Starting a Carnivore Diet: What you need to know

So you’ve decided to start a carnivore (zero carb) diet. Let’s skip over why for the moment and dive straight into how to go from carboholic to carnivore overcoming some of the issues you may face along the way.

How quickly your body adapts will depend on your metabolism and current diet. Have you previously been following a low carb high fat (LCHF) or ketogenic diet or have you come straight from the Standard American Diet? If it’s the later and your body is used to consuming a few hundred grams of carbs a day, the carnivore diet will come as a big shock to your body.

One approach would be to build up to going carnivore gradually. Try eating carnivore friendly food for breakfast and lunch, but add in some old favourites with dinner. Low-carb vegetables and unprocessed options would be best.

If you’ve come from a ‘healthy’ diet of endless green powders, smoothies, fruit, vegetables and legumes, you’re possibly in for even more of a shock, since many of the supposed ‘health foods’ such as spinach, kale and sweet potatoes and contain oxalates, which form small painful crystals in the body. For this reason, it’s even more important to transition to a carnivore diet gradually, to avoid the side effects of ‘oxalate dumping’.

It’s also worth saying that not all those on a carnivore diet follow it with 100% compliance. Many people are able to meet their goals and experience health benefits by going 70-90% carnivore. It depends on your reasons for trying the diet and whether you are looking to overcome a serious health condition or reduce inflammation (in which case being a strict carnivore may be necessary).

Improving Digestion and Stomach Acid

Supplementing with digestive enzymes containing bile salts and protease may be beneficial during the first month, to give your digestive system a bit of extra help. Bile salts are recycled in the body, so once you have plenty, you’ll be able to leave them off.

For optimal protein digestion, sufficient amounts of hydrochloric acid in the stomach is needed. Many people don’t have enough and it’s thought that this is the reason for heartburn in many cases.

If you’ve previously eaten a high sugar diet, supplementing with HCL (or 1-2 tsps of apple cider vinegar) is likely to help during the transition. The only caveat is that HCL can cause complications if you have a stomach ulcer, so it’s best to seek medical guidance first. For more information, take a look at this article on How to Increase Stomach Acid Naturally.

Avoiding Carnivore Boredom

At first, the thought of dining on grass-fed steak every night may seem fantastic, but a few days in, this can change! Just as you feel like you never want to eat red meat again, the best thing to do is to seek out variety.

Rotating through many different cuts of meat and fish will help alleviate the boredom, whilst providing a greater range of nutrients. Let your body guide you. When you’ve had enough beef, see if you can tell what your body would prefer.

When cooking, alternating between stewing and roasting can make a big difference. Then take a look at some of the items on the condiments list further down, to add a little extra flavour or texture:

List of Carnivore Meats to Get Started

  • Steak
  • Beef mince
  • Roast beef
  • Slow-cooked beef shin
  • Lamb chops
  • Lamb mince
  • Roast lamb shank
  • Pork ribs
  • Roast pork joint
  • Sausages (at a push)
  • Chicken legs
  • Duck breast with the fat
  • Venison
  • Organ meats
  • Wild-caught fish
  • Trout
  • Prawns*
  • Oysters*

Carnivore ‘Condiments’:

  • Nitrite-free Bacon
  • Egg yolks (the whites are high in anti-nutrients)
  • Salmon roe or caviar
  • Cheese (if you can tolerate it)*
  • Cream*
  • Collagen powder
  • Pressure-cooked jelly from skin or bones

*Dairy is a common source of allergens due to the milk proteins, so you may want to keep it to a minimum or try times of going without. Fish and seafood can be an issue for some people, due to high amounts of histamine. Do what works for you.

Add plenty of fat to each meal, such as a high-quality grass-fed butter. Some experts advocate consuming up to 80% of calories from fat. This may be too much if you’re not fat-adapted, but slowly increasing the fat will lead to feeling satiated.

Listen to your body. Are you after a more fatty cut of meat or would an omelette with bacon and pulled beef brisket hit the spot?

Eating glycine based protein (anything high in gelatine) can be really beneficial when consuming muscle meats, so if you start craving collagen powder, sprinkle it over your steak with abundance. Or pressure cook your own and have some with every meal.

If cheese or the occasional non-carnivore item gets you through, that’s ok too.

Going Carnivore on a Budget

Choosing cheaper cuts of meat will make a huge difference as to whether a meat based diet is affordable or financially prohibitive. Some of the best value items:

  • Eggs
  • Butter, lard and beef dripping
  • Minced meat
  • ‘Meaty bones’ (slow cooked)
  • Beef shin
  • Beef brisket
  • Pork loin
  • Pork chops
  • Belly pork
  • Chicken legs and thighs
  • Frozen meat
  • Organ meats – liver, kidneys, heart etc.
Vitamins in 28g/1 ounce of lambs liver

Breast and muscle meat will always cost more, but it happens to be amongst some of the least nutritious cuts. Instead, give lambs liver a try. Organ meats are so cheap, yet they offer higher nutritional value.

See how much vitamin A and B vitamins (B12 especially) are in just 28g of lambs liver (opposite). That’s just a few small pieces. Add a little in each day, with some egg, minced meat and (nitrate-free) bacon and you’ve got a delicious meal with a variety of nutrients.

Coming in at 23mg of vitamin C per 100g, pigs liver is vitamin C rich in the zero carb world. Whilst a normal RDA would be 60-80mg for those consuming carbohydrates, this drops drastically when on a carnivore diet, as vitamin C is not competing against glucose for absorption. See this post on How to get Vitamin C on a Carnivore Diet and an explanation of why we don’t need to supplement with Vitamin C in order for collagen formation to occur.

