayan pink salt and water. Once a week I may have a few eggs and some bacon. Occasionally I dissolve one of those gatorlytes electrolyte packs into water and drink it for potassium and magnesium, especially if I get muscle cramping after strenuous work. That’s about it. I avoid supplement pills due to all the plant based binders and such that are used to keep the pill together. I have a long history of my body not digesting plants well. Even when I was eating tons of them before the carnivore diet. Tons of gas. I now have near no gas.

        I’m waiting till the 1 year mark till I get some blood work done. All the blood work results that I’ve researched online didn’t look too bad. Sure the cholesterol was elevated but the HDL was quite high (a good thing) and the triglycerides we’re in the basement. Many carnivore folks willingly post their blood work results online.

        I suggest reading Vilhjalmur Stefansson’s book, Fat Of The Land (there are PDFs of it all over the place) and his Adventures In Diet articles.



      • Matt says:

        I would like to second his recommendation that you try the diet yourself before condemning it.

        I would also recommend that you go with grass/pasture fed beef. Not just because they’re probably the healthiest cows and will nourish you better, but because I think a lot of the issues we have in the world with pollution are very largely because of our plant-based diet. You can’t turn huge swaths of land into monoculture coated in pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers and expect it to not have an impact (like beepocalypse). Returning our diverse environment would be worth it, not to mention that most of our plants are shipped huge distances, whereas my beef is driven by me from the butcher to my house, so no added carbon footprint for local pasture fed beef.

        From my personal experience, everything I was *told* I would experience (constipation, gout, weight gain, etc…) from nutritionists was wrong. Not just wrong, but 180 degrees from what I was told to expect. Joint pain gone (I didn’t have gout), I lost 15 pounds easily (after having fought weight for almost four years), and my bowel movements are dramatically easier than they were before I eliminated plant from my diet.

        I think that the nutritionists have been lied to with bad statistics for so long that they don’t even hear a message that disagrees with the “more plant good, more meat bad” message that they don’t even look at anything that could disagree with them. Simple data such as that we’ve reduced our per capita meat calorie consumption since the 1970s, but we’ve become a nation of obese people. Obesity went from something that was so uncommon that I (as a child) only knew a handful (actually 3) of people who were obese – everyone was thin, healthy, and active. Even overweight people seemed incredibly rare. The obese people were never the super obese people we see everywhere today. How can you blame obesity on the thing that you’re consuming *less* of? Seriously, we consume 33% fewer calories from beef than we did in 1970. What sort of meat did we increase our consumption of? Chicken and Turkey, which both *doubled* in consumption… but they’re considered ‘healthy’. Somehow they don’t blame the food (plant foods) that we’ve increased our calorie consumption by 350 calories (to give you a comparison, we consume ~630 calories per day of meat in the 2010s, down from ~700 in 1970s) per day.

        Get your own data – don’t trust us… but don’t trust the people that are telling you that the nation is obese and unhealthy because of the meat they’re eating 33% less of and that continuing to increase plant consumption is going to do anything but continue increasing obesity rates.

  7. Rob White says:

    The article mentions using the Prolon Fasting Mimicking Diet as a way of dealing with multiple food sensitivities, yet when you look at the ingredients it contains many items high in histamine, oxalates biogenic amines, salycites, yeast, etc. Certainly not ideal for multiple food sensitivities. I’m not advocating a carnivore diet, but one thing that can be said for fresh unprocessed meat and fish it’s it’s pretty much hypoallergenic.

  8. Rick says:

    It feels like people like you get paid to hate on red meat. Ask yourself ,why did the Plains Indians were the tallest and healthiest people way back? They ate mainly Buffalo bud! We had to hunt all the buffalo and bring the numbers down just to beat the Natives. Then, you have the Spartans! We all know how strong they were and what did they eat? Mostly wild game meat and made a black blood and guts drink out of their kill. Yes they had barley bread but they also were known to water down their wine and bread was a treat not a meal. I figure they were in ketosis most of the time too. last, we have the Roman soldier. They ate lot’s of meat and even said they marched on a empty stomach! It turns out the poor ate from the ground like cattle and thus sickness brought them down or kept them down. Tell me watt is more healthier then meat,liver,eggs,butter, fat? Nothing! Wheat is grain, Grain is used to fatten up cows! Why,would I need this in my diet? All the plants have compounds in them to define themselves. This is why cows and other herbivores graze and not pick one type of plants and only eat that. Little bit of this and little bit of that. Why does Humans have gallbladders? Why do we have such a little appendix? Why does a Man have a mane, hair all round their necks and head just like a lion? Men that read this, eat your liver and meat rare and quit the plants they are not needed for health. If you get scared of scurvy? Eat a little wild blueberries. This plant wants for you to eat it’s fruit to spread its seed. We should have listen to Mufasa of The Lion King. “When we die our bodies become the grass and the cattle eat the grass, so we are all connected in the circle of life”.

