Carnivore for Autoimmunity: The Carnivore Diet is essentially an all animal-product diet. Like most things, it lives on a scale ranging from purely animal meat (generally red meat) to a more open side of the spectrum that includes fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy. For some, the carnivore diet also includes salt and spices, and even some plant foods like fruit or greens, while other puritans stick to animal products alone. In all cases, it is an animal-dominant diet.
This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD
Although weight loss is a common side effect, the dominant goal of a carnivore diet is generally health 1. This is where the flexibility comes in regarding plant foods. For example, some people do better on a strict beef-only diet, but others feel better with perhaps 90% meat and 10% berries. It’s important not to get too dogmatic and approach the diet from an individual desire to find out what works for you.
The Carnivore Diet can be treated as an elimination diet. First, strip it back to the most basic of nutrient-dense foods: meat. Then, introduce foods one by one (perhaps starting with animal products) and see how your body reacts. If it feels just as good or better, keep the food. If it feels worse, then maybe that food is better out of your diet.
Carnivore for Autoimmunity: Why Does the Carnivore Diet Work?
The idea behind the Carnivore Diet is that many plant foods contain anti-nutrients and inflammatory agents. Examples of such ingredients include 2:
- Phytates (phytic acid)
- Protease Inhibitors
- Calcium Oxalate
These anti-nutrients are nature’s way of ensuring it can survive and reproduce. By fortifying their structure, the members of the plant kingdom have a chance at survival against the elements and against being eaten by predators. Unlike the animal kingdom, plants can’t run or fight. So having these anti-nutrients limits the ability of their prey to just wipe out an entire species (it effectively limits how much we can eat before getting sick).
This is very important in that the poison is always in the dose. Those who fair better on a strict meat-only diet, whereby any plant consumption triggers feeling worse– generally, these people are dealing with autoimmune conditions or a severely damaged gut. For this population, even small amounts of these anti-nutrients can set them back in health.
For others who are generally healthy, there may be more flexibility. Although many healthy people still feel better on a Carnivore Diet and choose to eat this way to thrive.
Either way, you can use this diet for a certain period as a way to let the body heal from gut and autoimmune conditions or as a general lifestyle moving forward.
Carnivore for Autoimmunity: Meat and Disease
One common argument against an all-meat diet is, “doesn’t meat cause cardiovascular disease”? And although this narrative is being repeated by many, the reality is that zero studies create a causal link between meat and cardiovascular disease.
The studies that have linked meat to heart disease are epidemiological, meaning they can draw correlational conclusions, not causational ones. This is the first problem with such links, but the problem grows when we consider that meat quality isn’t factored in, nor is the rest of the diet.
Therefore a cause-and-effect statement can be made comparing someone who eats fast food burgers, deep-fried french fries, and a soft drink with someone who eats an organic plant-based diet 3. There’s no major surprise that the individual eating a fast-food diet will be more prone to cardiovascular disease.
Saturated fat is often the target of the ‘meat causes heart disease’ argument, but 37.5% of Americans’ saturated fat intake comes from junk food 4. This junk food includes pizza, grain-based desserts (cookies, cakes), dairy desserts (ice cream), processed meats, candy, chips, fries, pasta, and burritos. Only 24.2% of Americans’ saturated fat intake comes from whole foods like beef, eggs, full-fat dairy, butter, and nuts (quality not considered) 4. So is the problem really meat, or is it refined sugar, flour, and vegetable oils?
Contrary to these epidemiological studies, many people are finding salvation from an all-meat diet and reversing many of their ailments without help from any plants. For example, one study found that saturated fat intake improved blood lipid profile and heart disease risk in people who followed a low-sugar, low-carb diet for a year 5. Moreover, the increasing amounts of anecdotal stories suggest that meat might heal more than it harms 6.
What About Antioxidants, Vitamin C, and Fiber?
Eating a low-carb Carnivore Diet can be compared to a gas-burning stove, whereas consuming a regular carbohydrate-containing diet is more like a fireplace. When we burn ketones (fat) for fuel, the energy is very clean; it does not need a chimney to evacuate the smoke. With glucose, this isn’t the case. More antioxidants are naturally needed with glucose metabolism; they help evacuate the proverbial smoke 7.
The human body also produces endogenous antioxidants, which increase in production on any low-carb diet. So albeit not ingesting them, there are still antioxidants present in the body.
When the body is in ketosis, it needs very little if any vitamin C 8. As a water-soluble vitamin that is very sensitive to heat, many people would be surprised how little vitamin C they actually consume even while eating an omnivorous diet. Meat does contain small amounts of vitamin C, especially organ meats like liver 9.
When it comes to fiber, there is absolutely none on the Carnivore Diet, and it isn’t something the body makes. Although fiber is said to be essential for bowel and digestive health, many people report a significant increase in digestion and bowl movements on the Carnivore Diet. Some studies even suggest that removing fiber from your diet can improve constipation, not make it worse 10.
Carnivore for Autoimmunity: Meat is a Superfood
Marketing has categorized many foods as superfoods. Generally, superfood lists include various powders, kale, and chia seeds– but when we break it down, are these foods genuinely superior? First off, powders aren’t naturally a part of the human diet. Be it spirulina powder or flour, anything that requires extreme processing simply isn’t necessary to the human diet because these processes are relatively new.
