Many people are familiar with the ketogenic diet and rave about its benefits, but a newer low-carb protocol is on the scene and if you think keto is extreme, hold tight: here at Konscious Keto, we want to give you the 411 on the carnivore or zero-carb diet.
What is the Meat Only Diet (Carnivore Diet)?
While the standard ketogenic diet allows and encourages eating low-glycemic vegetables (kale, spinach, broccoli) and fruits (blueberries, strawberries) to a degree, as long as it's within your designated daily carbohydrate macronutrient budget, the zero-carb diet eliminates all fruits and vegetables from the diet.
True to its name: the zero-carb, carnivore, diet is an eating style solely consisting of animal meats like beef, chicken, fish, and oysters. Those who strictly follow the zero-carb protocol completely eliminate most of the other food groups from their diet.
Some opt to include dairy in this meal plan, along with coffee or tea, but most restrict their intake on this eating protocol to animal meats and water.
How to Get Started on a Meat Only Diet
The transition to the zero-carb diet is simple but does require some planning. Consider starting the program with a 30-day challenge and give yourself an opportunity to test the waters and see whether the diet is right for you, without too long of an upfront commitment.
The 30-day trial of the carnivore diet is a time to determine whether the lifestyle agrees with your body, evidenced by tangible health benefits.
Do you sleep better, have fewer aches and pains, have more energy, or less of an appetite?
These could all be indications that the lifestyle is a good fit—although we can easily receive all those benefits and more, with significantly less restriction, on a standard ketogenic diet.
In addition to the symptoms mentioned above: a reduction in inflammation, improved thyroid levels, and weight loss are also markers that your body is responding well to this über-restrictive dietary protocol. Again remember, it’s quite simple to experience these same results, with a lot less dietary restriction, on keto.
The zero-carb eating style is more geared toward those looking to remediate some illnesses or certain digestive disorders through a process of elimination, as opposed to just wanting to release fat.
For those who think the carnivore diet may help mitigate specific health and physiological issues, the following are a few simple steps to help you get started:
Eat Animal Products, Mainly Meat & Fish
Restrict your diet to meat and fish. Include water as your beverage of choice and add in coffee, tea, or dairy if it agrees with your body.
Eat for Satiety without Restriction
Eat until you feel full without counting or restricting calories. The amounts of meat to eat each day will vary based on your current weight, activity level, and your daily energy needs.
Some on a carnivore diet may consume two pounds of meat a day and others five pounds.
Eat intuitively and only until satiated; your ideal energy intake will become clear over time.
While some opt to include dairy, and coffee or tea, to their diet while eating zero-carb, water is still the go-to beverage on this eating protocol.
Furthermore, you will undoubtedly remain in ketosis on a diet with zero carbs, so it is imperative to replenish water in the body, as well as electrolytes, as they are naturally lost when carbs are reduced drastically.
Source Quality Meat
Whether you source your animal meats from your local market, local farmers, or through a service that provides a monthly box or food delivery (e.g., Butcher Box, AmazonFresh, Carnivore Club, etc.), opt for the best quality food within your budget.
Sourcing locally provides us with a connection to our food, something often lost in translation in modern society, and it helps support local farmers.
However, the variety of meat-based subscription boxes available are a super convenient option to help keep you on the plan, so do what works best for you.
Meal Timing and Intermittent Fasting
There are no hard-and-fast rules around meal timing on the carnivore diet.
If you decide to incorporate intermittent fasting, you may want to opt for a 16/8 method. For men, the ideal is fasting window is for 16 hours and then feeding during an 8-hour period. More ideal for women is 14-15 hours fasting with the remainder in a feeding state.
Also, if very active and tearing muscle fibers often that require additional support to facilitate repair and recovery, it is ideal to eat protein immediately following a vigorous workout or in the evening to promote muscle repair and maintenance during rest.
Carnivore Diet Food List
At this point you may be like, "I get it, I can only eat animal-based meats to the exclusion of almost everything else. But which meats are ideal on a carnivore diet?"
Surely at this point, it's clear that this protocol is one void of plant-based proteins like tempeh or soy, but animal meats like beef, chicken, squid, salmon, duck, lamb, crab, and lobster are all permitted on the zero-carb diet, just to name a few.
