Should you try a zero-carb diet? A dietitian explains.
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Specialized Diets

Is A Carnivore Diet Actually Good for You?

February 14, 2019

Heard about the zero carb diet that hails meat as the cure for autoimmune disease, mental health disorders, and diabetes? A carnivore diet might sound appealing to meat lovers, but it comes with some major health risks.

Word has been circulating on social media about the carnivore diet, also called the keto carnivore diet and zero carb diet, a diet that focuses solely on animal products.

This diet has gained traction and popularity recently for helping some individuals eliminate autoimmune symptoms, improve mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, and increase athletic performance and endurance. Major supporters of the diet include orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Shawn Baker, Canadian psychologist Dr. Jordan Peterson and his daughter, Mikhaila Peterson.

But an all-meat diet seems to come on direct conflict with the amassing research on the benefits of plant-based diets. So what’s the deal? Parsley Health’s Kelly Johnston, RD, health coach and dietitian, breaks down the science of zero carb diets.

Q: What is the carnivore diet?

Kelly Johnston, RD:

The carnivore diet is essentially an all-meat diet in which dieters consume beef, salt and water, only. Some individuals on the carnivore diet might occasionally consume other sources of red meat, organ meat or wild game but by and large, beef is the primary source of protein and food consumed.

Q: How does the carnivore diet compare to the keto diet?

Kelly Johnston, RD:

The ketogenic diet and carnivore diet are both high fat and high protein diets, but the carnivore diet offers much less nutritional variety. On a ketogenic diet, participants are encouraged to incorporate non-starchy green vegetables and small amounts of antioxidant-rich fruit. Conversely, on a carnivore diet, intake is solely meat-based.

Additionally, the ketogenic diet has been well studied for its clinical use in a variety of neurological disorders, including epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, migraines, narcolepsy, and depression as well as metabolic conditions including diabetes, obesity, PCOS, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, trauma, and cancer.

The carnivore diet has had no studies performed on its efficacy or safety for humans. The diet poses serious potential risks and evident nutritional deficiencies which likely make it an unsafe diet to follow, especially for a prolonged period of time.

Q: Is the carnivore diet healthy?

Kelly Johnston, RD:

The carnivore diet contains virtually no dietary fiber and lacks many essential nutrients. Fiber has been shown to normalize bowel movements, decrease rates of colon cancer, lower cholesterol levels and help balance blood sugar. Without the presence of fiber in the diet, bacteria in the intestine that feed off of prebiotic fibers are unable to proliferate. These specialized bacteria support several different important roles in human health such as producing certain vitamins and communicating with the immune system.

Red meat is also missing vitamin C, vitamin E, folate and manganese—without these essential vitamins and minerals, individuals can suffer from long-term health consequences such as anemia, insomnia, heart palpitations, nerve and muscle damage, and weakened immunity.

Separately, some observational studies indicate that very high protein diets and increased meat consumption can be linked with higher rates of heart disease and heart failure, type 2 diabetes, and early death.

Q: Can going zero-carb resolve some health issues?

Kelly Johnston, RD:

Supporters of the carnivore diet say yes, but some thought must be given to the mechanism behind why  symptoms may have improved for some individuals. One of the most obvious reasons for this is likely the nearly zero-carbohydrate consumption on an all-meat diet.

Several research studies show that when individuals decrease consumption of refined carbohydrates and rely more on a balanced diet of fat, protein and fiber, tremendous health benefits arise including increased metabolism, weight loss, and decreased rates of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Additionally, on high protein diets, such as the carnivore diet, individuals often feel fuller for longer because of the satiating effect protein has on the body and hunger hormones and therefore may experience weight loss.

The takeaway on the zero-carb diet

  • Many of the benefits that purporters of the carnivore diet are experiencing might be found on a much more well balanced, but still overall low carbohydrate, diet that includes vegetables, healthy fats and more diversified protein choices.
  • At Parsley Health, we encourage members to follow a diet rich in vegetables, low glycemic fruit, high quality plant and animal proteins in addition to healthy fats from nuts, seeds, avocados and fish.
  • Ensuring a diet rich in whole foods from a variety of different sources inherently reduces refined carbohydrate load while increasing nutrient density of the diet and assuring the full spectrum of vitamins and minerals from food.

Parsley Health is the only medical practice that leverages personalized testing with whole body treatments.

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