What is the Carnivore Diet? All Meat Menu Is Part Bad Nutrition, Part Trolling

A hyper-charged version of the keto and paleo diets, adherents of the carnivore diet follow a strict menu centered around meat, with variations ranging from near-zero carb plans built on meat, eggs and limited dairy to more extreme versions, including dieters who claim to only consume beef, salt and water. Reasons for pursuing the carnivore diet also vary, with some dieters looking to cut out carbs and others embracing the carnivore diet for reasons of political trolling, typically to defy vegans or show contempt for research into climate change that argues for a reduction of meat consumption due to its high carbon footprint—eating red meat to own the libs, essentially.

As an actual diet plan, the carnivore diet is unevidenced pseudoscience, with its defensibility relying on the lack of hard research into the effects of an all-meat diet. As with many super restrictive diets, carnivores often report losing weight in their first few weeks on the plan. Its claimed benefits—weight loss, reduced inflammation (a popular buzzword in diet fad circles), higher libido and lower blood pressure—are, so far, entirely anecdotal. As with the paleo diet, promoters of the carnivore diet often rely on appeals to nature, particularly the ahistoric claim that early humans consumed a nearly all-meat diet, thereby positioning the carnivore diet as more “natural” and attuned to human biology.

Meats do contain important vitamins and minerals, including iron, zinc and magnesium, plus protein, but are otherwise deficient in several macro and micronutrients, making the strictest forms of carnivore diet a potentially dangerous choice for dieters. Meat is lacking in vitamins A, C, E, D and K and contain only trace amounts of other essential nutrients, including folate, calcium and manganese. Adding eggs and organ meat to a carnivore diet plan can make up some, but not all, of this deficit.

Nutritionists are largely united in condemning the carnivore diet, citing several different possible consequences. Perhaps the most theatrcial is scurvy, a disease caused by Vitamin C deficiency and most famously afflicting sailors, more of whom have been killed by scurvy than shipwrecks, storms and other diseases combined. But there are other problems with the carnivore diet, particularly for gastrointestinal health caused by the diet's lack of fiber.

“I honestly think one of the biggest risks of the carnivore diet is colon cancer,” Assistant Professor of Nutrition at Simmons University Rachele Pojednic told Lifehacker, alluding to multiple large, rigorous studies linking long-term red meat consumption and an increase in colon cancer risk of between 20 and 28 percent.

Many nutritionists doubt the claimed anti-inflammatory qualities of the carnivore diet, since an all-meat diet isn't conducive to the growth of anti-inflammatory gut microbes. Increased consumption of red meat has also been linked to Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney failure and cardiovascular diseases.

“For most people, healthy eating isn't about hyper focusing on a single food group,” dietitian Abby Langer writes at Self.

Still, the carnivore diet has several high profile adherents, including Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson, whose anti-Marxist conspiracy theories and ultra conservative views on feminism, trans rights and religion have made him a right-wing celebrity. Peterson claims a diet of only beef, salt and water cured him of a litany of complaints, including depression, anxiety, gastric reflux, psoriasis, gingivitis, floaters in his right eye and numbness.

But he also experienced side effects. In an interview with Joe Rogan, Peterson claimed that drinking apple cider while on the carnivore diet “took me out for a month” and caused “the worst day of my life,” producing “an overwhelming sense of impending doom” that deprived him of 25 days of sleep.

Peterson is the most prominent example of the nexus connecting the carnivore diet with right-wing grievance politics. Pro-carnivore diet primers almost always inveigh against veganism, making the diet as much about symbolic protest as personal health.

In January, 2019 a collaboration between Norwegian global food systems non-profit EAT and English medical journal The Lancet released their own diet plan designed to maximize human health and create sustainable food systems in light of the climate change crisis, which will lead to devastating global catastrophe without worldwide, intergovernmental intervention. The plan recommends major reductions in the amount of red meat consumed by Americans, Europeans and other developed nations.

This, and similar proposals related to a proposed Green New Deal—especially freshman congressperson Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's call for a reduction in hamburger consumption as part of a multi-pronged strategy to minimize the damage caused by factory farming—have made meat eating a cause celebre among right-wing pundits, who endorse carnivorousness as a way to protest environmental policies designed to stave off civilizational destruction.

This could mean whether or not people pick a carnivore diet could wind up depending as much on politics as nutrition.