Carnivore diets can tick boxes when it comes to nutrients, but that doesn't mean they're optimal

23 Oct 2020

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?

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?

Veronique Chachay
Dr Veronique Chachay

The answer is yes, or pretty close to it, says Dr Veronique Chachay, a nutrition scientist from The University of Queensland School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences.

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.

As with many fad diets, proponents of the carnivore diet often hold it up as the ideal way to eat.

And that's simply not true, Dr Chachay says, because there is no one optimal diet.

We humans are similar to each other, but we're not clones. We have genetic differences. And just like some humans can digest the lactose in milk and others can't, it could be there are other differences that explain why some people report that they thrive on a carnivorous diet.

Dr Chachay's research deals in part with the potential for personalised diets based on an individual's unique genetic makeup, and even the makeup of their microbiome. We're not there yet, but she hopes to see it begin to happen in the near future.

"We will be able to tailor diets and ideal ratios of the micronutrients that would fit with the optimal health for the individual."

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