With a simple Google search of “is the Carnivore Diet good for Ulcerative Colitis” you will find plenty of anecdotal evidence being used by people like Shawn Baker and other low-carb enthusiasts advocating for the Carnivore Diet for IBD. But, is it true?
One post reads, “Carnivore Diet vs Ulcerative Colitis- and it’s meat FTW again.” Another website says, “The Carnivore Diet is one of the most promising, safe, and surprisingly simple methods to relieve Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis symptoms.”
Within the same Google search, there are journal articles interspersed with the exact opposite information. Offering information about how negatively the gut is impacted by high animal protein diets. But, who do you trust and believe?
This is why The Crohn’s and Colitis Dietitians work tirelessly to provide you with safe, evidenced-based, free information regularly so that you have a trusted place to visit and learn about IBD.
So, if you are interested in the truth about the Carnivore Diet and IBD, keep reading!
Is the Carnivore Diet Good For Ulcerative Colitis?
What is the Carnivore Diet?
The Carnivore Diet is an animal product heavy diet pattern, high in protein, that allows no carbohydrates. It is similar to other low-carb diets, like the high fat ketogenic diet. However, it’s a bit more extreme in limiting to zero carbohydrates.
Foods allowed on the diet are only animal proteins or foods produced from animal proteins, including:
- Red meats
- Organ meats
- Butter or lard
- Foods produced from animals, like dairy products are typically allowed
- Water (thank goodness!)
All other foods derived from plants like fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts/seeds are not allowed. Even coffee, teas, and juices are deemed off limits. In addition, the diet is largely devoid of color and fiber. Could this be a diet that has anti-inflammatory properties?
How boring is that?! But, regardless of how boring it is, does it have any evidence behind it?
Is There Any Evidence to Support that the Carnivore Diet is Good for Ulcerative Colitis?
Many Carnivore Diet advocates will claim the diet helps with weight loss, inflammation, and mental clarity however there is little to no scientific evidence to support these claims.
One such study looked at self-reported social media data on nutritional practices and health status of a large group of Carnivore dieters. Participants also reported a high level of satisfaction due to the high protein intake and improvements in overall health with little negative effects (1).
Even so, it’s important to realize that self-reported data with little to no controls makes for a weak study. These participants were simply self-identifying and answering a few questions. The only other Carnivore Diet specific study I could find was an opinion piece on whether the diet could provide all essential nutrients (spoiler alert: no, it can’t).
In fact, the overwhelming majority of the literature suggests the exact opposite of the Carnivore Diet is best- a diet rich in plant sources and low in animal proteins.
It has been well established that a diet high in animal proteins increases risk of intestinal diseases by producing toxic metabolites like amines and hydrogen sulfide in the colon, thereby changing the integrity of the gut microbiome (2). Additionally, a diet high in red and processed meat has long been linked to colorectal cancer (3).
Carnivore Diet for Inflammation
Everyone has inflammation in their body. It is your body’s way of defending itself against virus’ and also helps us heal from injury. However, chronic inflammation which is seen in ulcerative colitis can damage the body’s cells and also have the potential to cause more harm. Many factors can help decrease inflammation including medications, stress management, and a change in diet. Which brings us to the question…can the carnivore diet decrease inflammation? Keep reading to learn more!
It has been shown in the research that foods high in added sugar, highly processed foods, processed meats, excess alcohol, and artificial sweeteners can increase inflammation in the body. As mentioned above, the Carnivore diet is high in animal products. This can include foods like red and processed meats such as pepperoni, deli meats, hot dogs, and bacon. These meats are also often higher in saturated fats which excess consumption of has been linked to an increase inflammation (4).
Foods that can help fight inflammation are items rich in antioxidants (including fruits like berries, lemons, and cherries), healthy fats (avocados, nuts/seeds, olive oils, & fatty fish), as well as vitamins, minerals, and fiber (which includes a variety of plants and whole grains). All of which are severely lacking in the Carnivore Diet.
Pros of the Carnivore Diet in IBD
So, are there any pros to the Carnivore Diet in IBD?
Potential pros include:
- Meets protein requirements
- Eliminates added sugars
- Minimizes processed foods
- Increased satiety due to protein intake
- Abundance of iron-rich foods
- Reduction in IBD symptoms initially?
