Behavioral Characteristics and Self-Reported Health Status among 2029 Adults Consuming a "Carnivore Diet"

Curr Dev Nutr. 2021 Nov 2;5(12):nzab133. doi: 10.1093/cdn/nzab133. eCollection 2021 Dec.


Background: The "carnivore diet," based on animal foods and excluding most or all plant foods, has attracted recent popular attention. However, little is known about the health effects and tolerability of this diet, and concerns for nutrient deficiencies and cardiovascular disease risk have been raised.

Objectives: We obtained descriptive data on the nutritional practices and health status of a large group of carnivore diet consumers.

Methods: A social media survey was conducted 30 March-24 June, 2020 among adults self-identifying as consuming a carnivore diet for ≥6 mo. Survey questions interrogated motivation, dietary intake patterns, symptoms suggestive of nutritional deficiencies or other adverse effects, satisfaction, prior and current health conditions, anthropometrics, and laboratory data.

Results: A total of 2029 respondents (median age: 44 y, 67% male) reported consuming a carnivore diet for 14 mo (IQR: 9-20 mo), motivated primarily by health reasons (93%). Red meat consumption was reported as daily or more often by 85%. Under 10% reported consuming vegetables, fruits, or grains more often than monthly, and 37% denied vitamin supplement use. Prevalence of adverse symptoms was low (<1% to 5.5%). Symptoms included gastrointestinal (3.1%-5.5%), muscular (0.3%-4.0%), and dermatologic (0.1%-1.9%). Participants reported high levels of satisfaction and improvements in overall health (95%), well-being (66%-91%), various medical conditions (48%-98%), and median [IQR] BMI (in kg/m2) (from 27.2 [23.5-31.9] to 24.3 [22.1-27.0]). Among a subset reporting current lipids, LDL-cholesterol was markedly elevated (172 mg/dL), whereas HDL-cholesterol (68 mg/dL) and triglycerides (68 mg/dL) were optimal. Participants with diabetes reported benefits including reductions in median [IQR] BMI (4.3 [1.4-7.2]), glycated hemoglobin (0.4% [0%-1.7%]), and diabetes medication use (84%-100%).

Conclusions: Contrary to common expectations, adults consuming a carnivore diet experienced few adverse effects and instead reported health benefits and high satisfaction. Cardiovascular disease risk factors were variably affected. The generalizability of these findings and the long-term effects of this dietary pattern require further study.

Keywords: animal-based foods; cardiovascular disease risk; diabetes; ketogenic diet; low-carbohydrate diet; meat; micronutrients; obesity.