Not eating your vegetables appears to be the latest diet trend on social media, where users claim forgoing fruits and veggies has helped them with a variety of health concerns.
Videos of people taking on an all-meat, or carnivore, diethave elicited gasps of concern from nutritionists.
“It’s not healthy at all,” Dana Ellis Hunnes, senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, says of the diet, adding it’s “detrimental to our microbiome, to our heart health, to our brains. I can’t even say bad enough about it.”
Carnivore proponents claim eating only meat can alleviate issues like obesity, acne, eczema, psoriasis, inflammation and even autoimmune conditions. But nutritionists tell USA TODAY the diet is dangerous and suspect its apparent benefits are misinterpreted.
Carnivore diet raises ‘a lot of red flags’ for nutritionists
- The #carnivorediet tag has amassed over 645 million views on TikTok, with one user, @roryskitchen, going viral over the past two months documenting his 30 days eating only meat, bone broth, salt and water. In one video, viewed over nine million times, he says he decided to try carnivore after spending a day on the lion diet, a more restrictive version that allows only water, salt and meat from ruminant animals. (According to the lion diet’s websiteruminant animals, like cows and lamb, are those that have multiple stomachs, hooves and generally eat grass.)
- Despite the benefits touted by its adherents, an all-meat diet lacks fiberwhich is critical for digestion and gut health, as well as thiamine and folatewhich promote healthy cell function, Hunnes says.
- “I wouldn’t even recommend it for a week,” she adds. “The fact that anecdotally people are saying this doesn’t really give me the credence, the ability to say that this is safe.”
- Barbara Sobel, a clinical nutritionist who treats chronic inflammation in her clients, says a healthy diet doesn’t just eliminate food triggers, but also provides a variety of nutrients, which the carnivore diet lacks.
- “If we’re eating a diet that’s just focused on pulling things out, we’re not really eating nutrient-dense food that is contributing to building up our system and lowering inflammation and healing our gut,” Sobel says. “For our gut microbiome to be thriving and healthy and healing and provide that protective barrier, we really want to be eating colorful plant foods.”
- She adds that the carnivore diet – with its lack of fiber, antioxidants, polyphenols, vitamins, minerals, probiotics and prebiotics – could put people at an increased risk of long-term health problems, like cancer.
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Who are the carnivores?
Some carnivores, like podcaster and lion diet founder Mikhaila Peterson, turned to an all-meat diet not as part of a social media trend, but out of desperation. She claims the diet alleviated her symptoms of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, which has racked her body with severe pain and swelling most of her life. Peterson plans to return to eating vegetables when she gets a handle on her autoimmune flareups and thinks her diet is unnecessary for most people.
“The idea behind the diet, for me anyway, was always to reintroduce at least healthy vegetables back in as soon as I can figure out how not to have an immune response,” she says.
There are many others like Peterson. A private Facebook group she started for those on the diet has amassed over 12,000 members – nearly all of whom, she says, struggle with serious illness like her and see carnivores as their last hope.
“They’ve tried everything else,” she says. “Otherwise they wouldn’t get this restrictive.”
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Why do carnivores say they’ve seen benefits?
Still, this diet isn’t a good idea for anyone, says Akua Woolbright, a nutritionist with a PhD in nutritional science.
Woolbright says it makes sense people have seen initial improvement upon starting the diet. That’s because, she says, in the process of going carnivore, they likely stopped eating foods that caused a negative reaction in their bodies – but that doesn’t mean carnivore itself is healthy.
“I can see people losing weight on the diet and maybe feeling better initially because you’ve taken out the things that were poisoning your body,” like potato chips, soda, candy, popcorn and processed oils, she says.
But instead of also depriving the body of nutrient-rich vegetables, Woolbright recommends a standard elimination diet. This involves taking out the most common food triggers like corn, soy, eggs, dairy, alcohol, white sugar and white flour and reintroducing them gradually one at a time.
Woolbright recommends journaling throughout this process to keep track of how taking out and adding back in these foods makes you feel. The results, she says, can be astonishing.
“I have seen people have tremendous, crazy results using the elimination diet, like avoiding surgeries, getting past all kinds of ailments,” she says.
Despite warnings from the medical community, carnivores want research done on their diet, particularly its effects on autoimmunity.
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Such research is unnecessary and likely risky for participants, nutritionists tell USA TODAY.
But, if a study could put a potentially dangerous social media trend to rest, Sobel says it might be worthwhile.
“I would like to see some studies done before it gets recommended on TikTok and people start doing it,” she says. “That’s really the only way we would know. And I’m certainly open to being proven wrong, which happens in nutrition and health all the time.”
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