The Truth About The Buzzy Carnivore Diet

Photographed by Laura Murray.
Last summer, controversial self-help guru Jordan Peterson's daughter, Mikhaila Peterson, went viral because she claimed that a diet of only beef cured her juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and depression. After experimenting with elimination diets, she decided that red meat was the only food that she could tolerate eating without experiencing any uncomfortable side effects.
"I've been eating only beef since January 2018, and only meat since December 2017," Mikhaila, who doesn't have an educational background in nutrition, said in a November 2018 YouTube video. The process of eliminating everything but beef from her diet was "terrifying," and her "digestion got screwed up in a scary way," she said. She described feeling drunk and uncomfortably bloated after eating her all-beef diet, but she stuck with it, and said after a number of weeks she felt better.
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While Peterson is just one blogger selling pseudoscience on the internet (a 30-minute nutrition consultation with Peterson costs $120 USD), she makes a convincing case for how her diet helped relieve her own frustrating autoimmune disease symptoms that impressionable people would happily buy into. But, here's the deal: There's no research to support that an all-meat diet would benefit your health in any way, says Alyssa Pike, RD, a registered dietitian and nutrition communications manager at the International Food Council Foundation.
On a basic level, meat is composed of protein, an essential nutrient made of amino acids; fats, a source of fuel; and valuable vitamins. While those are three important nutrients, eating meat alone will not fulfill your nutrition needs. "If you’re only eating meat, your diet will lack the nutrients found in the fruits, vegetables, legumes, or whole grains that you’ve omitted from your diet," Pike says. "These foods all provide essential vitamins and minerals." For example, fiber is one of the most important carbohydrates you can include in your diet, but it's not found in meat, she says.
In general, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests eating 2-6.5 ounces of protein foods per day, depending on your age, sex, and level of activity, Pike says. "There aren’t further recommendations about how often to eat meat each day or week, but it is recommended to choose lean meats whenever possible," she says. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests eating a variety of protein sources, including plant-based proteins like legumes and grains.
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Eating nothing but red meat could have some negative health consequences in the long run. For years, studies have linked eating red meat on a regular basis to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and "an elevated risk of mortality," aka death. Of course, eating red meat isn't going to kill you, but Pike says she typically recommends eating lean cuts of red meat no more than twice per week.
Besides the fact that beef and other red meat isn't great for you, deciding to eat a restrictive diet that consists of just one food or food group — and puts all others in the "off-limits" category — is generally a bad idea, because it harms your relationship to food. Food is more than something we consume for fuel; it's meant to be enjoyed for the flavor and pleasure it brings us. While there may be some days when you really crave a juicy steak or a thick hamburger, there may be others when you're jonesing for a satisfying salad or piece of salmon. And you shouldn't deny your body and your cravings simply because you've bought into a carnivore diet belief system.
As whacky as the all-meat diet sounds, Mikhaila's story is an example of the lengths people will go to when they feel like the healthcare system has failed them in some way. While it's tempting to buy into whatever diet someone on the internet said worked for them, Mikhaila just one person with a very specific, rigid, and unscientific diet.
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