The one thing that annoys me more than anything when it comes to diets is how quickly people jump to judgment on carnivore dieters. Of course, we have to have some evil death wish that is designed to threaten the environment, right?
While these judgments are generally the result of ignorance and misinformation, I can understand why people get a little confused in telling the difference to the ketogenic diet. After all, both diets reduce carbs and increase fat and protein-rich food.
There’s a good bit more to a carnivore lifestyle than eating steak for breakfast, but at the same time, your body will be changing metabolic processes in very similar ways. So similar, that the two diets work very well together.
I like to call it the keto carnivore diet, but let’s start with some basics.
The ketogenic diet, or keto for short, is designed to switch your metabolism from glucose to ketones as a source of fuel.
However, it’s not some new celebrity-endorsed idea with no proven track record through science.
Quite the opposite is the case, in that keto was medically designed and clinically tested to help treat patients with epilepsy.
The concept is not all that difficult to understand, as it all comes down to how your metabolism creates the raw energy your muscles and organs need.
On a standard Western diet, you’ll be loading up on carbs throughout the day, and these transform into blood glucose. Especially when diets are high in sugar, this will lead to those common blood sugar spikes, that in the long-term can lead to health issues including diseases like diabetes.
What keto aims to do is turn your nutritional macros on their head and reduce carbs to a minimum and increase fat and protein consumption. The results of this change in nutrition are that your body will switch to sourcing energy from stored and dietary fat.
This produces increased levels of blood ketones, which provide all the energy you need for daily activities and exercise. Low carbs and high fat create a different source of energy resulting in healthy weight loss.
The carnivore diet involves only eating meat throughout the day with absolutely no plants allowed.
Carnivore dieters stick to a meal plan that is not that significantly different to keto, and I’ll get into those details shortly.
Some dairy like cheese and butter are allowed, but the ultimate goal is to get to meat only. I’ll be the first to admit that it all might sound a bit crazy, but when it comes to benefits of carnivore diet plans, there are quite a few surprising effects.
You could say, it’s keto in overdrive, and when done right, you can achieve fast and sustainable body fat reduction.
Now to the big question...
It might seem obvious in the sense that carnivore dieters only eat meat, while there is a little bit more flexibility in keto. But there are a few more details you should be aware of, especially if you have some experience with keto and it’s health benefits.
On the ketogenic diet, you’re allowed to have some carbs. For the average person, this will be somewhere around 50 grams per day or lower. What this does is allow you to satisfy some food cravings, especially in the early days.
It also gives you just that little bit more flexibility when it comes to your meal recipes to add some vegetables for a bit more diversity. And then there is fiber which by and large is keto friendly because it isn’t counted as a net positive carb as most of it passes through your stomach undigested.
So, from digestion and micronutrient point of view, there are some advantages that keto has. All those plants and vegetables you might like, are a no-go on a carnivore.
When you start to switch your diet to only animal products, you will be cutting out all carbs and increasing fat and protein intake. Apart from meat, water, and coffee, you won’t be taking in anything else.
For some, this might seem like heaven, but it won’t be long before you start craving some starchy veg or even just a small donut for a little sugar rush.
Similar cravings you will have noticed on keto, but because you have to avoid all plant-based foods, your body can start interpreting this as a symptom of starvation. Your brain and stomach will be sending your conscious mind signals that you need to eat other products, and this can be quite a battle.
When I go through keto phases, I generally spread my food intake out over 5 to 7 meals per day depending on how many calories I’m aiming for. I find this helps to limit feelings of hunger a bit and also reduces any cravings I start to have.
However, for my meat-only phases, I generally switch to 3, sometimes even just two meals a day. One reason is that the recipes I prepare involve little more than meat and butter, and they don’t taste that good when they are cold.
So, I prepare my meals fresh and eat them straight away. And for the odd extended fasting period, I will skip breakfast altogether, which can bring me close to 16 hours of fasting.
On the ketogenic diet, this is probably going to be close to 60% fat, 30% protein, and 10% carbs. What that 60/30/10 split means is that 60% of all your calories will come from healthy fat, with protein and carbs providing 30% and 10% of all calories.
That is a drastic shift from the 20/25/55 ratio that conventional nutritional science recommends.
When it comes to the carnivore diet, there isn’t a strict ratio to keep to, as it’s all about eating meat. What it does mean though, is that you will only be eating protein and fat, with only a tiny, almost accidental, amount of carbs that can sneak in with some dairy products.
While both keto and carnivore limit the amount of veg and fruit you can eat, there is more flexibility to get essential vitamins and minerals while doing keto. This means that you can become a bit more reliant on supplements (see here) when it comes to eating just meat.
However, this is a bit difficult to do, as the standard keto bars and powder supplements often contain more carbs that could throw your metabolism off, resulting in your body becoming “confused.”
This can lead to erratic shifts in blood glucose and ketone levels and amplify the keto flu effects that bit more.
Both the ketogenic diet and the carnivore diet allow fats and proteins while completely eliminating carbohydrates. But the carnivore diet takes it one step further and is considered to be more restrictive to the already prohibitive ketogenic diet.
Health & Wellness Writer
Ok, so we’ve addressed the differences, now let’s look at what the two have in common.
Keto and carnivore diets have a lot in common, including side effects, metabolic changes, and quite a few health benefits.
They are actually so closely related that I switch between the two on a cyclical basis, but more on that shortly.
The first thing I should mention is the keto flu. These are the flu-like symptoms of brain fog, muscle aches, nausea, headaches, and fatigue that generally last for somewhere between 1 and 14 days.
