The Carnivore Renegade

Carnivore Diet

Is The Carnivore Diet Safe? (Part 1)

Is The Carnivore Diet Safe?

Yes.  In fact there are several well-known personalities in the Carnivore community who have been eating a carnivorous diet for over 10 years, with nothing to report other than amazing and vibrant health. 

Additionally, the number of testimonials of people successfully using the Carnivore Diet to reverse their lifestyle and/or autoimmune disease is growing every day.

World Carnivore Month: Day 4

Happy day 4 of World Carnivore Month. I hope everyone is tracking well and enjoying their meaty days.

Meat has gotten quite a bad rap over the last few decades, so it’s not surprising to find that people will gasp in shock and horror when you explain that your diet is comprised solely of meat. Which brings us to our next common question is the Carnivore Diet safe?

Note – this post ended up being longer than expected, so join me tomorrow for part 2 of this post.

The most frequent criticisms of the Carnivore Diet are that it can’t possibly be safe.  We’re told meat causes inflammation, heart attacks, and cancer. This messaging has been around for at least 50 years now, since the introduction of the dietary guidelines in the 1970s.

During that time, obesity, autoimmune disease and other metabolic disorders have exploded. Also during that time, consumption of beef and dairy has declined, and consumption of sweeteners and vegetables oils have increased.  

So why are we told meat is the problem?

In this article:

is the carnivore diet safe

Myth 1: Cholesterol is bad

The first (and second) myth comes to us courtesy of Ancel Keys, a man who hypothesized that saturated fat and cholesterol were to blame for the rise in heart disease.  He studied it, cherry-picked his data and presented his case.

This data became known as the diet-heart hypothesis: that saturated fat raises bad cholesterol and clogs the arteries.  This hypothesis made an impact on the US dietary guidelines via the work of a junior staffer who happened to be vegetarian.  

Scientists and doctors disagreed with the recommendations at the senate hearings, however Senator George McGovern is apparently on record as saying something to the effect of “I don’t have time to wait for the science”.

I highly recommend a read of Denise Minger’s Death by Food Pyramid for more information about how the guidelines came into being.  After all, these guidelines are how saturated fat and cholesterol became so vilified. Her book discusses the history, the science and the politics behind it all.

Carnivore diet saturated fat

However, the tide has changed and science has caught up.  There have been a number of studies, articles and books written about saturated fat and cholesterol since.  These show that not only are saturated fat and cholesterol not villains after all, but they are actually quite helpful.

Time Magazine famously put the phrase Eat Butter on a cover in 2014 (you can read the article here Ending the War on Fat). This clearly demonstrates the turning tide.

Fast Facts about Cholesterol

So what does science and recent research have to tell us about saturated fat and cholesterol? Let’s dig into cholesterol first.

  • Cholesterol is so important to the body that the liver will make cholesterol in absence of dietary intake. Even if you abstain from all cholesterol intake, you will still have cholesterol being made in your body. I’m not a doctor but that seems pretty important to me
  • The liver makes about 80% of the daily cholesterol required according to Harvard Health. Simple math means that 20% of the daily cholesterol required needs to be consumed.
  • These “requirements” are based on the dietary guidelines. Remember, we haven’t come full circle on these guidelines yet, so the actual daily requirement could be higher.
  • Cholesterol and the brain: The brain contains 20% of the body’s total cholesterol. It makes up the majority of myelin, the white fatty sheath that provides a protective coating on neurons to increase the brain’s processing speed.  Cholesterol is also involved in the communication process for neurotransmitters such as dopamine and seratonin.
      • Cholesterol is so important for the brain that this study found that 85-94 year olds had a 32% lower risk in cognitive decline if they had higher cholesterol levels.
  • Cholesterol and hormones: Cholesterol is referred to as the building block of hormones. This study states “All classes of steroid hormones, glucocorticoids, mineralocorticoids, and sex hormones, are derivatives of cholesterol.”

Conclusion on cholesterol: Cholesterol is vitally important for the brain and hormones.  If you do not consume any cholesterol, your body will only make 80% (at best) of the requirement you need.  Your brain and your health will suffer.

Eat the butter.

Myth 2: Saturated Fat is Bad

As we’ve discussed, the “science” around saturated fat and the resulting health recommendations are shoddy at best.

The truth is more, not less, saturated fat is the path to health and wellness.  No, it does not clog our arteries and cause heart attacks.  

Carnivore Diet for Health

Let’s talk research for a minute.

Sydney Diet Heart study – concluded that reducing saturated fat and replacing it with polyunsaturated fat “increased the rates of death from all causes, coronary heart disease, and cardiovascular disease”

Minnesota Coronary Experiment – concluded that reducing saturated fat and replacing it with polyunsaturated fat had a significant reduction in cholesterol (which we now know now is vitally important for us to consume).  There was a 22% higher risk of death for every 30 mg/dL reduction in serum cholesterol. Finally, there was no evidence of benefit in reducing atherosclerosis or myocardial infarctions.

To put it bluntly, replacing the saturated animal fats with polyunsaturated vegetable fats not only had no health benefit, it actually left participants worse. 

Fast Facts about Saturated Fat

  • Saturated fat is an important source of cholesterol (cholesterol is vital)
  • 60% of the brain is made of fat.  50% of that is saturated fat.  This means nearly 1/3 of the brain is saturated fat.
  • Saturated fats contain many fat-soluble vitamins, including A, D and K
  • Body fat is stored as triglycerides – which is a combination of both saturated and unsaturated fatty acids.
  • Body fat is evolutionarily designed to achieve survival in times of famine.  Meaning, bare minimum survival requirements include some level of saturated fatty acids.  If they are required for survival, how can they be bad?

Conclusion on saturated fat: Studies have shown that reducing saturated fat has detrimental effects to the body.  This is partially due to replacing saturated fat calories with calories that are not ideal for consumption.  Research (and common sense) lead us to believe that saturated fat is pretty good for us.

Eat the steak and the butter and enjoy it.

If you want to delve deeper into the shady realm of saturated fat science and politics, I highly recommend a read of  Nina Teicholz’s The Big Fat Surprise for an in-depth analysis.  

Myth 3: Carbohydrates are essential

This is patently false.  Let’s think past the marketing and try to think critically for a minute.  There are essential fatty acids, and essential amino acids.  This means the body requires dietary intake of both fat and protein because the body does not manufacture these particular acids.

But – there is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate.

That’s it. No research or studies required.  Just google essential carbohydrates and see what you get.  Nothing, nil, nada, zilch.

Conclusion

The Carnivore Diet is criticized as being unsafe due to the high levels of saturated fat, cholesterol and lack of carbohydrates. While the latter is true, the former is not.  In fact, the high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol and lack of carbohydrates are likely why the diet is so successful. The combination of these three leads to a rebalancing of hormones and increased satiety levels.

What about you? What is your experience with increased saturated fat and cholesterol?  

Share this article with anyone who might still be concerned about saturated fat, cholesterol and carbohydrates.

Side note – though it is safe, you should check with your doctor, particularly if you are taking any medications.  The Carnivore Diet may affect the medication taken and the quantity (most people come off their meds, but always check with your doctor first).

Additional Resources

There are some excellent books written on the dietary guidelines and saturated fat.  If you want to delve deeper into these topics, I recommend the books below.

Follow along the World Carnivore Month Series for more Frequently Asked Questions about the Carnivore Diet.

Disclaimer: This website is for general informational purposes only. It must never be considered a substitute for advice provided by a doctor or other qualified healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare professional with questions you may have regarding your medical condition.