January 2023 is World Carnivore Month. Yes, you read that right!
World Carnivore Month started off as a dietary challenge created by advocates of animal-based diets. The month is dedicated to changing the perception of people regarding a carnivorous diet.
A carnivorous diet is a diet that consists primarily of meat and other animal products.
People who follow a carnivorous diet do it for various reasons, including the belief that it can improve health, help with weight loss, or simply because they enjoy the taste of meat.
However, there is limited scientific research on the effectiveness of a carnivorous diet for weight loss or for overall health.
The diet and its affects
The carnivorous diet focuses on meat. Just meat! It includes red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy.
The diet excludes all other produce, as well as grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
Most people who try the diet are motivated by a strong desire to lose weight or to address an autoimmune condition.
The carnivorous diet is often a step people take after trying the paleo diet, which includes fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish, eggs, nuts, and seeds, and the ketogenic diet, which is a high-fat moderate-protein low-carbohydrate diet.
South First spoke to experts in the medical field, and this is what they had to say.
“If someone wants to lose weight quickly and try this diet for a short duration, like a month or two, they can go for it. But would I recommend it for the long term? Absolutely not,” said Dr Dilip Gude, a senior consultant physician at the Yashoda Hospitals in Hyderabad.
Dr Swetha Adarsh, a consultant nutritionist from Bengaluru, said, “The carnivorous diet is just another fad diet that isn’t sustainable over time and can lead to several chronic illnesses, such as higher levels of cholesterol and heart disease. The carnivore diet is not a healthy diet as our body has not evolved to a life with only meat.”
British singer James Blunt, who was on the carnivorous diet, revealed that he had developed scurvy after attempting the diet.
Scurvy is a disease caused by the deficiency of Vitamin C because the patient did not eat enough fruits or vegetables. Its symptoms include loose teeth, bleeding gums, and bleeding under the skin. It was a common disease among pre-industrial-age sailors, who did not have a steady supply of fresh fruits.
Matters of the heart
Gude explained that there are many problems associated with the carnivorous diet.
“Red meat contains a lot of protein and a huge amount of protein intake has been associated with a higher risk of prostate cancer, colon cancer, and heart attack,” he said.
“Constipation is inevitable because there is literally no fibre content, which we would otherwise get from plant-based ingredients,” added Gude.
Adarsh added that the carnivorous diet is high in saturated fats, which can cause elevated LDL (low-density lipoprotein) levels or bad cholesterol. This puts you at risk for heart disease.
“The carnivorous diet has consequences — zero vitamins and minerals, zero fibre, and high fat, sodium, and cholesterol. This diet is not safe because we do not know the long-term effects. It restricts many more important food groups required for your health and wellness,” she said.
An all-meat diet can make one’s lipid profile go haywire as well.
“When cholesterol levels go up, there will be atherosclerosis — a build-up of fats, cholesterol, and other substances in and on the artery walls. This could result in a heart attack or a stroke,” said Gude.
There’s more! In the long term, this diet can also cause kidney damage.
“Kidneys are supposed to conserve protein. So, if there is high protein intake, the kidneys won’t be able to effectively control the protein load and there will be excessive protein seen in the urine. This can lead to kidney failure in just five years,” he said.
The body needs it all
In general, it is recommended that we all follow a varied diet that includes different types of foods from all the food groups in order to ensure that our body gets the right nutrients.
A diet consisting of only one food group will not provide the body with the nutrients it needs to function properly.
As a seasoned cardiologist, Dr Madan Mohan B at MGM Healthcare in Chennai sees a lot of patients day in and day out with high cholesterol levels. The first question he asks them is whether they eat a lot of meat, including seafood.
“Prawn, particularly, is high in cholesterol, besides most other meat. So, I usually ask my patients this if they come with high cholesterol levels. My next question is about their daily activities and exercise because it defines how well you are taking care of your heart,” Mohan told South First.
To illustrate his point, he noted that certain communities consume a lot of red meat. “But do they all get a heart attack? No. It is not the diet alone that can cause a heart attack. There are many factors related to it,” he said.
“One of the best interventions is exercise. If you start exercising every day, it reduces of risk of a heart attack. The perception that eating non-vegetarian food will result in a heart attack is wrong. There are many other factors,” said the doctor.
Tips from doctors
Gude added that there is a simple formula to know how much protein you need to consume. “One gram of protein per kilogram of your weight. So if you weigh 70 kg, do not cross 70 gm of protein intake,” he said.
Gude recommended white meat from chicken or fish as a source of non-vegetarian protein, along with regular exercise. “I do not recommend red meat at all,” he added.
Mohan said that salmon and tuna are great at keeping the heart healthy.
“These are very low in cholesterol. Soya-based products are also good and if you are looking for more protein, go for pulses and a plant-based diet. In my professional opinion, these are the best options,” he said.
He added that if you choose to consume meat regularly, then it is important to keep a regular check on your LDL levels.
“If your LDL value is less than 100 mg/dL, you are safe. For diabetes patients, the target should be 75mg/dL,” said Mohan.
Gude added that if taste and texture matter the most to you, then there are healthier options like plant-based meat.
These consist of fats, minerals, protein, water, and vitamins. And if you must diet, then the Atkins diet — which is a high-protein, high-fat, and low-carbohydrate diet — is a better option.