Although very restrictive in the sense that many food groups are eliminated, there is still a wide variety of meat to select from on this plan, from the sea and on land, that is perfectly suitable on a zero-carb diet.
But even with that, we'll admit, we would at the very least miss noshing on a creamy, ripe, avocado throughout the week—just saying.
Recommended Carnivore Diet Food List:
Type of Protein
Liver, bone marrow (bone broth), kidneys
Lamb, wild game, pork, beef
Seafood, fish, turkey, chicken
Goose eggs, duck eggs, chicken eggs
Cheese, butter, heavy cream
Meat Only Diet Weight Loss FAQs
Do I Only Need to Eat Grass-Fed Meat?
It isn't mandatory to eat grass-fed meats on a carnivore diet, but it is ideal—especially since these foods make up the entirety of the menu on the zero-carb dietary protocol.
When eating a diet solely comprised of meats and choosing less-than-premium options—those filled with hormones, antibiotics, artificial colors, and preservatives—could cause compounding and disproportionately adverse effects long-term.
If cost is a challenge, consider joining a local food co-op or CSA (community-supported agriculture) collective.
Also, consider being creative and diligent with shopping for deals, as grass-fed meats do go on sale and you can position yourself to take full advantage of it to stock up whenever possible.
Can I Eat Processed Meat?
Eating processed meats like salami, or highly-processed meats like bologna is permissible but generally not advised.
Processed meats by definition are not whole foods; they're a mashing together of animal parts, maybe not even from the same animal.
Furthermore, these manufactured foods are usually pumped with preservatives, hormones, nitrates, and nitrites, all of which are linked to health problems, including but not limited to cancer.
If you decide to incorporate some form of processed meat into your zero-carb diet, choose meats free of nitrates and nitrites, and go with organic meats, free of antibiotics, whenever possible.
Although cured meats like salami, pepperoni, or chorizo can be great for snacking on-the-go, it's best to avoid these meats in the first 30 days on the carnivore diet as they tend to contain hidden carbs and sugars.
If you feel eating these cured meats is necessary for you to transition to the carnivore diet, be mindful to choose cleaner brands, free of sugars and unwanted fillers, like those sold by Applegate Farms.
The same is true for some sausages on the market, they're often packed with fillers, sugars, and carbs to bulk them up.
Instead of sausage, unless it's a brand free of sugars and fillers, select a sugar-free, fatty, bacon to avoid the unwanted carbs.
Is This a Long-Term or Short-Term Diet?
Some opt to try a carnivore diet as a short-term solution to jumpstart weight loss, break through a fat-loss plateau, or to pinpoint the source of an allergy or other health issues.
Others choose to live a zero-carb lifestyle long-term because it may prove helpful to those suffering from certain disorders that require a form of dietary elimination to avoid adverse effects.
Eating an exclusive meat diet may be unrealistic for many people long-term, but there are people in the zero-carb community who have successfully maintained the lifestyle for more than a decade.
So, it's feasible to eat only animal meat as a new way of life for an extended period, especially if you feel & see the benefits in your body.
What About Constipation?
Some report constipation when beginning several types of new diets; it's the body's response to change. It's understandable that people may wonder about constipation on a meat-only, fiber-free, diet—since fiber is synonymous with healthy food digestion and elimination.
Conversely, many find they experience regular but just less fecal output on a zero-carb diet because meat is more easily broken down and digested in the small intestine than foods high in insoluble fiber, which produces more waste.
Will Eating Too Much Meat Cause Kidney Damage?
There's some preliminary research to indicate that solely eating meat doesn't lead to kidney damage, short-term, but there are no long-term studies on the impact of eating a carnivore diet at this time, so more research is required.
However, the removal of glucose from the diet will likely improve all physiological function, per ketosis, and the removal of carbohydrates will also work to remediate insulin resistance, all of which alleviates stress on our organs.
Do I Need To Take Supplements?
Not necessarily. Eating a diet of animal meats, tends to provide a considerable amount of vitamins and minerals.
However, the removal of all fruits and vegetables may exacerbate pre-existing nutritional deficiencies. Consult your physician to determine your nutritional state before beginning a new dietary lifestyle to see where your body may need additional supplementation, to avoid possible shortfalls.
