In the first days of 2021, controversial US podcaster, Joe Rogan, shared a photo of a plate of nothing but red meat, sliced into pieces, on social media.
The picture’s caption announced that Rogan had adopted a “strict” diet for the entire month of January, consisting of only meat and eggs.
With the rapid rise of plant based diets, and vegan lifestyle products becoming more mainstream, ‘World Carnivore Month’ may appear to be a tongue in cheek challenge to the ever popular ‘Veganuary’. However, a closer examination into the meat and egg diet shows a growing community who believe the health benefits are second to none.
What is World Carnivore Month?
World Carnivore Month has seen thousands of people around the world take on the challenge of adopting an animal-based diet for 31 days.
Humans have evolved as omnivores, consuming both animal and plant produce, but this dietary challenge encourages the elimination of plants, grains and carbohydrates, and an emphasis on meats, dairy and seafood.
The carnivore centric diet is based on the idea that a modern diet consists of lots of sugar and processed carbohydrates, leading to chronic disease.
The dietary challenge is partially attributed to Author of The Carnivore Diet, Dr Shawn Baker. Dr Baker claims that the switch to a fully carnivorous diet can rid people of multiple health problems, including gastrointestinal problems, allergy issues, and arthritis.
“The evidence indicated that humans evolved eating a highly carnivorous diet, prior to agriculture, if you look at the records, they were stronger, they had thicker bones, they even had larger brains,” he says.
Dr Baker’s philosophy is built around eliminating the other foods around the meat on the plate. His theory is that the meat itself isn’t a problem, but the vegetables grown with fertilisers, and the unhealthy soft drinks that accompany it.
On an appearance on Joe Rogan’s podcast in 2017, Dr Baker made several claims to champion the cause for carnivores far and wide. He cited an all meat diet as a way of battling cancer, and claimed that eating is primarily for getting energy and building animal tissue.
“If we look back into history, there’s all kinds of accounts of people using meat as an athletic performance enhancer. Back in the original Greek olympics, those guys knew that if they ate a lot of meat, they’d perform better,” he said at the time.
Are there health benefits to eating only meat?
The dietary challenge may seem like a slap in the face to all the nutritional education we were taught at school. The diet encourages zero fruit and vegetables, so wave goodbye to your five a day, and replace it with five rib eye steaks.
Brian St Pierre RD, who is Director of Performance Nutrition at Precision Nutrition, has said that plant based foods aren't absolutely necessary within the human diet. When listing what humans actually need to live, he says: “We need protein, fat, and vitamins and minerals in certain amounts.”
Although the carnivore diet may sound like a nightmare for nutritionists, the challenge has apparently brought with it several health benefits, backed up both by limited research and people's past experiences.
These include weight loss, lower inflammation, a boost in testosterone levels, easing of digestive problems and better heart health.
Those on the diet have also claimed to experience increased mental clarity and weight loss.
Are there health risks to only eating meat?
Although some first hand experiences of the World Carnivore Month challenge may indicate multiple health benefits, research has shown that, medically speaking, this may all be down to the elimination of processed junk food.
Nutritionist and dietitian, Lizzie Streit MS RDN LD, has said the carnivore diet lacks certain micronutrients and beneficial plant compounds, and will not contain fiber. This can lead to constipation in some people. Streit also adds that the diet may not be suited to certain people, including those with chronic kidney disease.
There is also a possible increased risk in colon cancer when undertaking an all-animal diet. Brian St Pierre says this is because partakers of the diet wouldn't be consuming food that helps to inhibit colon cancer.
Professor of medicine at Stanford University, Christopher Gardner, has criticised the all-meat diet, saying there is growing evidence that suggests the absence of adequate fibre, the bacteria in the colon consume and thin the protective mucus lining, will then lead to impaired immune functions and inflammation.
The issue of sustainability for the diet is noted as well. Although participants are encouraged to eat meat which has been grass fed, the impact of the meat industry on the environment is significant.
The carnivore diet has been growing over the last three years, with Dr Shawn Baker amassing a large social media following.
Offshoot communities include a group of entrepreneurs, who live the ‘Bitcoin carnivory’ lifestyle, which promotes a “use only Bitcoin, eat only meat” way of living. The Bitcoin carnivory movement, as previously reported on by Motherboard, is the notion of living a lifestyle that revolts against fiat (government-backed) food and money.
Part of the meat only diet movement is anti-veganism. Reddit page r/AntiVegan is devoted to tearing down the so-called “cult of veganism”, and several users on the forum website post updates of their journey on the full carnivore diet.
Dr Baker’s own Instagram account features regular mockery of vegans, and plant-based culture. He has, however, said that “most vegans are wonderful people trying to do the best thing.”