What is the carnivore diet?
It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like—a heavy-on-the-meat diet that consists of, well, meat, as well as a few other proteins like fish and eggs. You’ll also find butter, heavy whipping cream, and some hard cheeses in the mix. But no legumes, vegetables or grains on this diet. In fact, if the paleo diet is low-carb and the keto diet is very low-carb, then consider the carnivore diet a no-carb diet.
Before we delve into how the carnivore diet and gut health work together—it’s important that you first understand why gut health matters.
In recent years, the immune system, metabolism, hormonal balance, mood, brain function, and even genetic expression have all been connected to the health of our gut. When people take proper care of their guts, their health tends to follow. Disease gets reversed—or, better yet, prevented—and the body functions the way nature intended. You feel energized and strong, and you’re basically living your best life.
So if this is true, then it’s important to know what determines a healthy gut. Thankfully, there’s an answer from Rob Knight, M.D., and The American Gut Project. This groundbreaking 2018 study involved more than 15,000 microbiome samples from more than 11,000 human participants across 45 countries. It is by far the largest database connecting the gut microbiome to diet and lifestyle and therefore the best tool for understanding these connections.
Here’s what Knight and researchers discovered when they analyzed their database to determine the clear-cut, most powerful determinant of a healthy gut microbiome: the diversity of plants in your diet. This was more important than age, gender, nation of origin, and even recent antibiotic exposure.
Plants and our gut microbiome
Makes sense, right? Every single fruit, vegetable, whole grain, seed, nut, and legume has a unique mix of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals (aka healing chemicals exclusively found in plants). Some examples are the antioxidant anthocyanidins in blueberries for memory, beta-carotene in carrots for healthy eyes, and lycopene in tomatoes for the heart. All of the colors you find in plants are more than just easy on the eyes; they’re fuel for your health.
And wait, there’s more: When we’re talking gut microbes, there is one nutrient more essential than the rest, and that is fiber. Prebiotic fiber is food for your gut microbes. When they feast on it, they release postbiotic short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that have healing effects throughout the body. They strengthen the good gut microbes and weaken the inflammatory bad ones. They also close the holes in the colon that are often referred to as “leaky gut,” optimize the immune system, lower cholesterol, and regulate blood sugar. Not to mention that SCFAs protect humans from killers like heart disease, stroke, and cancer and even cross the blood-brain barrier to improve brain function. In short, they are powerful!
But there’s only one way to get SCFAs, and that’s through prebiotic fiber. And there is only one place you can get fiber from—plants! Yes, plants have cornered the market on fiber and SCFAs. There are some out there who may claim that you can find butyrate—one of the SCFAs—in high-fat dairy (like butter) or in a supplement. But just to set the record straight, ingested butyrate is not the same as butyrate produced by our microbes. When you eat your butyrate, it’s absorbed almost immediately in the small intestine without ever reaching the large intestine where you need it. This is why I stress the importance of fiber for SCFAs. There is no evidence that butter or a supplement is able to adequately recreate these benefits.
The carnivore diet and our gut health
Remember how the carnivore diet is all meat, eggs, and some dairy? Yeah, well, that means you can think of it as the extreme, polar opposite of a whole foods, plant-based diet.
If you’ve been paying attention, then you know there’s a problem here. I just told you that high-quality research from one of the leading scientists on the planet has shown us that the most powerful predictor of gut health is the diversity of the plants in our diet. In this regard, the carnivore diet is one-size-fits-all, and it’s not a size you want. You literally could not have less plant-based diversity than the carnivore diet. Plant diversity = ZERO.
There was also that part about the healing benefits of prebiotic fiber, how it fuels the good gut microbes by producing SCFAs and has benefits throughout the entire body, including the brain. It’s an essential nutrient for a healthy gut. But again, we have a problem. Plants have a monopoly on fiber. It doesn’t exist in meat, eggs, or dairy—the constituent parts of a carnivore diet. In other words, you could not have less fiber in your diet than you will have on the carnivore diet. So, if you believe that fiber is critical to gut health—as I do—then you could venture a guess as to how good the carnivore diet is for gut health.
In a 2014 study, researchers monitored changes to the microbiome day by day during five days on a whole foods, plant-based diet versus five days on a diet composed entirely of animal products—meat, eggs, and some dairy.
Here’s what happened when participants ate only animal products:
- Dramatic changes in the microbiome in less than 24 hours.
- Increased growth of inflammatory bacteria (Alistipes, Bilophila, andBacteroides) and decreased growth of anti-inflammatory bacteria (Roseburia, Eubacterium rectale, and Ruminococcus bromii).
- Dramatic increases in Bilophila wadsworthia, a bacteria strongly associated with the development of inflammatory bowel diseases, like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis.
- Significantly lower levels of SCFAs butyrate and acetate.
- Increased antibiotic resistance in the gut.
- Production of more secondary bile salts, which are known to cause colon and liver cancer.
So in other words, in just five days on a carnivore-like diet, the study revealed the human body began to replace “good” anti-inflammatory bacteria with “bad” inflammatory bacteria, starve our gut of healing SCFAs, and lay the foundation for antibiotic resistance, inflammatory bowel disease, and colon cancer. None of that equates to a healthier gut.
Which brings us right back to the original topic: The Carnivore Diet and why it kills twice
Well, if you didn’t figured it out yourself, here is why: First, to eat a carnivore diet, animals need to be killed and secondly, eating this way also kills you slowly. Now it is up to you to decide on your next meal.
While working with clients, I am always paying attention to the health of their gut microbiome since it is so important to our holistic health!
As a Health Coach, I am mentoring my clients to create and maintain long-term lifestyle changes to enhance their overall quality of life. In addition to supporting clients with specific goals, I empower my clients to choose health-promoting behaviors that work for them. I raise awareness and offer support as clients move in their own bio-individual ways toward the greater health they want for themselves. My coaching hopefully leads to long-term behavior change, but only because I help my clients do the meaningful work that forms a strong foundation.
How can I help you? Are there any changes you wish for yourself? Is your health the best it could be? You can book your free consultation with me now: