Embarking on the carnivore diet is akin to stepping into a new world. It's a world where you might have heard whispers of miraculous health transformations, increased energy levels, and rejuvenated vitality.
But as with any journey into the unknown, it's only natural to have questions and even some apprehensions. After all, a diet consisting solely of meat - can it be too good to be true?
The truth is, there are both short and long-term side effects of carnivore diet. And yes, some of them might be a bit uncomfortable, especially in the initial stages. There could be digestive issues, cravings, and perhaps even some irritability. In the long term, other concerns like nutrient deficiencies and cholesterol might pop up.
But before you throw in the towel, take a deep breath. We're not here to scare you away, but to prepare you for the journey ahead. Because with the right guidance, these carnivore diet side effects can be managed, minimized, and even avoided altogether. And more importantly, the benefits of this dietary change dramatically outweigh the downsides.
So, stick around as we navigate these choppy waters together. We'll share practical tips to help you overcome these hurdles and continue on your path to a healthier, happier lifestyle.
Does Carnivore Diet Have Side Effects?
Anytime you hear that a revolutionary diet, a magical pill, or some other “cure-all” has no side effects, it’s generally best to turn around and run in the other direction. The truth is, all diets have some degree of side effects - and carnivore is no different.
With that said, the question shouldn’t be - does the carnivore diet have side effects? Rather, you should ask - what are the side effects of the carnivore diet? And, more importantly, do those side effects outweigh the carnivore diet benefits you stand to gain?
We’ll answer all these questions and many more below. But just know this - our stance is that the carnivore diet’s pros outweigh the cons. At least, for our own personal health. Only you can determine if it's worth it in the end.
And by the time you finish reading this guide, you’ll have complete clarity and confidence in choosing to set out on this path or take another direction. So, let’s dive right in - what are the side effects of the carnivore diet in the short term?
What are the Side Effects of the Carnivore Diet in the Short Term?
You’ve probably heard that starting the carnivore diet is tough - and it’s true. This isn’t a diet for the faint of heart, as it takes some serious mental resiliency. The reason this diet has earned this reputation comes down to the initial adaptation phase.
Think about it like this - your body is used to the standard American diet. That means tons of carbs, sugars, and processed ingredients. When you take all that away and force your body to create fuel through protein and fat alone, there will be some bumps along the way early on.
Below, we’ll describe what you can expect from the initial stage of transitioning to the carnivore diet. While some of these flat-out suck, don’t stress. They’re temporary, and awaiting you on the other side of these carnivore diet side effects is the healthier, happier lifestyle you’ve been chasing.
As we just discussed briefly, the carnivore diet is a radical shift from the typical Western diet, which often includes a high intake of carbohydrates and fiber.
When you transition to a diet that is essentially devoid of these, your digestive system can go into a bit of shock. This could manifest as constipation due to the lack of fiber, or diarrhea as your body tries to process a higher intake of fats.
Either way, it’s an uncomfortable phase. But don’t worry - this is a common initial response and generally subsides once your gut microbiome adapts to the new dietary environment.
In the carnivore diet, fats become a primary source of energy. If you're not accustomed to a high-fat diet, this sudden change can result in feelings of nausea or even vomiting.
This happens because your gallbladder and pancreas, responsible for producing bile and enzymes to digest fats, need to ramp up their activity.
Over time, your body will typically adjust to the increased fat intake, and nausea will decrease or disappear altogether - as many of these carnivore diet side effects do.
This is the toughest side effect of the carnivore diet. Cravings, especially for carbohydrates and sugar, are quite common when you first start this new journey.
This is because your body is used to quick energy from carbohydrates. Now, it has to work harder to convert fats and protein into usable energy.
In the case of sugar, it’s likely you have some level of addiction or dependency. This is no different than cutting out coffee from your daily routine or making a major lifestyle change like quitting smoking or drinking.
Your brain will play tricks on you to try and convince you that you need sugar - you don’t, and it’s all in your head. This is where your mental resiliency really gets tested.
These cravings can be intense in the first few weeks, but as your body becomes more efficient at using fats and protein for energy, they typically subside. And, by having the right snacks on hand, you can easily overcome these cravings. More on that later.
When you switch to the carnivore diet, your body excretes more water, especially if you’re dealing with diarrhea. This can wreak havoc on your electrolyte balance. This loss of minerals, especially magnesium and potassium, can lead to muscle cramps.
