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Carnivore Diet Healthy?

healthy living Dec 22, 2022
carnivore diet healthy

Is the Carnivore Diet Good for Your Health? A Review of the Evidence

Just about every day I see a new doctor or influencer on social media touting these all red meat "ancestral diets" that supposedly are healthier because cavemen and cavewomen used to eat this way.

There are actual doctors who are promoting this type of diet and obviously profiting significantly from it. Fooling every day folks that don't know any better. They look like an authority figure, so they trust them. They tell people that a cholesterol of 400 and an LDL of 300 is fantastic and normal, and that we need cholesterol to live and thrive. None of which is true.

Let's take a deep dive and go through the data and find out if this is all true.

 

Meet the Carnivore MDs

Physicians like Shawn Baker, Ken Berry, Philip Ovadia, and Paul Saladino tout the health benefits of the diet and argue that it is healthy and good for your heart and longevity. They argue that it is an "ancestral diet" and that it is how humans are supposed to eat. Are these claims true?

One thing to note, none of these physicians are cardiologist. Not one. Some are family doctors, surgeons, orthopods, ob/gyn, and a psychologist! Yes this is who you are getting your advice from. A collection of non cardiologist that have no idea how to take care of patients long term. They opine on cholesterol as if it's their specialty telling people it's ok to have high cholesterol and high LDL. When it's the exact opposite.

 

Financial Incentives Behind the Carnivore Diet

All of these physicians are mainly in this for the money. Sure, they started out with good intentions, but now, they are selling books, programs, supplements, coaching, and all have a lot to lose if they change their mind or change their narrative. They have zero incentive to actually follow evidence and retract their statements.

Can you find research to support an all meat diet. Yes, of course. There are tons of studies that have demonstrated that Atkins style (high protein, low fat diets) will improve your cardiovascular markers. We have known this since Dr. Atkins popularized his Atkins diet in the 1990s and cardiologist Dr. Agaston (Southbeach Diet) in the 2000s.

We now know that it wasn't the diet that improved cardiovascular markers, it was the weight loss alone. Regardless of which macronutrients you emphasize, it's the weight loss alone that improves your cardiovascular risk.

If you want a book that is truly evidence based, without the crazy fads and food restrictions, grab my Actual Weight Loss book for more leading edge weight loss and heart health advice! Lose all the weight you want while eating what you love.

 

Carnivore Diet Scientific Research

Let's take a look at the data and science!

The first article we will examine is from the New England Journal of Medicine from 2009. The study is titled, Comparison of weight-loss diets with different compositions of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. They compared diets with varying amounts of fats, carbohydrates, and protein. They found that regardless of which macronutrients were emphasized, the weight loss alone was responsible for all of the health benefits. So whether you ate mostly carbs, mostly fat, mostly protein, if you were in a calorie deficit and lost weight, your health markers all improved. Which is part of the reason why I am diet agnostic. The researchers concluded...

Conclusions: Reduced-calorie diets result in clinically meaningful weight loss regardless of which macronutrients they emphasize. 

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19246357/

In another article from 2009 titled, Weight-reducing diets: Are there any differences?

Here is the abstract:
This paper compares the efficacy of two widely used weight-loss diets differing in macronutrient composition - a low-carbohydrate diet versus a low-fat diet. Although "a calorie is a calorie" under the controlled conditions of a metabolic unit (i.e., only the level of calorie intake matters and not the source of calories), we conclude that these interrelationships are far more complex in the free-living situation. The different diet-related factors that condition energy balance, including total energy intake, satiety and hunger sensory triggers, and palatability, must be considered when assessing the efficacy of weight-reducing diets of different macronutrient composition.

They concluded that only the "level of calories" mattered and not the source of the calorie. So if you are eating 1800 calories a day of raw testicles or red meat or pop tarts, it really didn't matter. If you lost weight, your health improved.