  9. Sam Miller says:

    The rise of food sensitivities are likely due to several modern lifestyle factors such as exposure to environmental contaminants, overuse of antibiotics, consumption of refined/processed foods, and lack of exposure to healthy bacteria due to hyper-cleanliness. I agree with your article that carnivore diet maybe necessary for some people due to these sensitivities. However, I am concern about the claims that some carnivores make against the “unnaturalness” of more plant-base diets, omnivore or vegetarian, and their advocacy of a very specific therapeutic diet for very specific conditions to the general population. Most of the breaks through in recent nutritional research has been in the field of health-promoting benefits of many photo-nutrients–from lycopene in tomatoes to glucosinolates in broccoli. It would be a shame for people to unnecessarily eliminate these type of foods.

  10. noidea says:

    My inflammation levels go down drastically on the carn diet. I’ve tried every diet. It’s the only one that bring my numbers in line without the use of prednisone. I’ve been on humira and stelara and my inflammation levels are tested every few months via blood and calprotectin. Neither worked as well as the carnivore diet. I don’t really understand how meat can be more inflammatory, when an all meat diet makes c reactive protein go from double digits down to about 1. i have no idea what the answer is here. Any plant matter makes it go back up a little (I have a threshold which I can stay under if I’m currently doing well). Any starches like grains, rice, potato, corn, beans, sugar, make it go up almost overnight. If i have a flare up my only option is a day of water fast, a day or two of bone broth, and a week or so of carnivore diet. After that point I can return to a meat and non starch, moderate vegetable diet until I screw up again as long as I don’t overdo it on the vegetables. protein has to stay the highest, fat stays pretty high, just my anecdotal experience.

  11. Jerry German says:

    You make the point that there is almost no data on a carnivore diet, and then make all kinds of claims about the unhealthiness of the diet based on meat consumption levels in mixed diets. That’s not scientific. Plus, you don’t seem to have done any research on what constitutes a proper approach to a carnivore diet. Properly done, the diet contains about twice as many calories from fat as protein. The body is definitely in ketosis. If it wasn’t, there would be telltale evidence in floating stools. Properly done, the diet focuses on grass-fed, free-range meat which is high in omega 3s. It includes organ meats. It includes gelatin, which has no tryptophan and balances muscle meat in many ways. Making assumptions based on the health of mixed-diet individuals who eat higher or lower levels of lean muscle meat just brings nothing to the argument. Admittedly, many people who are trying the carnivore diet are doing it badly. I have been totally carnivore for 37 days. Before starting the diet I was waking to go bathroom 8 or more times per night. I am 68 years old and have been suffering from interstitial cystitis for 50 years and from BPH for about 10 years. I am now waking 2 or 3 times per night. I fall asleep more quickly and actually have dreams. I have more energy during the day and improved clarity of mind. My joint pains have subsided considerably.
    I am not promoting the diet. I think that would be premature and agree that a one-size-fits-all approach is not workable with most health issues. But I have a huge problem with your objections to the diet because you apparently view it as a daily feast on massive amounts of lean muscle meat. Certainly, there are people doing exactly that. But an intelligent approach is to look at the cultures that have been primarily meat eaters and to learn from them. I have been studying nutrition for a lot of years and the biggest problem I see is the sea of misinformation that discourages most people from taking an intelligent approach to trying new things. I have been vegetarian, high carb, paleo low carb, paleo medium carb, paleo low-fat, paleo high-fat. I have taken every stinking vitamin/herbal concoction on the planet and nothing has worked like this. I am currently taking no supplements other than fish oil and some occasional magnesium chloride (mostly topically). Thanks for reading my rant.

    • Jerry, thanks for the comment. I see your point, especially about the lack of “pure” data on an exclusively carnivore diet. Kind of a similar situation with the plant based crowd when they cite epidemiology that tracks lower consumption, but not zero consumption of animal protein, and then pass it off as evidence for a strict Vegan diet. I still think the carnivore diet is unhealthy for most people, with sitosterolemia as a possible exception, but I appreciate you reading and commenting.

      • Menko says:

        There is proper documentation of the health of people on a carnivore diet. The Masai traditionally lived off the meat and milk of their cattle and had extensive atherosclerosis, but no incidence of heart disease due to their active lifestyle. While I agree with him on your approach of the subject (you relied on omnivores to form a conclusion), I too would agree that it’s unhealthy. Balance is key.

    • Noah says:

      Hi Jerry,
      Do you know of any sources that outline in more detail how to do the carnivore diet ‘properly’? I have been trying the diet myself and noticing some major benefits, but also have been experiencing some difficulties getting enough fat relative to protein. Most sources I have found just say ‘just eat meat’, but as you say, just eating muscle meat can be very imbalanced

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