Carnivore Diet vs. Keto Diet

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Written by Brenda Peralta, Registered Dietitian and medically reviewed by Abby Courtenay

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The carnivore and the keto diet are some of the most popular trending topics. While they have a lot of similarities, they are very different approaches. 

One focuses on having healthy fats and a somewhat plant-based approach (keto), while the other focuses on animal products (carnivore) only. 

The ultimate goal in both of them is weight loss, and while you can get good results with either, the benefits and downsides differ depending on which you follow.

In this article, we will compare the carnivore and keto diets so that you can choose which one is better for you. 

 

What is the carnivore diet?

The carnivore approach eliminates all products that don’t come from animals. It focuses on chicken, meat, fish, seafood, eggs, and sometimes dairy. 

It eliminates all plant-based products, for example, fruits, vegetables, grains, and starches, meaning that you end up getting close to zero carbs. 

While there are some followers who eat dairy products on this plan, many proponents recommend that you stay away, especially from those higher in lactose, like yogurt or milk. Ghee, butter, sour cream, and hard cheese are the ones preferred by more people, though some do not eat any dairy at all. 

Advocates for this type of eating pattern state that most current illnesses are due to plant toxins that we ingest. 

Proteins and fats are used as the primary energy source and fuel. Protein is essentially used for muscle support and fat for energy. 

The diet got more recognition when Shawn Baker released his book The Carnivore Diet. Now, many of his followers report several benefits of following this plan. 

 

Similarities between the carnivore diet and keto

Both are very low-carb

One of the similarities is that they are both very low-carb options. While they might differ on the macros (more on that later), their approach is the same: reducing the carb intake. 

The carnivore approach focuses on eating only animal products, which don’t have any carbs. Keto makes sure you stay within a certain carb budget (but does allow some carbs).

Cravings

After several days, or weeks depending on some people, the cravings are significantly reduced. However, you might get more cravings during the first days following a carnivore eating plan. 

Since all plant foods (meaning all carbs are eliminated), the body thinks it is going into starvation mode. This means that it starts releasing hormones that increase your appetite. 

You can also get cravings when first going keto, before your body gets used to burning fat for fuel instead of carbs.

Weight loss

The main purpose of each approach is weight loss. In both, you can get good results when it comes to losing weight. 

 

Differences between the carnivore diet and keto 

The macros 

While they are both low-carb options, the macro content varies significantly. On the carnivore plan, it strives to achieve a 0% of carb intake throughout the day. On the other hand, keto allows for 5-10% of your calories to come from carbs.

This also means that the emphasis varies. On the carnivore approach, you focus on eliminating all plant foods, while on keto, you focus on staying under your carb budget so that you enter ketosis. 

Health outcomes

There are several medical studies that back up the claims that a ketogenic diet can have health benefits when followed correctly, like helping to reduce cholesterol, triglycerides, and glucose levels. 

On the other hand, there have not been extensive studies on the carnivore approach, although there are some preliminary studies and anecdotal evidence.

 

Benefits of the carnivore diet and keto

There are several benefits you can get from either one of these diets. The most common one is weight loss. Nonetheless, there are benefits that you can get. Keep in mind that the carnivore data is mostly anecdotal.

  • Stabilized energy levels. People often report feeling more energy on low-carb diets. This is because blood sugar levels are balanced, so your energy levels are constant rather than going through spikes and slumps.
  • Improved blood work. In some cases, people have reported reducing their cholesterol and triglycerides. 
  • Reduced inflammation. There is a potential for reduction in inflammation markers following either of these diets. 
  • Increased mental clarity. People often feel less brain fog when they switch. 

 

Side effects of the carnivore diet and keto

While they may have benefits, you can get some side effects due to the reduction in the carb intake. Here is a list of the common side effects you can get. 

  • Keto flu. In the first few days, while your body uses ketones as energy in the first few days, you can experience fatigue, headache, foggy brain, and nausea. 
  • Nutritional deficiencies. By eliminating some food groups, you run the risk of getting nutritional deficiencies. The risk is much higher on the carnivore plan since all veggies are eliminated. 
  • Risk of consuming too many saturated fats. Meats are high in saturated fats. A high intake could mean that you can increase the chances of heart disease. On keto, you can balance it with unsaturated fats, but this cannot be accomplished in a carnivore plan. 
  • Social alienation. Both diets can be hard to follow, which means that people might feel deprived in social gatherings. This can lead to boredom and run the risk of quitting. 

 

Keto vs. carnivore diet foods

Another difference between keto and the carnivore eating plan is the foods permitted and not permitted. All of the foods that you can have on the carnivore eating style you can have on keto, but not the other way around. 

In the following table, you can compare the foods you can (✓) and can’t (X) have in each eating pattern. 
 

FOOD KETO PALEO
Beans and legumes In moderation X
Condiments and sauces

✓ (low-carbs)

✓ (meat-based)
Dairy ✓ (low-carbs) In moderation
Sugar-free drinks X
Sugar-sweetened beverages X X
Alcoholic drinks ✓ (low-carbs) X
Eggs
Fish and seafood
Fruits In moderation X
Grains and starches In moderation X
Herbs and spices ✓ (low-carbs) X
Meat and poultry
Nuts and seeds X
Oils and fats X
Processed foods ✓ (low-carbs) X
Sugar-free sweeteners X
Natural sweeteners

X

X
White and brown sugars X X
Starchy vegetables In moderation X
Non-starchy vegetables X

 

As you can see, all the foods that don’t come from animal sources are not permitted in the carnivore approach. You eliminate all foods from plant sources like veggies, nuts, seeds, and fruits.

On keto, you can consume these as long as you maintain your carb intake within your budget. If you wonder which foods are keto-friendly, the following index guide can help you have more clarity.  

 

Keto vs. the carnivore diet costs

The carnivore approach could be more costly than the keto diet due to its high meat intake. Meat products tend to be higher compared to plant options. Also, if you get your animal sources from grass-fed animals, it will be more expensive. 

Nonetheless, it depends on where you buy your food. There are grocery stores with good quality that won’t make you spend a lot of money. 

On the other hand, with keto, since you can include plant sources like nuts, seeds, oils, and avocado, it can help balance the budget. 

 

Which one is healthier?

Keto is the better option since it is more balanced than the carnivore eating style. Eliminating most food groups could potentially lead to nutritional deficiencies, especially when veggies are the group that is eliminated. 

Vegetables are a great low-carb option full of fiber that helps fight constipation and are very high in nutrients that our body needs. 

Since you are still allowed to eat veggies, fruits (in moderation), and healthy fats on keto, it gives you a wider range of nutrients that are essential for health. 

 

Bottom line

The best option is the one you can sustain over time. If you feel that the carnivore approach suits your lifestyle more than keto, then it could be the one for you. However, if you need more variety in your meals, keto is better. 

Remember that a healthy diet is based on having different foods throughout the day. Each food has a specific nutrient, so the more variety you have, the less likely you will have a nutritional deficiency.