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19453689/

 

Dr. Paul Saladino and Dr. Shawn Baker

More recently Paul Saladino has been entangled in a web of deceit, lies, and controversy due to his ties to his business partner, Liver King. Liver King has been his business partner for 5 years and they lived together for about a year coming up with their shared business plan. Paul Saladino lied about not knowing that Liver King was on $12,000/month of anabolic steroids in the recent email leaks and his legal team asked him to take down his video because he was culpable.

Saladino pictured with his supplements

Shawn Baker 

Both Baker and Saladino are not cardiologist and haven't the slightest idea how to improve cardiovascular health. One is a non practicing psychologist and one is an orthopedic surgeon. Both have written books on "the carnivore diet".

Interestingly enough, neither of them came up with this diet. It was actually first published online by a young kid at the time named Frank Tufano. It's interesting that two highly educated physicians would follow a diet invented by a 20 year old kid who was merely experimenting with his body and posting random videos on YouTube about his wayward journey. Tufano was doing the carnivore diet for 8 years before Baker and Saladino discovered it and ran with it. Tufano has since abandoned his diet.

 

Carnivore Diet and Heart Disease: The Science and Research

The carnivore diet, which consists of animal products such as meat, eggs, and dairy, with no plant-based foods, has gained popularity in recent years as a weight loss and health promotion strategy. But the research suggests that the carnivore diet may be harmful to cardiovascular health. Let's review the evidence on carnivore all meat diet and explore why the carnivore diet may be bad for your cardiovascular health.

  1. The carnivore diet has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease. A multitude of studies have found an association between high meat consumption and an increased risk of heart disease. One large meta-analysis published in the journal Circulation found that higher red meat consumption was associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. The meta-analysis included data from 20 studies and found that each additional serving of red meat per day was associated with a 12% increased risk of cardiovascular disease. The carnivore diet is high in red meat, and therefore increases the risk of heart disease. (https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.118.035225)

  2. The carnivore diet increases the risk of stroke. Several studies have also found an association between high meat consumption and an increased risk of stroke. A meta-analysis published in the journal Stroke found that higher red meat consumption was associated with a higher risk of stroke. The meta-analysis included data from 17 studies and found that each additional serving of red meat per day was associated with a 10% increased risk of stroke. The carnivore diet is high in red meat, and therefore may increase the risk of stroke. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26935118/)

  3. The carnivore diet can also cause high blood pressure. Research has suggested that high meat consumption may be linked to high blood pressure, which causes heart disease and stroke. A systematic review and meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Hypertension found that higher red meat consumption was associated with a higher risk of high blood pressure. The review included data from 14 studies and found that each additional serving of red meat per day was associated with a 3.5 mm Hg increase in systolic blood pressure. The carnivore diet is high in red meat, and therefore increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26935118/, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2658466/https://academic.oup.com/ajh/article-abstract/35/8/679/6585635)

  4. The carnivore diet is usually very high in unhealthy saturated fats. These are incredibly inflammatory and wreak havoc on your cardiovascular system. Animal products and especially red meat, are high in saturated fats, which can increase LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and cause atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. Yes, LDL causes ASCVD (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28444290/).

  5. Most animal products, especially processed meats, are high in sodium and preservatives, which have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, cancer, and other chronic diseases. The carnivore diet is high in unhealthy fats, sodium, and other additives that may be harmful to cardiovascular health.

  6. The carnivore diet lacks essential nutrients. This is why Carnivore MD and others like Frank Tufano (the OG carnivore)  recently retracted his "animal only" diet and said fruit is ok; too many vitamin deficiencies. On the other hand, plant-based diets that are rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, and legumes, are rich sources of essential nutrients, including fiber, antioxidants, and a variety of vitamins and minerals. By eliminating these foods from the diet, the carnivore diet will lead to deficiencies in these important nutrients. In addition, plant-based diets have been shown to have a number of health benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and other chronic diseases.
  7. Research shows that a keto or carnivore diet actually increases inflammation. Scientists found that switching from a baseline diet that was more balanced to a keto style diet which was mostly meat and fat  increased cholesterol and inflammatory markers, decreased triglycerides, and decreased insulin-mediated antilipolysis. Glucose homeostasis parameters were diet dependent and test meal dependent. All of these finding are worse. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31067015/)

 

But wait, it gets even worse...

