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Paleo and Carnivore: A Side-By-Side Look at Two Protein-Centric Diets

Paleo and the carnivore diet are both highly meat-focused, but there are major differences between the two.

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The paleo and carnivore diets have two major things in common: They are both high in protein, and low in carbohydrates. However, by no means are they the same diet. The paleo or “Paleolithic” diet allows for anything that could be obtained by hunter-gatherers; whereas the carnivore diet solely allows for animal products and byproducts.

Christopher Mohr, PhD, RD, a Fitness and Nutrition Advisor at Fortune Recommends Health, tells Woman’s World that although the diets have commonalities, the restrictions are very different.

“The paleo diet focuses on eating whole foods that would have thought to only have been available to early humans, including meats, fish, nuts, leafy greens, regional veggies, and seeds, and avoiding processed foods, grains, and added sugar,” Mohr explains. “The carnivore diet restricts you to only eating primarily animal products like meat, fish, organ meats and animal fats, excluding all other food groups.”

Paleo and Carnivore: Many Similarities With Key Differences

Grilling meat and vegetables
Paleo features foods that could be obtained by hunter-gatherers, including meats and vegetables. Carnivore, however, excludes any carbohydrates. Getty
PaleoCarnivore
Permitted FoodsGrass-fed meats, fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, nuts and seeds, olive oilMeat, fish, eggs, dairy
Restricted FoodsRefined sugar, processed foods, salt, vegetable oil, artificial sweeteners, legumes, cereal grains, sweetened beveragesFruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, processed sugars, refined oils, alcohol
Calorie Restrictions1,200 to 1,500 calories per day for women looking to lose weight; 1,500 to 1,800 calories daily, for men looking to lose weightNone
Cheat DaysOccasional cheat meals are permitted but should be monitoredWhile the diet isn’t heavily researched, many say cheat meals aren’t advised
Short-Term EffectivenessCan vary — may be significant significant, though sometimes not at allWeight loss in short-term is likely due to consuming less calories and feeling more full
Long-Term EffectivenessRelatively significant fat loss over 24 month periodLong-term effectiveness is unknown, due to lack of research
Short-Term Side EffectsLike keto, dieters may feel flu-like symptoms from less carbohydrates, though diet is not inherently lacking carbohydrates (includes starches)Because it’s a low-carb diet, flu-like symptoms can also occur
Long-Term RisksRisk of increasing LDL cholesterol, risk of heart problems and less bone densityIncreased risk of heart disease, certain types of cancers, kidney issues, and other chronic illnesses
CostApproximately $3,900 per year, as per PaleoPlan$2,304 per year, according to DoctorKlitz

Paleo Supposedly Emulates a Stone Age Diet

The objective of the paleo diet is to consume only what people would have eaten during the “stone ages,” as these foods supposedly agree with the human digestive system. These include only what hunter-gatherers were able to obtain for themselves, such as meat, fish, eggs, fruits and vegetables. It excludes anything that would be obtained from modern farming including grains, processed foods, refined oils, legumes, dairy and alcohol.

But Paleo May Not Be An Accurate Stone Age Diet

A bowl of blueberries
If it wasn’t seasonal or regional, hunter-gatherers couldn’t get it — making the “paleo” diet historically inaccurate.Getty

Many argue, however, that the paleo diet does not accurately reflect what people ate in the Stone Ages. Scientific American explains that a modern paleo diet emphasizes protein. However, that wasn’t always accessible to people in the Stone Ages — which means a true Stone Age diet was largely plant-based.

A true Paleolithic diet also only included seasonal and regional foods, as people were truly hunting for and gathering their food, which means many fruits and vegetables would be excluded. And humans have developed quite a bit over the years. This means that the idea that humans “can’t digest” modern farmed food as well may not be entirely accurate.