When we break down foods like chia seeds, the standard argument is their Omega-3 content, which as an ALA Omega 3, has almost no bioavailability to humans compared to DHA and EPA, both of which are animal-sourced (generally in fish) 11.
For various other foods like kale, goji berries, and acai, we are simply targets for marketing companies. Although these foods have nutrients, they don’t even compare to the micro and macronutrient profile of a steak or liver 12.
A study out of Duke University compared 18 samples of grass-fed beef to 18 samples of plant-based meat substitutes. Although the two had a similar profile in terms of vitamins, fats, and protein, the study highlighted that many other nutrition components do not appear on the labels, which is where the products differ widely. The study highlights that the nutrients found only in the grass-fed beef, like creatine, spermine, anserine, cysteamine, glucosamine, squalene, and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA have important physiological, anti-inflammatory, and or immunomodulatory roles 12.
Quality Over Quantity
The quality of your meat and animal products is paramount for many reasons. Apart from the ethical argument, opting for high-quality meat and animal products ensures that your food is as nutrient-dense as possible.
The animal products you consume are nutrient-dense in part because they concentrate on the foods they have consumed. So, for example, a cow that has spent its whole life grazing pastures in the sun will be much denser in polyphenols than a factory-farmed cow fed on grain 9.
One thing many people experience on the Carnivore Diet is a dramatically reduced appetite. By consuming more nutrient-dense, satiating foods, they can eat less. Quality over quantity!
Medical Disclaimer: This article is based upon the opinions of Dr. Daniel Pompa. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr. Pompa and his associates. This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD for accuracy of the information provided, but Dr. Pompa encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional.
The Carnivore Diet is an all-animal food diet. The diet is on a scale of pure ruminant meat, while others include dairy, eggs, fish, and even some plant matter like berries or greens. The diet works by eliminating the triggers found in plant foods that can lead to health issues, including gut irritation and aggravation of autoimmune conditions. Although many people consider meat to cause disease, the reality is that those studies are epidemiological and can not draw causational links. On the contrary, many studies link saturated fats to health.
Antioxidants, fiber, and vitamin C lack in the Carnivore Diet, but the argument is made that when someone is not eating plant matter, they simply need fewer antioxidants and vitamin C. Although fiber is often linked to digestive health, some studies suggest the opposite, and anecdotal evidence demonstrates that many people solve their gut problems with the Carnivore Diet.
Meat is a superfood; it is a nutrient-dense food that, unlike marketed superfoods, offers complete human nutrition. Quality is important because animal products are as nutrient-dense as the diet and lifestyle that the animal lives. Choose quality over quantity!
1 Soenen, Stijn et al. “Relatively high-protein or ‘low-carb’ energy-restricted diets for body weight loss and body weight maintenance?.” Physiology & behavior vol. 107,3 (2012): 374-80. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2012.08.004
2 Gundry, Steven R. Summary & Analysis of The Plant Paradox: the Hidden Dangers in “Healthy” Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain. FastReads, 2017.
3 O’Neil, Carol E et al. “Food sources of energy and nutrients among adults in the US: NHANES 2003–2006.” Nutrients vol. 4,12 2097-120. 19 Dec. 2012, doi:10.3390/nu4122097
4 O’Neil, Carol E et al. “Food sources of energy and nutrients among adults in the US: NHANES 2003–2006.” Nutrients vol. 4,12 2097-120. 19 Dec. 2012, doi:10.3390/nu4122097
5 Shih, Cynthia W et al. “Changes in blood lipid concentrations associated with changes in intake of dietary saturated fat in the context of a healthy low-carbohydrate weight-loss diet: a secondary analysis of the Diet Intervention Examining The Factors Interacting with Treatment Success (DIETFITS) trial.” The American journal of clinical nutrition vol. 109,2 (2019): 433-441. doi:10.1093/ajcn/nqy305
6 “Success Stories Archives.” MeatRx, 15 July 2021, meatrx.com/category/success-stories/.
7 Bisbal, Catherine et al. “Antioxidants and glucose metabolism disorders.” Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care vol. 13,4 (2010): 439-46. doi:10.1097/MCO.0b013e32833a5559
8 Johnstone, Alexandra M et al. “Effects of a high-protein, low-carbohydrate v. high-protein, moderate-carbohydrate weight-loss diet on antioxidant status, endothelial markers and plasma indices of the cardiometabolic profile.” The British journal of nutrition vol. 106,2 (2011): 282-91.
9 Descalzo, A.m., et al. “Antioxidant Status and Odour Profile in Fresh Beef from Pasture or Grain-Fed Cattle.” Meat Science, vol. 75, no. 2, 2007, pp. 299–307., doi:10.1016/j.meatsci.2006.07.015.
10 Ho, Kok-Sun et al. “Stopping or reducing dietary fiber intake reduces constipation and its associated symptoms.” World journal of gastroenterology vol. 18,33 (2012): 4593-6. doi:10.3748/wjg.v18.i33.4593
11 Lane, Katie et al. “Bioavailability and potential uses of vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids: a review of the literature.” Critical reviews in food science and nutrition vol. 54,5 (2014): 572-9. doi:10.1080/10408398.2011.596292
12 Vliet, Stephan Van, et al. “A Metabolomics Comparison of Plant-Based Meat and Grass-Fed Meat Indicates Large Nutritional Differences despite Comparable Nutrition Facts Panels.” Scientific Reports, vol. 11, no. 1, 2021, doi:10.1038/s41598-021-93100-3.