A mostly meat diet will increase your risk of cancer. What about Cancer risk?

 

Carnivore Diet and Cancer Risk: The Science and Research

The totality of research has suggested that an all meat diet will increase the risk of multiple types of cancer. Let's take a look.

  1. An all meat diet increases the risk of colon cancer. Numerous studies have found a verifiable and consistent association between high meat consumption and colon cancer. A systematic review and meta-analysis published in the journal Cancer Causes and Control found that higher red meat consumption was associated with an increased risk of colon cancer. The review included data from 12 studies and found that each additional serving of red meat per day was associated with a 17% increased risk of colon cancer. The carnivore diet is high in red meat, and therefore may increase the risk of colon cancer. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4698595/)

  2. An all meat diet increases the risk of breast cancer. Research has shown that high meat consumption (as well as obesity and alcohol intake) are linked to breast cancer. A meta-analysis published in the journal Breast Cancer Research found that higher red meat consumption was associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. The meta-analysis included data from 10 studies and found that each additional serving of red meat per day was associated with a 10% increased risk of breast cancer. The carnivore diet is high in red meat, and therefore increases the risk of breast cancer. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31389007/)

  3. The carnivore diet is usually high in unhealthy saturated fat. Red meat (lamb, pork, beef, bison, venison, goat) are high in saturated fats, which have been linked to an increased risk of all forms of cancer. Bison, venison and usually leaner and have less fat. The worst offenders are processed meats. They are high in sodium and preservatives (sodium nitrate), which have also been shown to increase cancer risk.

  4. A diet that does not include fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, beans, and other non-meat sources of nutrients will lack antioxidants and other nutrients that have been shown to fight cancer cells. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26501271/, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24629981/, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24122646/)

 

Carnivore Diet More Harm than Good

The evidence against the carnivore diet and other "ancestral" style, mostly meat diets is quite overwhelming. An all meat diet increases the risk of heart disease and multiple types of cancer. Consuming a diet that is high in animal products will increase the risk of heart disease and colon, gastric, and breast cancer. I don't recommend to my patients to follow this style of diet. Especially if you are a cardiac patient and have already had a heart attack. peripheral artery disease, or a stroke. 

 

Twinkie Diet

And of course there is the famous Twinkie Diet which I have talked about extensively. Professor, Dr. Mark Haub of Kansas State University went on an 1800 calorie diet of mostly junk food like Twinkies and lost 28 pounds in 10 weeks. the kicker? He's the head of nutrition and wanted to prove a point to his colleagues in the nutrition department. All of his cardiovascular health markers improved.

http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/11/08/twinkie.diet.professor/index.html

Watch my video as I explain what happened:

 

Wait, there's more:

In another study from 2004 titled, A randomized trial comparing low-fat and low-carbohydrate diets matched for energy and protein, they concluded...

Our results showed no significant weight loss, lipid, serum insulin, or glucose differences between the two diets. Lipids were dramatically reduced on both diets, with a trend for greater triglyceride reduction on the VLC (very low carb) diet. Glucose levels were also reduced on both diets, with a trend for insulin reduction on the VLC diet. Compliance was excellent with both diets, and side effects were mild, although participants reported more food cravings and bad breath on the VLC diet and more burping and flatulence on the LF (low fat) diet.

The low carb group had more carvings and more disordered eating, but the very low carb and the low fat groups both lost the same amount of weight when calories were the same.

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15601961/

 

So What is the Healthiest Diet?

 

As a cardiologist who has been researching and lecturing at medical conferences for over 20 years, I eat, live, sleep, and breath cardiology. The healthiest diet you can adhere to is still the Mediterranean Diet. And that's it. Read my article on all of the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet!

You can either listen to a gynecologist, orthopedic surgeon, or a non practicing psychologist....  None of which have any training in heart disease prevention and nutrition.

Or you can follow the advice of a board certified cardiologist, who is also a certified personal trainer, who has been teaching weight loss, nutrition, cardiology, and heart healthy living for over 20 years.

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