The carnivore diet for bloating is often promoted as the “secret” for kicking bloating and improving gut health overall…but are the claims all they are made out to be?
Let’s discuss the facts about the carnivore diet for bloating and gut health—pros and cons.
Carnivore Diet for Bloating 101
The carnivore diet is exactly what it sounds like: eat only animal foods and fat and stay away from all carbs—eliminating fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, beans, and for some folks teas and coffee beans. Instead, the average carnivore diet includes: red meat, organ meats, poultry, fish, eggs, tallow and lard, bone broth and some full-fat dairy products.
Many people who follow the carnivore diet report reduced bloating and improved digestion, rapid weight loss, enhanced brain function and even improved athletic performance and lean muscle gains.
This is their lived experience and there’s no question that some have discovered incredible relief from chronic health problems—especially when nothing else they had tried worked.
That said, before we dissect into how the carnivore diet and gut health work together—if at all—it’s important that you first understand a healthy gut microbiome’s ideal food source.
The #1 Food for a Healthy Microbiome: Plants
In one of the largest gut microbiota studies, the American Gut Project headed by microbiome researchers Rob Knight, PhD, Jeff Leach, PhD, and Jack Gilbert, PhD, evaluated 15,000 microbiome samples from more than 11,000 human participants across 45 countries to discover the connections between the gut microbiota and better health (Knight et al, 2018).
Across the board, they discovered most powerful determinant of a healthy gut microbiome is the diversity of plants in your diet—more important than age, gender, nation of origin, and even recent antibiotic exposure.
No matter the diet that volunteers prescribed to (vegetarian, vegan, paleo, clean eating, etc.), participants who ate more than 30 different plant types per week had gut microbiomes that were more diverse than those who ate 10 or fewer types of plants per week.
Prebiotic fiber is food for your gut bugs. When gut bugs feast on fiber, they release “post-biotics” [short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs)] that have healing effects throughout the body. They strengthen the good gut bugs and weaken the inflammatory bad ones. They also close holes up in “leaky gut.”
The consensus: People who eat a diverse, color-rich diet have a more diverse, less pathogenic gut microbiota, linked to less disease, less inflammation, and better quality of life.
That said, sometimes, the same diet can have the opposite effect on two different people…enter: the case for carnivore diet!
Warning: Plants May Cause Bloating & Gut Problems…
While dietary fiber is generally good for many people, the residue, sugars and starches found in plants can also be bad for you if you have an underlying gut pathology or condition, like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), SIBO, candida or severe dysbiosis.
This is why the carnivore diet may seem like the panacea for some people—it doesn’t provoke bloating and fermentation of carbohydrates in the gut by pathogenic and dysbiotic bacteria that are already there!
In short, the real reason why some folks feel great on a carnivore diet (or any other restrictive diet—like a keto diet or vegan diet)—at least at first—is that, more than likely, that person is not eating the foods that their current microbiome cannot tolerate, for whatever reason.
On the carnivore diet, you literally have zero plant-based diversity. No residue—undigested food that makes up stool. No FODMAPS. No polyphenols. Meat is made primarily of protein and fat, which are absorbed high up in the GI tract, leaving little leftover to irritate or inflame the gut.
If, upon adopting the carnivore diet, your gut microbiota was already a mess and you did not have the right strains or diversity of gut bugs to digest plant foods, then it makes total sense why you feel better!
Your gut microbiome gets a breather! Your pathogenic gut bugs, or your low diversity and counts of gut bugs, don’t have to work so hard to digest foods like they once did.
Switching to an all-meat diet can also rapidly alter the gut microbiota. An animal-based diet often increases the abundance of bile-tolerant organisms (bacteria that digest fats and proteins) and further decreases the levels of microbes known to metabolize different plant fibers.
The Dark Side of (Long-Term) Carnivore: Bloating Returns…
Long-term, if you still never fully address your gut microbiota while following the carnivore diet (such as following a SIBO or anti-candida supplement protocol if testing reveals you have these conditions), you’re left with a pretty imbalanced gut microbiome.
It’s sort of like “cleaning your room” by stuffing all the toys on the floor in your closet instead.
You still are not addressing the root cause of gut imbalances—working to increase microbial diversity (food variety), “weed” out any pathogens, and “seed” in your army of “good guys” (prebiotics and probiotics).
Unfortunately, the research right now does not support long-term “gains” from the restrictive carnivore diet for improved gut health and bloating symptoms. One study actually compared the effects of a carnivore diet vs. a plant-based diet over the course of 5 days (David et al, 2014). Researchers monitored changes to the microbiome of participants who ate a whole foods, plant-based diet compared to those who consumed an animal-based diet composed entirely of meat, eggs, and some dairy. The findings? Dramatic changes occurred in the microbiome in less than 24 hours! Participants on carviore experienced increased growth of inflammatory bacteria (Alistipes, Bilophila, and Bacteroides) and decreased growth of anti-inflammatory bacteria (Roseburia, Eubacterium rectale, and Ruminococcus bromii). They also experienced dramatic increases in Bilophila wadsworthia, a bacteria strongly associated with the development of inflammatory bowel diseases, like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis; significantly lower levels of short chain fatty acids butyrate and acetate; and increased antibiotic resistance in the gut.
Long-term restrictive diets—be it carnivore, keto or vegan diets that eliminate entire food groups—can also be detrimental due to nutrient deficiencies. Some of the top micronutrients you miss out on the carnivore diet diet include: Vitamin C (boosts immune function), Vitamin E (a fat soluble vitamin the prevents the oxidation of lipids), Vitamin K2 (essential for cardiovascular, bone health and fighting inflammation), Calcium (strong bones, muscle contraction and nerve transmission), Manganese (nervous system and preventing oxidative stress), and Magnesium (supports more than 300 biochemical reactions, including energy production, DNA repair, and muscle contraction).
Lastly, even if you choose to supplement or take a multi-vitamin, long-term all meat consumption can tax your liver and detoxification pathways. When you don’t eat sufficient carbohydrates and fat, your liver starts to make glucose from protein via a process called gluconeogenesis. This process creates nitrogenous waste, which must be converted to urea and disposed of through the kidneys. Although this is a normal process that occurs in every human, there is a limit to how much protein the liver can cope with safely. If you consume more than 35 to 40 percent of total calories as protein, you can overwhelm the urea and your body’s natural cleansing cycle—something humans have intuitively known to avoid since the beginning of time. Anthropological research shows that hunters throughout history avoided consuming excess protein, even discarding animals low in fat when food supply was low (Speth, 1991).
Carnivore is Not the Bloating Cure You May Think
A carnivore diet for bloating (or any other elimination diet) can be effective in the short term while you address any underlying gut pathologies. However, balance is best for a healthier gut microbiome overall.