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The Carnivore Diet Risks and Side Effects

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The carnivore diet, a dietary plan that involves consuming only animal products, such as meat, fish, eggs, and dairy, has gained popularity in recent years. While some supporters claim that it can improve weight loss, energy levels, and overall health, there are potential health risks and side effects associated with this type of diet. It is important to understand the limitations and potential consequences of the carnivore diet before making any dietary changes.

The carnivore diet may lead to several potential health risks and side effects that should be considered before deciding to adopt this diet. Some of the risks associated with the carnivore diet include high cholesterol, heart disease, kidney problems, and gastrointestinal issues.

One concern is that the high intake of saturated fats from animal products may increase levels of LDL cholesterol, which is known to increase the risk of heart disease. Additionally, the high protein intake may increase the workload on the kidneys, leading to kidney problems in some individuals.

Gastrointestinal issues such as constipation, bloating, and diarrhea may also be experienced due to the lack of fiber in the diet. These issues can have a negative impact on overall health and quality of life.

It is important to note that these risks may increase with long-term adherence to the carnivore diet. More research is needed to fully understand the health implications of this type of diet, especially in the context of long-term adherence.

While some individuals may experience benefits on the carnivore diet, it is important to carefully consider the potential health risks and side effects before making any dietary changes. It may be helpful to speak with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian to determine if the carnivore diet is safe and appropriate for your individual needs and goals.

Nutrient Deficiencies

On a carnivore diet, there may be a risk of developing nutrient deficiencies, particularly in fiber, vitamin C, vitamin D, and calcium. These deficiencies can cause a variety of health issues, such as constipation, a weakened immune system, and bone loss.

Fiber Deficiency

As a carnivore diet excludes plant-based foods, it is low in fiber. This can lead to constipation, which can cause discomfort and other digestive issues. To mitigate this deficiency, individuals can incorporate organ meats, such as liver and kidneys, which are high in nutrients and contain some fiber. Additionally, bone broth can provide some dietary fiber while also providing essential nutrients.

Vitamin C Deficiency

Fruits and vegetables are typically the main source of vitamin C in the diet. As the carnivore diet excludes these foods, it may be low in vitamin C. A deficiency in vitamin C can weaken the immune system, making the body more susceptible to infections. To mitigate this deficiency, individuals can incorporate organ meats, such as liver, which is high in vitamin C. Alternatively, vitamin C supplementation can be considered.

Vitamin D and Calcium Deficiency

Vitamin D and calcium are essential for bone health but are primarily found in dairy and fortified plant-based products. The carnivore diet excludes these foods, so it may be low in vitamin D and calcium, increasing the risk of bone loss and osteoporosis. To mitigate this deficiency, individuals can incorporate bone-in fish, such as salmon, which is high in both vitamin D and calcium. Additionally, supplementation may be necessary.

It is important to note that nutrient deficiencies can have serious health consequences. It may be helpful to work with a registered dietitian or healthcare professional to ensure that nutrient needs are being met on the carnivore diet.

High Protein Intake

The carnivore diet is a high protein diet, which may lead to increased strain on the kidneys, dehydration, and gout. It may also increase the risk of certain cancers and other health issues associated with high protein intake.

Risks of High Protein Intake

The high protein intake on the carnivore diet can strain the kidneys, which may lead to dehydration and gout. Additionally, excessive protein intake may increase the risk of certain cancers and other health issues associated with high protein diets.

Tips for Moderating Protein Intake

To moderate protein intake on the carnivore diet, consider choosing leaner cuts of meat and incorporating plant-based protein sources. It may also be helpful to track protein intake and adjust portion sizes as needed.

While protein is an essential nutrient, it is important to consume it in moderation and in balance with other nutrients to avoid negative health consequences.

High in Fat, Sodium, and Cholesterol

The Carnivore Diet is a high-fat, high-sodium, and high-cholesterol diet, which can lead to overconsumption of these nutrients. Animal-based foods are generally higher in saturated fat and cholesterol, which can raise concerns about the health effects of a diet that is high in these nutrients.

However, recent research has challenged the belief that saturated fat and cholesterol are linked to heart disease. Studies have shown that dietary cholesterol is not linked to blood cholesterol levels or heart disease. Additionally, saturated fat may not be linked to heart disease as once believed.

Despite these findings, it's important to note that the Carnivore Diet may push the limits in terms of saturated fat and cholesterol intake. Long-term health effects of consuming excessive amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol are not yet fully understood.

If you're following the Carnivore Diet, it's recommended to stick to real beef, fish, chicken, lamb, and pork products. Processed products like bacon, cheese, and lunch meats are incredibly high in sodium and should be avoided.

Overconsumption of sodium can lead to major health implications, such as high blood pressure and kidney issues.

Low-carb Diet Risks

The carnivore diet is a low-carb diet, which may lead to increased risk of certain health issues, such as nutrient deficiencies, constipation, and decreased energy levels.

Nutrient Deficiencies

A low-carb diet, such as the carnivore diet, may be deficient in certain nutrients, such as fiber, vitamin C, and potassium. This can lead to constipation, weakened immune system, and other health issues. Individuals can incorporate nutrient-dense low-carb vegetables, such as leafy greens, broccoli, and cauliflower to mitigate this deficiency.

Difficulty Sustaining Long-Term

The carnivore diet may be difficult to sustain long-term, leading to weight regain and other health issues. Additionally, a low-carb diet may lead to decreased energy levels, making it harder to engage in physical activity. To mitigate these risks, individuals can gradually increase their carb intake over time to a sustainable level.

Lack of Fiber

The Carnivore Diet lacks fiber from fruits and carbohydrates, which are important sources of this non-digestible carbohydrate. Fiber plays a crucial role in gut health, as it keeps you regular and helps to seed and fuel gut bacteria.

While some anecdotal reports from those on the Carnivore Diet claim that they do not experience constipation, low fiber intake can lead to this issue in some individuals. It's important to note that gut health is crucial for overall immunity, and fiber plays a key role in maintaining a healthy gut microbiome.

Carnivore Diet Bottom Line

The Carnivore Diet is a new and potentially dangerous dietary plan. There are no scientific studies to substantiate the claims and possible benefits of this diet.

If you decide to try the Carnivore Diet, it's important to ensure that you're getting enough hydration and electrolytes. Drinking bone broth can help with this.

However, it's crucial to do your research and proceed with caution before trying the Carnivore Diet. This diet is very restrictive not only in terms of foods, but also in terms of nutrients and minerals. It can be difficult to get adequate vitamins and minerals while only eating animal-based foods.

William H. McDaniel, MD

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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