In addition to our need for appropriate amounts of vitamins and minerals in our diet, electrolytes are essential to creating balance in the body, as well—especially when eating a low or no-carb diet.
The following are essential elements to incorporate into your regimen if on a low or zero-carb diet:
Fatty fish like salmon, halibut, and mackerel, are all replete with omega-3 fatty acids, which are ideal for optimal performance. Fortunately, the fish mentioned above are all also abundant in the essential mineral, magnesium.
In addition to providing an ample amount of magnesium, the fatty fish noted provide an adequate amount of protein to build, maintain, and repair muscle tissue.
Meat and dairy contain calcium in varying amounts. If you choose not to consume dairy: poultry, pork, duck, and lamb are all excellent sources of animal-based calcium that are outstanding options to round out your nutritional profile on a carnivore, zero-carb, diet.
Similar to magnesium, potassium is found in abundance in fatty fish, and it is important to incorporate it into your diet to ensure adequate intake of this vital nutrient.
We strongly support a ketogenic diet, inclusive of low-glycemic fruits and vegetables, dairy, meat, fish, nuts and seeds and quality oils like MCT and avocado oil.
A diverse dietary profile inclusive of different food groups is the most realistic and satisfying for most people, as opposed to a meat-only diet.
Furthermore, you can maximize your energy, as well as your cognitive and athletic performance by incorporating exogenous, vegan, ketones, like Keto Activate, into your dietary protocol to boost ketone bodies—which provide an added metabolic, fat-burning benefit—without disrupting your depleted glucose levels.
And who doesn't want to live in an optimal state, filled with youth-like vitality?
Everyone's bodies and dietary needs are different. Some thrive on a traditional ketogenic diet, others on a high-protein keto diet, and some find health benefits and a reduction in adverse health symptoms on a zero-carb, carnivore diet.
Those who maintain this lifestyle long-term, generally do so because they experience a genuine and positive change in the way they feel, how they look, and an improvement in their overall body composition.
It may even be helpful to utilize a zero-carb diet cyclically, oscillating between a ketogenic, low-carb, diet and a zero-carb, carnivore, diet.
Those on keto may want to experiment with the zero-carb diet for a period to shake things up and blast through a weight-loss plateau, but realistically many will feel more fulfilled long-term on a version of a ketogenic diet that offers a lot more dietary options, including low-glycemic fruits and vegetables.
A 30-day dietary experiment with the carnivore diet could reveal that it's right for you, or it may make it clear that an iteration of a ketogenic diet—rich in animal products, dairy, and low-glycemic vegetable and fruits—is a more well-rounded and sustainable option.
Again, there are no hard-and-fast rules. Do what works for you and keep your optimal health at the center of your efforts.
Pay attention to how your body reacts to what you eat, and you will undoubtedly find which dietary protocol works best for your lifestyle and your health and wellness goals.
- Zdzieblik, D., Oesser, S., Baumstark, M. W., Gollhofer, A., & König, D. (2015). Collagen peptide supplementation in combination with resistance training improves body composition and increases muscle strength in elderly sarcopenic men: A randomized controlled trial. British Journal of Nutrition, 114(08), 1237-1245. doi:10.1017/s0007114515002810
- Zheng, J., Huang, T., Yu, Y., Hu, X., Yang, B., & Li, D. (2011). Fish consumption and CHD mortality: An updated meta-analysis of seventeen cohort studies. Public Health Nutrition, 15(04), 725-737. doi:10.1017/s1368980011002254
- Zhang, J., Wang, C., Li, L., Man, Q., Meng, L., Song, P., . . . Du, Z. (2012). Dietary inclusion of salmon, herring, and pompano as oily fish reduces CVD risk markers in dyslipidaemic middle-aged and elderly Chinese women. British Journal of Nutrition, 108(08), 1455-1465. doi:10.1017/s0007114511006866
- Zhang, J., Wang, C., Li, L., Man, Q., Song, P., Meng, L., . . . Frøyland, L. (2010). Inclusion of Atlantic salmon in the Chinese diet reduces cardiovascular disease risk markers in dyslipidemic adult men. Nutrition Research, 30(7), 447-454. doi:10.1016/j.nutres.2010.06.010