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  • Writer's pictureNick Allen

Carnivore and vegan diets: Analyzing the latest trends in nutrition

This week I’m on vacation and have been enjoying the Wyoming national parks - Grand Teton and Yellowstone. While I’ve been fairly “busy” hiking and riding ATVs, I thought it would be fun to let loose my thoughts on today’s polarizing diets. Before I dive in, I think it’s important to state that the following is simply my perspective and, while I always aim to keep things evidence-based, high-quality nutrition research is very limited.

While diametrically opposed to one another, both the carnivore diet and the vegan diet appear to be gaining steam as of late. To be straightforward, I am not an advocate of either. Starting with carnivore (eating exclusively animal products), I’m actually not as concerned about nutrient deficiencies as many opponents are. Many are surprised to learn that eggs and meat can largely cover an individual’s vitamin and mineral requirements, and this is especially true when consuming nutrient-dense organ meats.

Nevertheless, my opinion is that cutting out vegetables likely does more harm than good. I don’t worry much about the inflammatory response to meat, but I think there could be some merit to eating vegetables with meat to minimize the extent of this inflammation. The best argument for the exclusion of vegetables and grains, from my perspective, is the calorie restriction — and perhaps carbohydrate restriction — that results. In fact, I think that caloric restriction can explain many of the benefits claimed by carnivore advocates. Although animal products are calorie-dense, it seems that it would be more difficult to overeat when consuming meat almost exclusively. Meat is satiating, and the lack of variety makes eating less enjoyable. There is a plethora of evidence suggesting that caloric restriction is beneficial for longevity.

The vegan diet is slightly more appealing to me, and I think it can serve individuals well if done properly. However, my take is that eating quality animal products is very low risk and thus the vegan diet adds unnecessary difficulty. Certain supplementation is essential when on a plant-based diet, and meeting protein targets can be difficult (note: I did not say impossible). I also struggle with the complete exclusion of meat given the key role that it played in our evolution.

Overall, I have no problem with people going vegan given that they are able to meet nutrient requirements. I do feel that some of the studies overestimate the benefits of this approach by using the Standard American Diet (appropriately abbreviated SAD) as a control. This is true for the carnivore diet as well. The SAD is filled with calorie-dense, nutrient-poor, processed foods and thus most diets will look great by comparison. Whereas my best guess is that the “success” of the carnivore diet could be attributed to caloric restriction, I would theorize that the “success” of the vegan diet is a result of caloric restriction, the consumption of whole foods, and likely some healthy user bias.

This post is not at all intended to criticize people that are committed to the carnivore diet or the vegan diet. In fact, I think their efforts say a lot about their determination to improve their health (if this is their primary motivation). My perspective is simply that these diets are difficult to maintain, and have little if any advantage over a balanced, whole food-based diet. In my opinion, the focus should be on the quality of the animal or plant products being consumed rather than the exclusion of one or the other. Like all other health-related decisions, however, this is dependent on the individual and their circumstances. We’ll continue to learn as the research evolves, but for now I will be steering clear of these two approaches.


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