Is the Carnivore Diet Good For Ulcerative Colitis?

The Carnivore Diet

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?

Shawn Baker, a medical doctor, whose license was revoked in New Mexico due to “incompetence to practice,” posts plenty of personal stories and positive content about the Carnivore Diet and “curing” his Ulcerative Colitis on social media outlets. 

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!  

What is the Carnivore Diet?

The Carnivore Diet is an animal protein heavy diet pattern that allows no carbohydrates. It is similar to other low-carb diets, like keto, 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: 

  • Poultry
  • Red meats
  • Fish 
  • 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. The diet is largely devoid of color and fiber. 

How boring is that?! But, regardless of how boring it is, does it have any evidence behind it?  

Is There Any Evidence for the Carnivore Diet?

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 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).  

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. 

Cons: 

  • 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 (4). 

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. 

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! 

References: 

  1. 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
  2. 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 
  3. 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 
  4. 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 

6 thoughts on “Is the Carnivore Diet Good For Ulcerative Colitis?

  1. Kerry Russell says:

    While it didn’t cure my IBD-UC. I have my life back, thanks to the carnivore diet. One year now, eating nothing but meat with some cheese and no fiber at all.

    It works better than ASA-5 (mesalamine), Imuran and prednisone. In fact I take none of those drugs anymore.

    From 15 bowel movements a day, to 2 or 3 per day, some days just 1, and occasionally none. I was going to start reintroducing foods one-by-one after 1 year on the diet, but I don’t want to be stuck on the toilet all day anymore so I won’t be introducing any plants anytime soon.

    I knew long before I was diagnosed that I couldn’t handle fiber.

    • Ashley Hurst, R.D. says:

      Hi Kerry, when you say it works better – what are you basing this on? Symptoms are only one component to determine success on a diet. It’s important to also look at inflammatory markers over time like fecal calprotectin, CRP and sedimentation rate. It’s important to note you can be symptom free and still have inflammation present- and inflammation that isn’t controlled is dangerous long term. It’s not unusual for people with IBD to struggle with fiber when it comes to symptoms – but you can change the way you consume it which usually helps. Fiber is still important though when it comes to the research we have on IBD!

  2. Rich says:

    Is there any harm in trying it for a few weeks to see if it helps? It’s hard to ignore the loads of anecdotes claiming remission.

    • Ashley Hurst, R.D. says:

      Hi Rich, in my professional opinion I think yes it can cause significant harm- I have seen many people with IBD experience the dangerous sides of the diet in our practice. I also know that with the microbiome- there is research that shows changes can occur within 2-3 days of changing up the gut environment. It’s also important to note though- that symptoms are NOT the best indicator of success or improvements. In conditions like IBD- we need to look at long term measurements of inflammation and disease activity to validate if something is improving IBD. It’s always important to note with nutrition- experience isn’t the same thing as evidence.

      And it’s also important to note that any diet really can be taken to extremes and become more harmful. Out of all the diets out there though, the carnivore diet has the most potential to cause harm- especially in vulnerable populations like IBD.

      From a personal standpoint though, as someone who has struggled also without much help I know that people are just trying to figure out answers with limited support. We have a great you tube channel though that explains some of the science and details of all this though!

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