It's essential to ensure you're getting enough of these minerals in your diet or through supplementation, especially in the early stages of the diet. This requires hydration coupled with meticulous electrolyte supplementation - which we’ll guide you through later on.
Bad breath, or “keto breath,” is a common side effect in the early stages of the carnivore diet. This is due to the increased production of acetone, a type of ketone body.
Ketones are produced when your body breaks down fat for energy, and acetone can be excreted in your breath, causing a fruity or metallic smell.
This symptom usually diminishes as your body becomes more efficient at using ketones for energy. While this is a very minor side effect, it can still be a frustrating experience nonetheless.
Heart palpitations, or feelings of a faster heartbeat, can occur due to changes in electrolyte and hydration levels. As your body shifts into ketosis and starts burning fat for fuel, it may lead to increased water loss, which can disrupt electrolyte balance. If palpitations persist, it's essential to seek medical advice.
Irritability or mood swings are often reported during the initial transition to the carnivore diet. This is sometimes referred to as the “carnivore flu”. As your body is adjusting to its new primary energy source (fats instead of carbs), you may experience some temporary mood changes or feelings of lethargy.
Headaches are another common symptom during the transition phase. As your body depletes its glucose stores and starts producing ketones for energy, you might experience headaches. These headaches can also be linked to dehydration and loss of electrolytes, which can occur when starting the carnivore diet.
Lack of Focus
During the initial transition phase, you may experience brain fog or a lack of mental clarity. This is because your brain, which primarily uses glucose for energy, is learning to run efficiently on ketones.
As your body becomes fat-adapted, this fog generally lifts, and many people report increased mental clarity and focus. In fact, this is one of the most documented benefits of starting carnivore - you’ll become mentally sharper. You just need to battle through the early stages to get there.
Are There Long-Term Side Effects of Carnivore Diet?
Now, these early side effects of carnivore diet typically pass within a few weeks. But, are there any long-term side effects of carnivore diet to be concerned about?
Ultimately, the impacts carnivore can have on your health and well-being, in the long run, are positive. That’s what attracts many individuals to the diet in the first place. Still, there are two long-term side effects of carnivore diet worth mentioning.
The carnivore diet is often criticized for potential nutrient deficiencies, due to its exclusion of fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based foods. These foods provide essential nutrients such as Vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, and fiber, which are important for overall health.
However, many proponents of the diet argue that these concerns can be mitigated. They claim that organ meats, like liver and heart, are highly nutrient-dense and can provide many of the vitamins and minerals that are typically associated with plant-based foods. Seafood, particularly fatty fish and shellfish, can also provide important nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and iodine.
That said, some individuals might still find it challenging to meet all their nutritional needs through the carnivore diet alone, and may require careful planning or supplementation to avoid deficiencies. This is something we’ll touch on shortly.
The carnivore diet is high in saturated fats, which have long been associated with increased cholesterol levels. High cholesterol, particularly LDL (the “bad” cholesterol), is linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
However, the relationship between dietary saturated fat and heart disease is a topic of ongoing debate among nutrition and medical professionals. Some research suggests that it's not the amount of cholesterol, but the type of cholesterol particles (small, dense LDL particles versus large, buoyant LDL particles) that matters most for heart health.
Additionally, many people on the carnivore diet report seeing an increase in their HDL (“good” cholesterol), and a decrease in their triglycerides, both of which are beneficial for heart health.
Nevertheless, if you have a history of heart disease or high cholesterol, it's particularly important to discuss the carnivore diet with your healthcare provider before starting. Regular blood tests to monitor cholesterol levels and other markers of heart health can provide important information about how this diet is impacting your individual health risk factors.
Can These Carnivore Diet Side Effects be Minimized or Avoided Altogether?
While there isn’t too much to be concerned about, there is no denying the early side effects of carnivore diet - or the long-term side effects of carnivore diet for that matter. Still, you’re probably wondering what can be done to minimize or avoid them altogether.
At a certain point, it’s just about sucking it up and getting through the transition phase. Nevertheless, we have some advice on making your start into this new journey a bit more comfortable - while offsetting some of the more long-term consequences.
Hydration & Electrolyte Balance
One of the key components to successfully managing the side effects of the carnivore diet is ensuring you stay properly hydrated and maintain a good electrolyte balance. This will go a long way in eliminating concerns of digestive issues, headaches, fatigue, and many of the other side effects we’ve discussed above.
