TikTok is at it again. Another new fad diet has made its way to our social media feeds: the Lion Diet. This newest trend goes against (almost all) nutrition guidelines by eliminating (almost all) foods. And while a short-term elimination challenge may help some people identify gastrointestinal triggers, there are much more appropriate and sustainable strategies out there.
What is the Lion Diet and why is it used?
According to its website, the Lion Diet is described as a whole food elimination diet used to treat leaky gut. Allegedly offering the body “all the nutrients it needs,” this diet includes ruminant meat, salt and water. Ruminant meat comes from animals that chew their cud, like cows, buffaloes, sheep, goats and deer.
The all-meat diet targets consumers with illness and those who are on medications. It claims to put “illness into remission.” After you’re feeling better, you can reintroduce a wider array of foods “identifying what your body likes and doesn’t like.”
These types of statements, especially without any links or references to peer-reviewed literature (though the blogger’s personal Amazon store happens to be clickable …) not only confuse readers, but potentially put their health at further risk by encouraging an unsustainable, unproven and unbalanced diet.
It’s notable to mention that “leaky gut syndrome” is not currently recognized as a medical diagnosis, though high gut permeability or intestinal barrier dysfunction is known and discussed in diseases that result in intestinal inflammation and damage. While all guts are semipermeable, those with gastrointestinal diseases like Crohn’s and celiac disease may allow larger molecules to pass through. While there’s no widespread diagnostic test to determine gut barrier function, Mayo Clinic will soon be launching a test to determine intestinal permeability.
Is the Lion Diet beneficial?
While there’s not much positive to say about the standard American diet (we scored 59/100 on the Healthy Eating Index, which was an F in my day!), eliminating all but ruminant meat is not the answer for improvement. The Lion Diet would further limit our intake of fiber, calcium and vitamin D, while increasing intake of saturated fat. All four of these nutrients were specifically addressed as areas of concern for American adults in the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
These same concerns apply to the “carnivore diet,” which also excludes all food groups outside of animal proteins but does allow for a wider range of animals and animal products.
What are the risks of the Lion Diet and carnivore diets?
Knowing what these types of diets provide (a heck of a lot of animal protein) is possibly less important than discussing what they don’t provide: balance, sustainability, flexibility and a realistic plan for reintroducing foods.
By completely eliminating fruits, vegetables, whole grains and plant-based proteins, diets like these simply can’t provide consumers with the nutrient-dense pattern of eating associated with health benefits — including decreased all-cause mortality, heart disease, overweight and obesity, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. In fact, dietary patterns characterized by high intakes of red meat are associated with detrimental health outcomes.
It’s also important to ask yourself: “How long can I be on this? How will I handle the holidays or social eating? Is it realistic to never treat myself to an item outside of this protocol? Do I truly enjoy this way of eating?”
A common theme in the world of weight management is weight regain, most often associated with the dieter’s inability to adhere to the plan long term. Although plans like the Lion Diet and carnivore diets could be used in an elimination challenge, the severe restriction coupled with a lack of reintroduction protocols, medical supervision and long-term planning is concerning.
Are there alternatives to the Lion Diet?
If you’re interested in decreasing gut inflammation, great! It is reasonable to decrease or eliminate alcohol, added sugars, saturated fats, ultraprocessed foods, and any foods that you are allergic or sensitive to. Remember, though, that an anti-inflammatory diet also includes fruits, vegetables and healthy fats.
There is no single test to identify food sensitivities. And while celiac disease is managed with a clearly defined diet, other conditions like irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s can be more challenging to navigate. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends avoiding foods that cause symptoms, keeping a food diary to help identify unknown triggers and meeting with a registered dietitian (RD).
Remember, though, that over restricting one’s diet can potentially do more harm than good. Eliminating nutritious foods, especially when an entire food group is cut out, can put you at risk of not meeting your nutritional needs.
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