You might have seen celebrities endorsing meat-only diets, claiming it’s cured them of chronic diseases and, of course, helped them stay lean.
To people who are tuned in to health research, these diets seem … iffy.
They certainly go against the Australian dietary guidelines that prioritise fruit, vegetables and grain foods, and recommend limiting animal products to a couple of serves a day.
And for some people, eating meat or even any animal products is absolutely off the table for ethical or environmental reasons.
But let’s say you did choose to follow an all-meat diet. Would it be possible to get everything you need from it? And how new is this idea really?
On paper, the carnivore diet looks OKish
The carnivore diet takes the low-carbohydrate approach of paleo, keto or Atkins to a new level, cutting out everything but animal products.
There are variations: some people eat only beef, some eat a wider variety of meat, and whether cheese and butter are on the menu also varies between followers.
But if we approach the question from strictly a health perspective, is it even possible to get all the nutrients your body needs from only animal products?
The answer is yes, or pretty close to it, says Veronique Chachay, a nutrition scientist from the University of Queensland.
She put versions of a carnivorous diet through dietary composition analysis software and found that, depending on the particular mix of animal foods included, pretty much all the necessary vitamins and minerals were accounted for.
“From purely a micronutrient point of view, we can’t say people cannot meet their requirements,” Dr Chachay says.
Ticking the boxes on nutrients is only part of the story. We know that fibre is important for digestive health and fostering a diversity of health-promoting gut bacteria — and fibre is notably absent in carnivorous diets.
So experts are keen to know more about the science of why some people report feeling good on such diets, even after following them for a long time.
But we don’t know much about the long-term impacts of this diet, and scientists are calling for more research.
Lessons from the Inuit diet
The Inuit — First Nations people from northern North America — have a traditional diet made up almost exclusively from animal products.
They’re often held up as evidence that a carnivorous diet can be healthy. So what does the Inuit diet actually look like?
Researchers in 2004 conducted surveys in 18 Indigenous communities in Canada where people followed the traditional diet, or pretty close to it.
They found community members ate well over a kilogram a day of animal products, and between 28 and 160 grams a day of plant foods.
The research shows it is possible to thrive on a very animal-heavy diet, says Clare Collins, a professor of…