Do what you can. There’s many a carnivore out there, Amber O’Hearn included, who couldn’t afford organic grass-fed meat to start with. She describes incredible health gains (reversing bipolar disorder, improved energy and weight loss) within just a few weeks of eating this way, having been mainly vegetarian before this.

Buy frozen (or freeze it for 3 weeks to kill any parasites) before cooking it rare. Barely cooked liver is a complete game changer!

Weighing up price versus quality is a personal decision. In the UK, most lamb and beef is grass-fed, with grains, hay or silage (fermented grass) providing a supplemental food supply during the winter months.

Since becoming carnivore, I started noticing the cost of meat per kg. This is a biggie for not overspending. This way, you can choose cheaper cuts during the week and splash out here and there, when you want to treat yourself to a juicy steak.

Comparing prices is especially easy when doing an online shop as everything is nearby on screen. There’s no bending down or trying to calculate the costs against varying weights.

Easy price per kilo comparisons when online shopping

Often supermarkets will have online-only discounts, knocking several pounds off (per kilo) on seasonal cuts of meat. If you have a big freezer, stock up when you can get a good deal. Maybe borrow empty space in a friend or family member’s freezer too.

Navigating the Bargain Aisle

Getting to the supermarket at the end of the afternoon can be a great way to find a bargain. I’ve picked up some delicious fillets of beef this way, which would otherwise be out of my price range for the average evening meal.

Not all supermarket reductions are created equally. Morrisons seem super generous with their reductions, whereas Tescos and Waitrose offer very little offer. For this reason, I’ll normally skip the bargain aisle there and spend 50p more, to get something a bit fresher.

It’s worth taking a closer look, as sometimes reduced meat may be past it’s best. Check for decolouration or any signs of a greenish sheen on the meat, as this indicates bacteria overgrowth and spoilage. Even if it looks ok, meat at the end of its shelf life can be higher in histamine (especially mince), so go for the longest use by date when you have the choice.

Essential Carnivore Cooking Equipment

If you don’t have one already, treat yourself to a slow cooker. The inexpensive cuts of meat that are normally too tough to roast or fry, become succulent and tender, offering many new dinner options. And trust me, variety really helps, especially during the first month or two.

The other advantage is the minimal cooking prep time.

My morning routine involves boiling the kettle, turning the slow cooker on and opening a pack of something meaty (think beef shin, oxtail, lamb bones etc). Ten hours later, dinner is ready. I’m still amazed at how much free time I have on slow cooker nights!

It’s also great for making bone broths and jellies. I’ve tried pig’s trotters, oxtail bones and various lamb and beef bones, with plenty of water and a sprinkle of mineral-rich salt. Anything beef and lamb based makes a delicious broth. When it comes to jellies, pig’s trotters are my favourite (frequently sold in Morrisons). The end result is thick, mostly clear and filled with collagen. Sometimes I’ll mix with egg yolks and cream, for the occasional carnivore ice cream treat.

Pressure cookers are another good option. Similar to the slow cooker, but you get to enjoy chicken thighs in 20 minutes or a whole broth in an hour or two.

I also considered an air fryer but after some research, I had a few health concerns over the carcinogenic effect of creating ‘crispy’ food. Instead, I continued using my ceramic-coated Green Pans on a low heat, with plenty of ghee.

Advantages of a Carnivore Diet

The best thing about being on a carnivore diet is how quick and easy food shopping becomes. Perhaps some mince, some fatty meat, eggs, butter, the occasional fish (wild is optimal to avoid poor conditions and antibiotics), maybe a steak… essentially just wandering around in the meat aisle and seeing what looks good.

Lunch time is simple. Cook up some meat or maybe make an omelette, topped with chunks of slow cooked beef, some bacon or a dash of cheese*.

The main message is that it’s easy. No need to put lots of effort into trying to decide what to cook. It’s meat, with a side dish of butter. Add in an egg yolk for choline and make up a tasty bone broth. Sorted.

*Some people do better than others with cheese. Try A2 varities, such as anything from a sheep or goat, to avoid the A1 protein, casein.

The carnivore diet has been used in a therapeutic setting to reverse many western diseases and is also known for its health benefits. Meat is incredibly bioavailable when compared to plant-based sources. Some of the best advantages include experiencing more energy, improved mood and mental clarity.

How to get Vitamin C on a Carnivore Diet

The easiest way to get vitamin C into a carnivore diet is by eating organ meats, such as liver and kidneys.

Pork liver contains 23mg of vitamin C per 100g, with lambs liver following at 13mg per 100g.

These are vastly superior, compared to beef liver at only 0.7mg per 100g.

Not keen on offal? Have you tried rare liver? It’s better than it sounds, I promise. Just be sure to freeze it for 3 weeks, in order to kill off any parasites, then you can eat it raw or rare. Pair it with some (nitrite free) bacon, egg yolks and lightly fry in ghee.

Lambs liver is mild in taste and almost creamy, when barely cooked.

Your Vitamin C Requirements

The average adult has a vitamin C RDA of 60-80mg. This RDA doesn’t apply when following a carnivore diet and here’s why…

By avoiding carbohydrates, your need for vitamin C is drastically reduced. Glucose competes for vitamin C absorption (and usually wins), so without the carbohydrates, you are absorbing all of the vitamin C.

The other part to the story is that vitamin C plays a role in collagen formation (responsible for youthful looking skin and healthy joints) by transferring the hydroxyl group to the amino acids, lysine and proline. Meat comes with hydroxylysine and hydroxyproline, bypassing much of the vitamin C requirement.

However, if you are still transitioning into the carnivore diet and consume a small portion of rice, sweet potatoes etc. with dinner, it would be best to eat liver at a different meal time in order to minimise nutrient competition. You may also want to consider additional sources of vitamin C during this time (away from any carb based meals).

Sources:

https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/pork-products/2196/2

https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/lamb-veal-and-game-products/4670/2