It’s not a pleasant experience, but one of those hurdles you have to get over to enjoy all the health and energy benefits that come with ketosis. The exciting thing is that when you switch from keto to carnivore, those symptoms can pop up again for a few days, so make sure you prepare for them.
One of the common questions I get asked is, “does keto diet cause constipation?” The answer is sometimes, and the same can happen on the carnivore diet as well. This is most often due to the lack of fiber, which may be something you need to supplement.
In both diets, there is a significant emphasis on getting a lot of fat into your diet. As a guide, this would be around 60% of your daily energy needs, which is quite a lot. However, once your body switches to ketosis (more on this topic next), all that extra fat will be transformed into fuel.
And it’s a different form of energy that results in a lot better cognitive functions and levels of alertness.
High amounts of fat are metabolized quickly and don’t pose a threat if you have healthy exercise routines as well.
On both keto and carnivore, your body will switch from blood glucose to ketones for fuel. This metabolic process is called ketosis and is a vital function and feature of human evolution.
See, in human history, food was not abundant, especially not carbs. This is why people loaded up on carbs in the summer through fruit and veg, and then resorted to scarce animal products and stored body fat in the winter.
Ketosis is essentially the way that you can naturally trigger stored fat reserves that you don’t need or want.
As long as you calculate your calorie needs and stay below your daily threshold, you will trigger weight loss. By keeping the amount of dietary fat to below what you need, your body will go into a starvation protection mode and use up all those fat storage areas.
The results can be rather drastic, and as long as you stick to the guidelines of keto and carnivore, you will notice a very steady and sustainable loss of weight.
One of the significant benefits of ketosis (whether keto or carnivore induced), is that you will have a lot more readily available energy. And the nature of ketone-derived power is that it doesn’t regularly spike as glucose does.
As a result, you will perform better at the gym and with any brain-related activities at work or while studying. For me, it’s this mental clarity that makes me come back for more.
So, with all the similarities explained, it’s time to tell you how you can take advantage of both diets in a cyclical way.
While it is entirely possible to stick to a carnivore lifestyle long-term with the help of a few supplements, I have to admit that it can become quite tough going. Especially around Thanksgiving and Christmas, but also when you head on vacation, and you end up watching other people enjoy all types of tasty food, beer, and wine.
And all you can do is sip on a glass of water or cup of coffee. Yes, those summer BBQs are great, but there is a limit to the enjoyment.
What I suggest instead, is that you cycle through phases of the carnivore and ketogenic diet. I do about 6 to 10 weeks of meat only, two or three times a year. And I even sneak in the odd cheat weeks when I head on vacation where I go back to carbs.
It’s not the same as keto or 0-carb. On keto, you can still have low-carb vegetables, and on both keto and 0-carb, you can have plant fats (olive oil, coconut oil, etc.), spices, salt, vinegar, coffee/tea, and other non-animal foods for tastiness and nutritional value.
It does mean you go through the keto-flu a couple of times, but if you’ve done it once, then the next times are not as bad.
OK, so let’s assume you’ve done the ketogenic diet, and now want to take it another step further. How do you go about that?
The answer lies in the following five simple and gradual steps.
If you don’t already keep a food journal, then start immediately, ideally with an app like Noom. You want to write down everything you eat so that you can see exactly how many calories you take in and what your macronutrient ratio is.
What I did in the past was print out my journal and then use a highlighting pen to mark all the animal products. This will give you an excellent idea of what percentage of your food comes from animals vs. plants.
Now that you know how many calories you take in from meat and plants, you can determine how much you need to make up by replacing plants with animal products. If you’re at a healthy weight, then stick to the same calories.
But if you still have some way to go to reach your weight loss goals, then consider reducing the calories a little more. I have found that the amount of all meat diet weight loss is higher than on keto. And the meat seems to keep me full for longer, so I can reduce my calories more efficiently.
Even though I’ve gone through a few cycles at this stage, I still take the gradual approach over about 7 to 10 days. Every day, I remove a few plant-based items and add some more meat.
I have found this makes it a little bit easier to transition, and the health benefits are the same. It also allows me to stick with the same exercise routines without having to worry too much about feeling drained.
The toughest thing can constantly be eating the same stuff. Even if it’s a delicious ribeye steak from grass-fed beef cooked in butter, you can quickly get sick of it. The best thing you can do is switch between beef, pork, chicken, fish, and organ meat for your meals.
This also has the added benefit of providing a more diverse range of vitamins and minerals. If you’re stuck for ideas, then check out our carnivore diet food list.
As you gradually switch to more meat, you should notice an increase in ketones. You can buy devices, and test strips that measure these levels in your urine and they are reasonably accurate.
It’s a good indicator that you’re moving in the right direction. You should also start testing several times a day and keep track of the measures and note down what kind of mood you’re in. This can be a very motivating exercise, as generally speaking you’ll be in a better mood with high levels.
In the whole keto vs carnivore debate, it really shouldn’t be a question of which one is better. In my opinion, they compliment each other, but if you’re completely new to it all, then start with keto and after a few weeks transition to carnivore on regular on and off cycles.
Some people also ask me “is low carb better than keto and carnivore,” and I generally say it’s not. But if you’re struggling to commit to this lifestyle, then reducing your carbs is a good health move.
For more information on how to do the carnivore diet, check out our detailed meal plan. And if you’re curious about what to eat on carnivore diet, then we have you covered with a detailed food list.
Timothy Woods is an advocate of the carnivore diet, athlete, and a pure health-enthusiast. He started this blog in order to educate people about the different all-meat diets out there and to debunk all the myths that surround it.