You have probably heard of the keto diet— it is high in fat and super-low carb. While it is restrictive and there are some things you need to be careful of, it has gained traction as a diet that helps you lose weight quickly. There are also other similar diets that help with losing weight. However, people are taking it to even more extreme heights and calling it the carnivore diet. As the name implies, it is a meat only diet that was popularised by a Canadian blogger.
Blogger Mikhaila Peterson, 26, was recently featured in the London-based newspaper The Times for her controversial diet. Along with her dad, the (even more controversial) Canadian author Jordan Peterson, she eats only beef and salt and drinks water. After suffering from autoimmune symptoms, like depression, fatigue, and weight gain, she says she turned to the extreme diet. “It sounds extreme but this was the only thing that made the depression completely lift, and autoimmune symptoms go away again. I’ve been eating like this since December 2017. I will never go back. I’ve never felt like this before and it’s amazing,” she writes on her blog. As she told The Times, “beef is what makes me feel the best.”
Peterson, who has an almost one-year-old daughter, also credits the diet for her amazing postpartum body.
“But I would say this is what a non-exercising woman can look like eating zero carb, after having a kid,” she posted recently.
Read the comments in her Instagram and you’ll see she’s flooded with how-tos. (“Do you eat grass-fed or grain-fed?” “Do you eat eggs?” “Do you take supplements?”) A look at the #carnivorediet on Instagram shows that there’s a growing number of people subsisting on mainly meat (and maybe some eggs and cheese).
Should you try the carnivore diet?
Absolutely not. Peterson has a long history of health problems she’s had to work through, including rheumatoid arthritis, chronic pain, and depression, and shouldn’t be faulted if she’s found something that works for her. (Her depression and arthritis have been gone since January, she says). However, Peterson’s now the poster child for the carnivore diet, something that most people shouldn’t try.
“I’m not a fan of severe restriction of entire food groups for the sake of restricting food,” says Mike Roussell, PhD, author of The MetaShred Diet. While Peterson’s goal may have been to treat her health problems, the diet is turning into largely just that—a diet for weight loss. “There is no reason why you would just eat beef, salt, and water. You can, but why? Is the fastest way to reach your goals? No. There is a myriad of data to support the consumption of a diet that is rich in meat and vegetables,” says Roussell.
Peterson does admit that there is no medical research to support her approach—and that’s key to keep in mind for anyone who’s curious if they can get the same results subsisting on only beef. “This is a classic story of a single person’s experience being expanded to predict the experience of the masses, and there’s no plausible scientific reason why you would see improvements in mental health when eating in this fashion,” says Roussell. Not to mention that it might not be the diet that “cured” her either; it’s just too big of a leap to make. Read the story as entertainment, he says, rather than taking the extreme approach as medical or nutrition advice.
Plus, it may not be good for your heart in the end—especially depending on the cuts of red meat you’re eating (and if that’s all you’re eating). (People on the carnivore diet heavily rely on fatty cuts of meat.) “Getting your protein mainly by eating red meat (like beef) regularly is associated with up to a 60 percent increased risk for heart disease; this is in contrast to fish, skinless poultry, grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and egg protein, which reduce heart disease,” says John Higgins, MD, professor of cardiovascular medicine with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth in Houston. He recommends the Mediterranean diet to his patients, something research backs up for being both healthy and as a treatment for depression.
For instance, one randomized study published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience found that adults with depression following a Mediterranean diet for three months saw their depression scores improve by 45 per cent compared to 27 per cent of those undergoing group therapy. Another in BMC Medicine, found that 32 per cent of people on a Mediterranean-like diet achieved remission in their depression scores, compared to 8 per cent in a support group.
However, that doesn’t mean beef is out. Roussell recommends including beef to support overall health. “Beef contains 10 essential nutrients that can support a healthy functioning body from immune health to brain health to muscular recovery and growth,” he says. His research shows that daily consumption of lean beef alongside a low sat fat diet that includes whole grains and vegetables reduce risk factors for heart disease, he says.