So, who invented the carnivore diet? Was it a doctor, a scientist, or a nutritionist? Nope, it was our human ancestors many, many, many years ago!
In fact it is said that the original carnivore diet can be thanked for our larger brain size and advancement in intelligence and critical thinking! Compare us human carnivores to our veggie eating ape friends and you can see what I’m talking about.
Where Did the Carnivore Diet Come From?
Most people are skeptical when they first hear about the carnivore diet. Followers of this lifestyle are used to hearing “What?!” or even “That’s crazy!” when they tell friends and family about the health journey they have embarked upon.
However, as we will soon find out, this diet is not a crazy modern fad. Many individuals over the years have followed and advocated a meat-based way of eating. Let’s meet a few of the biggest champions of the carnivore diet throughout history.
Of course, we have our prehistoric friends to thank for first introducing us to the carnivore diet. Australopithecus, which is said to have roamed the earth four million years ago, was probably the first to start eating mostly meat for its food. 1
This pattern continued through prehistory. Renowned gastroenterologist Walter Voegtlin noted in his 1972 book The Stone Age Diet that Stone Age peoples disappeared if they did not eventually adjust to a meat-based diet. 2
Similar observations would help to set diet trends in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Late 19th – Early 20th Centuries
As the 1800s drew to a close, voices began to be raised in favor of a carnivore-style diet. We will review the work of just a few of these early pioneers.
Dr. James Salisbury
One of the first proponents of a meat-based diet during the modern era was a New York physician named Dr. James Salisbury.
During the 1850s, he experimented with diets consisting of only one food and settled on a ground-meat dish as the healthiest option. 3 This dish came to be known as Salisbury steak.
Dr. Salisbury went on to further test his findings on Union soldiers suffering from chronic diarrhea. 4
Decades after the Civil War ended, Salisbury outlined his diet in the book The Relation of Alimentation and Disease. 5
Salisbury’s ideas created quite a splash in late nineteenth-century America and Great Britain and helped to set the stage for the carnivore diet. 6
Another trailblazer in the world of meat-based diets was Vilhjalmur Stefansson, an Icelandic-American ethnologist, and Arctic explorer.
During an exploration of the Mackenzie Delta of the western Arctic, Stefansson was stranded without supplies and forced to depend on a local Inuvialuit family for food. 7 The family, like other indigenous peoples in the area, ate mostly boiled, frozen, and fermented fish. 8
Upon returning to the United States, Stefansson decided to put meat-based diets to the test. He and a friend ate nothing but fresh meat for a year, adding a weekly serving of calf liver to avoid scurvy. 9
Though the medical wisdom of the time expected Stefansson and his companion to suffer from kidney trouble or high blood pressure as a result of this diet, they experienced neither. 10
Stefansson would champion a meat-based diet for the rest of his life and did much to legitimize this way of eating in the eyes of the world. 11
Dr. Weston A. Price
The godfather of traditional diets, Dr. Weston Price helped to shed light on the carnivore diet as well. Dr. Price was a Cleveland-based dentist who spent ten years observing the dental health of peoples untouched by modern civilization. 12
He concluded that poor nutrition was responsible for crowded, crooked teeth rather than bad genetics. 13
Price took photos of isolated peoples from Polynesia, Switzerland, the Scottish Hebrides, North and South America, and elsewhere to illustrate the vast difference in dental health between those who followed traditional diets and those who did not. 14
Dr. Price published his findings, and the dietary conclusions based on them, in his 1939 book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. One of his main suggestions was the hearty consumption of meat, including organ meats, and animal fats. 15
Though Dr. Price did not advocate a diet composed only of meat, he did pull against prevailing thought on health and put a spotlight on the important role that meat plays in one’s diet.
Late 20th Century
As the twentieth century waned, the idea of a meat-based diet became more mainstream. Here are a few notable individuals within this growing movement.
Dr. Blake Donaldson
Dr. Blake Donaldson was a New York-based doctor who found himself unable to help his obese patients. 16
After studying ancient bones at the American Museum of Natural History, Dr. Donaldson formulated a diet rich in meat and fat like that of prehistoric peoples. 17
He used the diet with great success at his clinic. Dr. Donaldson put forth his program in the book Strong Medicine, which he published in the early 1960s. In this way, he lay another brick on the foundation of the carnivore diet.
H.L. Newbold was another New York doctor who made notable contributions to the carnivore diet community. His 1991 book, Type A/Type B Weight Loss Book, advocated a meat-based eating regimen. 18
He came to this conclusion, in part, through the belief that “new foods” such as grains, vegetables, and dairy that were unknown before the Agricultural Revolution caused cravings, and thus obesity, in susceptible people. 19
Dr. Robert Atkins
A discussion of meat-based diet pioneers is not complete without mentioning Dr. Robert Atkins. During his residency, Dr. Atkins became concerned about the use of medication to suppress hunger in weight loss patients. 20
He then experimented with a low-carb diet on himself and sixty-five others with great success. 21
In 1972, Dr. Atkins published Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution, which outlined the tenets of his now-famous low-carb diet. 22
This program, especially during its induction phase, centers on eating lots of meat. 23 It is no secret that The Atkins Diet played a huge role in the emergence of later low-carb and/or meat-based diets.
