What is the Carnivore Diet?
July 27, 2023
A popular trend on TikTok and other social platforms, the carnivore diet is exactly what it sounds like—an eating plan that’s all about meat. On this all-animal diet, participants forgo side dishes and sustain themselves on meat, seafood, eggs, and perhaps dairy. The carnivore diet is a type of Primal and ancestral diet, but those diet types allow for more produce. Similar to the keto diet, the carnivore diet is very low in carbohydrates; calories come almost exclusively from protein and fat.
How the Carnivore Diet Works
Within the community of carnivore eaters, there’s a vast range of applications. Unlike other similar diets, there is no one unifying source material or set of “laws.” Rules for the carnivore diet are usually set by the practitioner based on their goals and preferences. Many people use carnivore as a “reset” or temporary elimination diet as a way to try to address certain health issues. Others seek to phase out plant materials that don’t suit their system or simply want to explore how they’ll feel eating a meat-centric diet. For some, it is a long-term, meat-based lifestyle.
Simply put, the carnivore diet focuses on eating meat—often from nose to tail—and no (or very few) plants. The carnivore diet tends to be a good fit for those who are:
- curious about eating an animal-based diet
- seeking possible benefits of a very low-carb diet
- wanting to try a straightforward elimination diet
- wishing to further simplify their real-food meal prep and shopping trips
If you’re considering trying this trend, there are ways to focus on animal proteins while also adding flavor and flexibility to keep meat-based meals interesting.
What Can You Eat on the Carnivore Diet?
Grass-fed, pasture-raised meats and wild-caught seafood are ideal for the carnivore diet. Although strict carnivore eating is meat only, many carnivore enthusiasts also include eggs and full-fat dairy products in their menus. Participants should limit processed meats (including deli lunch meats). Of all the ancestral-eating diet plans, the carnivore diet is perhaps the most self-explanatory, but following the diet and maintaining tastes and textures you love leaves lots of room for interpretation.
At its most strict, this diet consists of exclusively animal products without frills: some purists don’t even leave room for seasoning. More relaxed versions still don’t allow grains or sugars, but some folks choose to include herbs and spices, condiments, or small amounts of low-carb, non-starchy vegetables.
Carnivore is technically a zero-carbohydrate (or very low-carb) diet. There’s no minimum required amount of protein and counting carbs isn’t necessary on carnivore, because you’ll be eating high-protein and low-carb no matter what. If you’re wondering how to start the carnivore diet, but are worried about finding flavor and beating meat-based boredom, consider classic starter condiments like Unsweetened and Organic Ketchup and Organic Spicy Brown Mustard.
Fruits and Oils
While strict carnivores eat ZERO fruits and vegetables, non-sweet fruits like avocados (a fat we love!) and cucumbers are usually considered permissible on more relaxed carnivore plans. Some dieters include fruits and vegetables to aid digestion. These folks consider tolerating foods other than animal products a sign of metabolic flexibility, which is the ability to use fat, ketones, and glucose for fuel easily.
Many carnivore diet followers use avocado oil to prepare meats and seal in the juicy flavor. Fats on the carnivore diet are a-OK! While a strict carnivore diet only allows animal fats like tallow and lard, adding supplemental fat in the form of Avocado Oil or Extra Virgin Olive Oil is acceptable for more relaxed carnivores. Avocado oil has a high smoke point, around 520°F, which is why we gravitate toward it for baking, broiling, and sauteing.
Salt, Pepper, and Seasonings
Even on the most pure versions of carnivore, seasonings like salt and pepper (in moderation) are permissible. Consider expanding your palate with a wide range of spices like turmeric, basil, bay leaf, sage, or thyme. You can even experiment with a dry rub if you’re feeling adventurous. Try this coffee dry rub on chicken.
Condiments and sauces with simple ingredients can be used to enhance and add interest to your meat-based dishes. Try our Unsweetened Classic BBQ Sauce or a Steak Sauce made without corn syrup and cane sugar. Just a teaspoon of flavor-forward organic sauces like Golden BBQ can make all the difference on a grilled steak or turkey burger. Add a dash of Organic Tartar Sauce or Unsweetened Cocktail Sauce to seafood dishes for a touch of Primal-approved flavor and texture to keep meals appetizing and banish boring monotony.