Related: Heal Your Thyroid and Reset Your Metabolism With These Paleo Recipes

“We are not biologically identical to our Paleolithic predecessors, nor do we have access to the foods they ate,” Ferris Jabr, author of the essay How to Really Eat Like a Hunter-Gatherer: Why the Paleo Diet Is Half-Baked writes for Scientific American. “And deducing dietary guidelines from modern foraging societies is difficult because they vary so much by geography, season and opportunity.”

Short-Term, Paleo Allegedly Helps With Weight Management, Satiety

Many choose to start following the paleo diet because of its alleged short-term benefits. The National University of Natural Medicine attributes the alleged weight management to increased fiber in the diet, and water weight loss from a lack of carbohydrates. More protein also improves satiety, and a lower carb intake results in lowered blood pressure.

Initial Short-Term Side Effects May Scare Some Off

Woman at work holding her head in pain
The initial side effects of paleo can be very unpleasant.Getty

Although paleo reportedly comes with a slew of health benefits, the short-term side effects may discourage dieters from continuing. A study published in the journal Nutrients looks at symptoms that often coincide with the diet early on. Some of these include the “low carb flu” (which is characterized by headaches, moodiness and fatigue), as well as constipation, which comes from a low-fiber (aka a low-carb) diet.

Paleo Is Believed to Have a Select Number of Long-Term Benefits

The University of Vermont’s Health Network lists the potential long-term advantages of paleo, which may entice some dieters. Increasing fruit and vegetable consumption means more potassium, which results in lowered blood pressure. Eliminating processed foods and protein also lowers insulin levels. Meanwhile, increasing healthy fats and proteins may lead to weight loss.

Other Less Restrictive Diets May Give Similar Results

A spread of meats and cheeses
Less restrictive diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, have been proven to have the same — if not better — results than paleo or carnivore.Getty

Although paleo is believed to have various health benefits, RDs are likely to prescribe less restrictive diets, which have similar results. Comparing paleo versus the Mediterranean diet, for example, shows that both may trigger weight loss, though paleo results in more long-term issues, as a result of its restrictiveness. However, Dr. Mohr says paleo’s strict “rules” may help guide dieters.

“People respond quickly to food ‘rules’ so they don’t have to think about choice, and the Paleo diet offers those ‘rules,’ he explains. “Its emphasis on whole foods and elimination of processed items is especially appealing.”

The Long-Term Risks of Paleo Are Also Plentiful

There are a handful of long-term risks that come with the paleo diet. Aside from being restrictive, UC Davis lists possible long-term disadvantages including:

  • Increased saturated fat can lead to high cholesterol and heart disease.
  • Decreased calcium can increase risk of osteoporosis.
  • Increased fats and proteins can also cause kidney disease, liver issues and certain cancers.

The Carnivore Diet Is All Meat, All the Time

A display of raw meats
The carnivore diet exclusively consists of animal products and byproducts.Getty

Different from the paleo diet is the carnivore diet, which is a variation of keto. It eliminates all carbohydrates — including fruits and vegetables — allowing solely for meat, fish, eggs and dairy. It has very little medical research, and has gained recent popularity over social media, showing influencers eating heaps of meat, gnawing on sticks of butter, and snacking on dried fish… yum.

Any Short-Term “Benefits” of the Carnivore Diet Lack Scientific Research

Again, the “benefits” of the carnivore diet are not heavily researched within the medical community. However, Business Insider reported on podcaster Joe Rogan’s experience with the fad diet. The former comedian, who notoriously spreads scientific misinformation, alleged that the carnivore diet helped him lose weight and boosted his energy.

“I’m getting my bloodwork done on Monday and then again when I’m done with the diet but I’ve been on it now for about 5 days and I’m already looking leaner,” Rogan wrote in an Instagram post. “My energy level has been excellent too. Kind of shockingly good.”

The Short-Term Side Effects of the Carnivore Diet Are Concerning

A Health article about going carnivore warns dieters of unpleasant side effects. Because the regimen eliminates fruits and vegetables, those adhering to the carnivore diet may experience serious constipation, due to a lack of fiber. Dieters may also face extreme fatigue, mood swings, and various vitamin deficiencies.