In Our Day
The carnivorous diet has gained a devoted and influential following in our day. A few of those who lead the way in this field are worthy of our notice.
Dr. Paul Saladino
Dr. Saladino is one of the most vocal advocates of the carnivore diet in our day. He declares that colorful plants, considered by many to be crucial to health, actually fuel inflammation in the body. 24
Instead, Dr. Saladino advocates a nose-to-tail approach to meat-based eating, as well as the addition of elements such as collagen and animal fats to one’s diet. 25
His book, The Carnivore Code is considered one of the most important texts in carnivore diet circles.
Dr. Ken Berry
As a doctor, Dr. Berry spent years recommending the high-carb diet of the American Heart Association to his patients. 26
However, after experiencing weight gain, joint pain, and other ills, Dr. Berry switched to a low-carb, high-fat, and high-protein diet. 27 Now, he feels healthier in his fifties than he did at thirty-five. 28
Dr. Berry gives frequent interviews pointing out the problems with today’s dietary paradigm and praising the benefits of a meat-based diet.
Dr. Shawn Baker
Last but certainly not least, Dr. Shawn Baker is one of the carnivore diet’s foremost proponents. He is an orthopedic surgeon, former Air Force officer, and world record-holding weightlifter, amongst other accomplishments. 29
Dr. Baker authored The Carnivore Diet, 30 one of the top present-day books on the carnivore diet and the source of much information for this article. Furthermore, he is a highly active meat-based diet influencer who boasts sixty thousand followers on Instagram. 31
As we have learned, the carnivore diet did not magically appear ten years ago, nor is it the hair-brained scheme of a couple of crazy dieters. This way of eating has roots that stretch back to prehistory and has been advocated by many physicians and thoughtful dieters through time.
Rest assured that you are not alone as you question today’s dietary paradigm and bolster your health through the carnivore diet!
Not sure what to drink on a carnivore diet? We got you covered with this article!
If the carnivore diet is totally new to you I recommend these books. I’ve already read both and they got me up to speed!
Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or dietician or nutritionist. Consult with and ask your doctor about any diet or medical-related questions. No information on this site should be used to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any disease or condition.
 Bramen, Lisa. “Salisbury Steak: Civil War Health Food.” Smithsonian Magazine. June 22, 2011. Accessed April 28, 2020.Bramen, Lisa. “Salisbury Steak: Civil War Health Food.” Smithsonian Magazine. June 22, 2011. Accessed April 28, 2020.
 Ewbank, Anne. “The Artic Explorer Who Pushed An All-Meat Diet.” Atlas Obscura. August 28, 2018. Accessed April 28, 2020.Ewbank, Anne. “The Artic Explorer Who Pushed An All-Meat Diet.” Atlas Obscura. August 28, 2018. Accessed April 28, 2020.
 Timeless Principles of Healthy Traditional Diets.” The Weston Price Foundation. January 1, 2000. Accessed April 28, 2020.Timeless Principles of Healthy Traditional Diets.” The Weston Price Foundation. January 1, 2000. Accessed April 28, 2020.
 Briggs, Bob. “The Strong Medicine of Steaks and Hamburgers.” July 23, 2016. Accessed April 28, 2020.Briggs, Bob. “The Strong Medicine of Steaks and Hamburgers.” July 23, 2016. Accessed April 28, 2020.
 “The Type A/Type B Weight Loss Book by H.L. Newbold.” Eat Meat. Drink Water. Accessed April 28, 2020.“The Type A/Type B Weight Loss Book by H.L. Newbold.” Eat Meat. Drink Water. Accessed April 28, 2020.
 “Atkins’ History.” Atkins. Accessed April 29, 2020. https://www.atkins.com/our-story/atkins-diet-history“Atkins’ History.” Atkins. Accessed April 29, 2020. https://www.atkins.com/our-story/atkins-diet-history
 Baker, Shawn. The Carnivore Diet
 Kearns, Brad. “Dr. Paul Saladino: The Carnivore Diet to End Human Suffering, Challenge Your Fixed Beliefs, and Live a Radical Life.” Brad Kearns. Accessed April 29, 2020.Kearns, Brad. “Dr. Paul Saladino: The Carnivore Diet to End Human Suffering, Challenge Your Fixed Beliefs, and Live a Radical Life.” Brad Kearns. Accessed April 29, 2020.
 Mutzel, Mike. “Ken Berry, M.D.: Keto & Carnivore Diet (fatty meat) Saved His Health.” High Intensity Health. Accessed April 29, 2020.Mutzel, Mike. “Ken Berry, M.D.: Keto & Carnivore Diet (fatty meat) Saved His Health.” High Intensity Health. Accessed April 29, 2020.
 Zaleski, Andrew. “What I Learned from a Month on the Carnivore Diet.” Outside. January 22, 2019. Accessed April 29, 2020.Zaleski, Andrew. “What I Learned from a Month on the Carnivore Diet.” Outside. January 22, 2019. Accessed April 29, 2020.