Carnivore, Herbivore or Omnivore?

Carnivore, Herbivore or Omnivore?

By Taylor Noriega, NSCA, Pn1, CPPC

Carnivore, Herbivor or Omnivore?

It’s no joke how popular the carnivore diet has become in the last few years, and it’s crazy to think about how much meat people are eating on these diets.  The carnivores say they feel better than ever and would never consider eating anything outside a nose-to-tail diet ever again.  Nose-to-tail meaning the whole animal: meat, organs, bones, and everything in between.  It’s basically the total opposite end of the spectrum to veganism.  There’s anecdotal evidence of people claiming the diet cured their autoimmune disorders and other diseases.  However, there has yet to be any significant studies done to support these claims.  Some call it a “lazy elimination diet” because yes, when you eat all meat, you’re cutting out everything else that could potentially be an allergen or an inflammatory.  So which is it?  Is eating all meat really that miraculous or is it just that we’re not eating the things that were actually causing the diseases?  On the other hand, it feels as though there’s been an incredible pressure by today’s society to go “plant based.”  Big food corporations and government health officials alike are pushing the message that cutting animal products entirely is the solution to our health and environmental problems.  Which begs the herbivore question: should we be eating only plants all the time?  

Let’s go over some of the facts first.  Meat is an incredibly nutrient dense food, including certain nutrients you can’t find anywhere else. To name a few, you cannot get all 9 essential amino acids, B vitamins, heme iron, or saturated fats from plants.  Not to mention the protein that comes from meat is far more bioavailable than plant proteins.  So it’s safe to say that animal products in general are amazing for our health and when those animals are farmed correctly, they have a regenerative impact on the environment.  According to a recent research article by Beal and Ortenzi, organ meats, small fish, beef, and goat are among the top ten most micronutrient dense foods.  So it makes sense why people are feeling so good on the carnivore diet. Their food is very nutrient dense. Does that mean I think we should be eating only meat all the time?  No, at least not until more research and long term studies are available.  While animal fats are nutritious, saturated fats need to be accounted for especially when eating at maintenance calories or above due to the fact that saturated fats are still connected to cardiovascular disease. 

Let’s go over the other facts: fiber is a key nutrient that meat does not contain.  There’s soluble, insoluble and resistant fiber.  All of which our bodies need for digestion, gut health, satiety, and regulation of blood glucose and blood cholesterol.  Among all the benefits that fiber is associated with, regulating blood cholesterol is a huge factor when it comes to preventing cardiovascular disease.  We have a balancing of the scales here.  Saturated fats from animal proteins that could potentially increase risk for CVD is now lowered just by consuming adequate fiber.  The only whole food sources we can get this nutrient from are plant products.  No matter how much a doctor on instagram tries to tell you plants are bullshit, they’re really not.  Fruits and vegetables also contain phytonutrients, which are not essential for health, but are still incredibly beneficial; the most famous benefit being antioxidants.  Vegetables also have a high association with decreasing cancer risk.  Dark leafy greens are listed among the top 10 most micronutrient dense foods in the research article I mentioned earlier.  Lower down the list are seeds, vitamin A rich fruits, and nuts.  Yes, they are further down the list, but they are still more nutritious than all other foods.  The leaders in the carnivore movement claim most vegetables have negative effects on health, yet there’s no significant evidence to back this.  I promise you, no one is giving themselves autoimmune disorders from eating too many vegetables.  Unless you have an allergy or went through an elimination diet, there’s no reason to avoid plants.  Does this mean I think we should be eating only plants?  Nope.  There are a handful of nutrient deficiencies that come with cutting out animal products because we can only get them from animals.  The only alternative is to supplement these, but we know whole food sources are far more bioavailable than that of synthetic vitamins and minerals.

It’s important to note that an alternative carnivore option exists and that is “animal-based” eating.  You’re still eating nose-to-tail, but certain fruits, vegetables and dairy products are allowed.  From a nutrient perspective, this is better, but variety (and enjoyment honestly) is still limited. 

Overall, if it’s weight loss you’re striving for, you don’t need any type of diet to achieve that. (Read one of my past articles here explaining this and laying out “the secret sauce to fat loss”).  If it’s optimal health that you are striving for, you’re not going to achieve it through carnivorism or plant-based eating alone.  Plant and animal products compliment each other so well in both our health and the environment.  Nose-to-tail animal products are packed with essential nutrients, however, as discussed earlier, plants also have certain nutrients beneficial to health that animal products do not.  Our current climate crisis desperately needs regenerative farming to help bring life back into the earth.  Those farming practices require BOTH plant produce and livestock.  I whole-heartedly believe there are pieces of the carnivore/animal-based diets like consuming organ meats that we should be implementing into our regular diets all without sacrificing the benefits of fruits and vegetables.  What better way to make sure our bodies are getting every micronutrient it needs than by getting the best of both worlds?  If we’re looking at labels, then I guess my call to eat the highest quality plants and animals is the “omnivore movement.”

So, primals, how you decide to eat is not up to me, but as a nutrition coach I always encourage sustainability.  If eating 100% meat and organs makes you happy and helps you feel healthy and strong, by all means go for it!  However, if something like this is too restrictive for you, it may not be worth the shot.  And remember, it’s not your only route to optimal health.