Coffee, Red Wine, and Other Beverages
Hold on to your horses, because this one can be the most difficult part of going full-bore carnivore: no more morning lattes! The short answer to the beverage question is that on a strict carnivore plan, only water and bone broth are allowed. If you’re including dairy, milk would also be allowed. Those who subscribe to more lenient versions of a carnivore diet may also include plain, unsweetened tea and coffee in their regimen.
If you’re pursuing a strict carnivore diet, fans recommend slowly eliminating coffee from your routine over the course of a month. Some find the major adjustments to your diet can alter the effects of caffeine on your body. The same goes for soda and alcohol––to feel the full effects of an elimination diet, skip imbibing for the time being. Consider keeping track of the effects of different beverages while overhauling your diet to find the right balance for your body.
Collagen Powders and Drinks
While eating nose-to-tail as our ancestors did means you’re naturally getting lots of collagen in your diet via skin, connective tissue, and boiling bones into broth, you can supplement with collagen. Definitely consider adding plain, unflavored Collagen Peptides to your routine if your diet consists of mostly muscle meats. The amino acid profile of collagen, which is rich in glycine, helps balance the methionine content of a meat-centric diet.
How to Spice Up a Carnivore Diet
Shopping for your carnivore diet experience might seem easy––just grab your favorite items at the butcher counter. However, to fully experience the diet, followers are advised to eat nose-to-tail and explore other options outside of the traditional cuts to include more vitamins and minerals.
Beyond fish, fowl, and red meats such as beef, venison, and bison, dieters may wish to incorporate eggs, dairy, and oils. Fats like lard, ghee, and avocado oil can be used to impart extra flavor while your protein is cooking, or you can add a small pat of butter to top up cooked steaks and burgers. If you’re willing to stray from the strict carnivore diet, dressings and marinades are also a simple and delicious way to punch up the flavor of your dishes. Condiments like Spicy Brown Mustard and Unsweetened Ketchup deliver bright, bold flavors that can break the monotony of a meaty routine.
In addition to salt, pepper, and plain seasonings (make sure there are no added sugars), Primal Kitchen Mayo with Avocado Oil and our flavored mayos make a great binder for an easy chicken salad, and our Steak Sauce is perfect for dipping meats since it’s made without cane sugar, corn syrup, or added sweeteners. If you like the bolder flavor and juicy texture that comes with marinating proteins, our delicious Dressings double as easy marinades for all manner of meats.
Sample Menu: A Day on the Carnivore Diet
There’s no set amount of meals or timing that you have to follow on a carnivore plan. Some dieters snack or have smaller meals throughout the day, while others follow a more traditional schedule. If you’re already following a Primal way of eating, the transition to a carnivore plan isn’t difficult. Many of the main dishes in our recipe section can be easily adapted to remove any vegetables or other foods that don’t fit into a carnivore lifestyle. Here’s a sample day based on a traditional three-meal-a-day plan with an added snack:
For additional recipes and a full grocery list, check out our article on a Carnivore Diet Meal Plan for Beginners, which also includes a video featuring Primal Kitchen co-founder Mark Sisson’s favorite meat dishes.
Continuing on a Carnivore Diet
Just because an eating regimen is trendy or works for some people doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone. Some practitioners may choose to transition into an ongoing lifestyle, while others adopt a carnivore plan in the short term and then begin adding in other foods. If you’re been trying carnivore for a while, whether you should continue this diet plan depends on many factors, most notably how you feel and how your body is impacted. As with all new eating plans or diets, keeping track of how you feel is key to understanding if it’s right for you in the long or short term.
Logging your physical reactions and experiences in a journal can help you decide what works best for your body and digestive system. Many carnivore dieters consider one month the adaptation/transition period before entering into the full-time lifestyle, adopting different levels of rigidity along the way. The bottom line is that, like all diets, carnivorous eating is not a one-size-fits-all plan. For the best chance at long-term success, listen to what your body is telling you and then adapt accordingly.