While yes, the Carnivore Diet does provide ample amounts of protein and iron it does so at the detriment of health promoting compounds like fiber and polyphenols found in carbohydrates and plants.
It may reduce or eliminate processed foods and sugars. However, that fact does not outweigh the elimination of fiber and pigmented plant sources.
In IBD, the patient already has an altered microbiome. The goal with nutrition therapy for IBD is to restore some sort of normal for that person. It would not be in the best interest of the patient to continue promoting high animal proteins and creating toxic by-products in the process, further degrading the gut lining.
One could argue that the Carnivore Diet reduces symptoms of IBD initially due to the lack of fiber. There could be less irritation or discomfort related to the fiber intake, however symptom irritation is NOT the same thing as inflammation. Read more about that here.
Cons of the Carnivore Diet in IBD
We cannot ignore the cons of the Carnivore Diet in IBD.
- Devoid of fiber
- Exceeds protein requirements
- High consumption of red and processed meat linked to colorectal cancer
- High animal protein negatively changes the gut microbiota
- High animal protein diets create sludgy bile
- Higher saturated fat intake negatively impacts cardiovascular health
- Higher sodium intake due to higher meat consumption
- Can create a disordered relationship with food
- Little to no scientific evidence for it
- Long-term adherence can create nutritional deficiencies (like folate)
When a person with IBD (or anyone) eats fibrous foods like oats, leafy greens, or beans they are not fully digested in the first part of the digestive tract. Food particles that reach the colon can be used by the cells there as food for energy production. This process creates helpful short-chain fatty acids that act as fuel for the colonocytes.
When the colonocytes have the fuel produced by the short-chain fatty acids, the integrity of the gut lining can begin to restore. Because the majority of your immune system is housed in the gut and sits just below these colonocytes, improved gut integrity protects the immune system, which is a huge priority in IBD!
Additionally, the International Organization For the Study of Inflammatory Bowel Disease has established that it is prudent to reduce red and processed meats in Ulcerative Colitis for best health outcomes (5).
Bottom Line: Is the Carnivore Diet Good for Ulcerative Colitis?
There is no cure for UC so when we read social media posts or headlines that try to say the opposite, we must be wary. It has been well established that fiber from carbohydrates and plant foods are health promoting, particularly for Ulcerative Colitis and the IBD community. For more on what to eat for IBD, we have plenty of free resources and blog posts like the one here on fiber and IBD.
If you are confused about what to eat and are ready for a higher level of support from a specialist, schedule a free discovery call to explore ways we can help you. We have many different levels and ways to support your IBD journey!
- Lennerz, B. S., Mey, J. T., Henn, O. H., & Ludwig, D. S. (2021). Behavioral Characteristics and Self-Reported Health Status among 2029 Adults Consuming a “Carnivore Diet”. Current developments in nutrition, 5(12), nzab133. https://doi.org/10.1093/cdn/nzab133
- Cai, J., Chen, Z., Wu, W., Lin, Q., & Liang, Y. (2022). High animal protein diet and gut microbiota in human health. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition, 62(22), 6225–6237. https://doi.org/10.1080/10408398.2021.1898336
- Farvid, M. S., Sidahmed, E., Spence, N. D., Mante Angua, K., Rosner, B. A., & Barnett, J. B. (2021). Consumption of red meat and processed meat and cancer incidence: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. European journal of epidemiology, 36(9), 937–951. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10654-021-00741-9
- Papier, K., Hartman, L., Tong, T. Y., Key, T. J., & Knuppel, A. (2022). Higher meat intake is associated with higher inflammatory markers, mostly due to adiposity: Results from UK Biobank. The Journal of Nutrition, 152(1), 183–189. doi:10.1093/jn/nxab314
- Levine, A., Rhodes, J. M., Lindsay, J. O., Abreu, M. T., Kamm, M. A., Gibson, P. R., Gasche, C., Silverberg, M. S., Mahadevan, U., Boneh, R. S., Wine, E., Damas, O. M., Syme, G., Trakman, G. L., Yao, C. K., Stockhamer, S., Hammami, M. B., Garces, L. C., Rogler, G., Koutroubakis, I. E., … Lewis, J. D. (2020). Dietary Guidance From the International Organization for the Study of Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. Clinical gastroenterology and hepatology : the official clinical practice journal of the American Gastroenterological Association, 18(6), 1381–1392. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cgh.2020.01.046