And while proponents of the diet (influencers) claim the diet is anti-inflammatory, science says otherwise. The paleo diet is high in saturated fat, and saturated fat “short-circuits immune cells to trigger inflammation,” according to research in the journal Cell, particularly for those with chronic illnesses. And even for those who don’t have chronic illnesses, chronic inflammation can lead to certain types of cancers.

Long-Term, Carnivore Is Difficult To Stick to and May Not Help With Weight Loss

While many Instagram influencers may claim carnivore is effective long-term, there is — once again — no scientific information to back that up. A Healthline article explains that it’s a highly restrictive diet, which makes it harder to stick to. People are often likely to go on and off of it, making way for yo-yo dieting and possible disordered eating habits. Because much of the initial weight loss is also likely water weight (from eliminating carbs), long-term effectiveness is not guaranteed.

The Long-Term Impacts of the Carnovore Diet Are Unknown

Female scientists discussing data on digital tablet in microbiology laboratory
Research on the carnivore diet is lacking.Getty

There are many risks to doing the carnivore diet long-term. Mohr says that following such an under-researched diet comes with serious potential risks. “It’s very important to consider the amount of research backing a diet before trying it,” he tells us.

The carnivore diet lacks extensive medical research, concerning its long-term health impacts. It’s important to be careful and talk to a doctor, or ideally a registered dietitian, when considering or with questions around new diets that limit food variety, as they may lead to nutrient deficiencies and other health risks.

Dr. Christopher Mohr

There Are Likely To Be Serious Consequences

Doctor listens to woman's heartbeat.
The fat content associated with the carnivore diet can lead to heart issues, and more. Getty

Harvard Medical Health warns that all keto diets, particularly carnivore, raise LDL cholesterol levels. This can result in heart issues and high cholesterol. A greater protein intake can also impair kidney function, and it can lead to gout. Less calcium can trigger osteoporosis and other bone ailments, while increased fat intake and vitamin deficiencies can lead to certain types of cancer.

More Inclusive and Better-Researched Diets Are Probably Better Than Paleo and Carnivore

Even though those transformation photos from Instagram influencers may entice you to hop aboard the paleo or carnivore train, it may be better to consider something less restrictive — and dietitian-approved. Experts tend to lean towards regimens that are more balanced, with more research-based results, like the tasty Mediterranean diet, instead of trendy fad diets.

“Both the paleo and carnivore diets are restrictive and might not suit everyone due to individual health needs, lifestyle, and dietary preferences,” Mohr explains to Woman’s World. “The key is to choose a diet based on what fits your needs best and what is sustainable long term. I recommend a balanced diet that can be sustained long-term, focusing on a balance of nutritious foods.”

What does it mean to adhere to a “stone age” diet?

As it relates to the paleo diet, adhering to a “stone age diet” means to eliminate foods that have become common through modern farming. This means taking out anything refined: grains, legumes, refined oils, sugars, artificial sweeteners and alcohol.

What are the claims behind the carnivore diet?

Proponents of the carnivore diet claim eating only animal products and byproducts can help induce weight loss. The claims also allege the diet can supposedly lower inflammation and blood sugar levels.

Why doesn’t the “paleo diet” accurately adhere to history?

The “paleo diet” doesn’t accurately adhere to “stone age history,” because it doesn’t take into account that people could only gather certain foods regionally and seasonally. It also doesn’t take into account that humans, as a species, have developed differently over many centuries.

Is the carnivore diet have medical backing?

The carnivore diet does not have a ton of medical research as of 2024. However, there is quite a bit of medical research regarding the risks associated with meat consumption. This is why it isn’t widely supported by many RDs — it’s mostly gained popularity via social media.

Is paleo beneficial for diabetes?

Although paleo is said to lower insulin levels, with fewer carbohydrates and more fresh, whole foods. However, it isn’t recommended for people with diabetes. Those with diabetes are recommended to speak with a medical professional before trying a fad diet.

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