So, aim to drink plenty of water throughout the day and consider adding a pinch of unrefined salt to your meals to replenish your sodium levels. It’s not just about increasing your water intake - it’s about increasing your water efficiency, which is why prioritizing electrolyte balance is so crucial.
Tips for Managing Cravings
Cravings can be a major hurdle when transitioning to a new diet. But, with a little planning and some smart strategies, you can effectively manage and overcome them:
- Snack Smarter: We recently discussed the importance of having the right carnivore diet snacks on hand. And that’s where our Carnivore Snax come in. These delicious, protein-packed snacks are a carnivore's best friend when it comes to cravings. They're tasty, satisfying, and provide a quick hit of high-quality nutrition that's perfectly in line with your diet.
- Stay Satiated: Often, cravings can be a sign of hunger. Ensure you're eating enough at each meal to keep hunger at bay. This is where our guide on carnivore diet macros can help - as you may be undereating in the first place.
- Distract Yourself: Engaging in a distracting activity can help take your mind off cravings. Try going for a walk, reading a book, or tackling a household task. Whatever you have to do to distract yourself from those cravings, do it!
Supplements to Overcome Nutrient Deficiency
Though the carnivore diet can provide many essential nutrients, you may want to consider supplementation to help fill potential nutritional gaps. A good multivitamin goes a long way in rounding out your nutrition.
Some common supplements for those on a carnivore diet include vitamin D, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids. Be sure to consult with a healthcare professional to determine which supplements may be beneficial for you.
Consider Tweaking the Diet Slightly as Needed
The carnivore diet is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Everyone's body is different, and you may need to make some small adjustments to find what works best for you.
For instance, if you're finding the diet too restrictive, you might consider incorporating a small amount of low-sugar fruits or vegetables. Or, consider adding in carnivore diet carbs every so often. The key is to listen to your body and adjust as necessary.
Intermittent fasting can be a powerful tool in managing side effects and improving overall health on the carnivore diet. Fasting has been shown to support metabolic health, aid in weight loss, and even enhance cognitive function.
Do the Benefits of Carnivore Outweigh the Side Effects?
There are so many benefits of starting carnivore diet: weight loss, sharper mental focus, lowered inflammation, neuropathy management, lower blood sugar, better heart health, and more.
Considering the fact that the side effects of starting carnivore diet are mainly just temporary discomfort, it’s a small price to pay for better physical and mental health.
And, remember - any diet you follow is going to have side effects. Carnivore is no different than keto, paleo, or even the standard American diet. The question is, which diet has the fewest side effects and the best overall balance of upside to downside?
In our opinion, no diet can contend with carnivore when looking through this lens. Let’s forget about the short-term side effects - as we now know how to cope with these. And, you’re tough enough to get through a few weeks of discomfort.
When looking purely at the long-term side effects - which again, can be avoided through more careful meal planning and supplementation - they’re really not that bad. Now, compare that to the long-term consequences of the standard American diet:
- Heart disease
- Certain cancers
- Digestive issues
- Poor bone health
- Mental health disorders
- Chronic inflammation
- Liver disease
The list goes on and on. All of this is to say, the short and long-term side effects of carnivore diet pale in comparison to the standard American diet and many other fad diets that have come and gone.
Our belief is that when putting the carnivore diet pros and cons under a microscope, the answer is clear. At this point, it’s time for you to make a decision for yourself based on your own goals and belief system. With that said, let’s bring our conversation on carnivore diet side effects to a close.
Closing Thoughts on the Short and Long-Term Side Effects of Carnivore Diet
We hope this discussion on the short and long-term side effects of carnivore diet doesn’t scare you away and deter you from taking a chance on this diet.
Because in the end, the improvements to your physical and mental health do outweigh the temporary discomfort associated with these symptoms. Plus, with the advice we shared above, you can offset many of these side effects and experience a smooth, comfortable transition.
Just be sure to pick up the best low carb snack online to make those tough cravings a nonissue. Our meat chips are just two ingredients: meat and salt. They melt in your mouth and offer tantalizing flavors. Plus, we have a diverse selection - ribeye, steak, lamb chips, beef chips, brisket, chicken chips, and pork chips.
For more advice on navigating the wide world of carnivore, explore our blog. You can learn about carnivore diet weight loss, carnivore diet for women, how much to eat on carnivore diet, is the carnivore diet safe, doing carnivore diet on a budget, what you can eat on the carnivore diet, and a whole lot more.
Otherwise, there’s just one thing left to do - weigh the benefits against the short & long-term side effects of carnivore diet and see what makes the most sense for you!