MyEczemaTeam members often wonder if a particular diet — say, the carnivore diet — might affect their skin condition and whether certain foods could cause flare-ups. One member asked, “Are there trigger foods? I’m having another eczema flare.” Another wrote, “Not sure, but I had to cut out salads.”
No single diet can cure eczema, but extreme low-carbohydrate diets, including the carnivore diet, have sparked interest as a way to control eczema symptoms. Read on to find out what this diet involves and what the research says.
Generally speaking, the carnivore diet means eating meat and nothing else. Some people on this diet eat just one type of meat, while others include all kinds of meat and other animal products. Some people cut out food groups so strictly that they don’t even use seasonings.
There are many variations, but all carnivore diets are based on the same claim: that eating only meat leads to optimal health, including skin health. Despite anecdotal reports that some people with health issues have benefited from the carnivore diet, many proponents’ claims are unscientific and should be approached with caution.
Some advocates for the carnivore diet state — with little evidence — that plant-based food is actually toxic and causes inflammation. For example, lectins and gluten are cited as toxins. Lectin, a type of protein, is common in beans and rice and may cause stomach upset when eaten in large amounts, but research doesn’t suggest avoiding it overall. Gluten, another protein, is harmful to people with celiac disease, but eating a gluten-free diet isn’t necessary for most people with eczema.
People on the carnivore diet shun carbohydrates because they believe that a high-carb diet leads to chronic (ongoing) disease. The carnivore diet is stricter than the ketogenic diet (keto diet), which limits but doesn’t completely cut out carbs.
Proponents of the carnivore diet also emphasize that eliminating carbohydrates can help with weight loss. This is indeed the main reason people on the carnivore diet might lose weight, but carbs are the human body’s preferred energy source, so going down to zero carbs can be risky.
You may benefit from consuming less white sugar and flour, but following a strictly low-carb or no-carb diet isn’t generally recommended. Carbohydrates are the only source of fiber (also known as roughage or bulk), which is crucial for digestive and heart health. Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables in particular provide not only fiber but also an array of nutrients and plant compounds that offer health benefits.
Because of the claims that plant-based ingredients can be inflammatory foods, some people believe that an all-meat meal plan can improve or cure eczema. Apart from recognizing the potential inaccuracy of these claims, keep in mind how eating a carnivorous diet could have an impact on your health in other ways.
Some studies indicate that people with eczema may face a higher risk of heart disease compared with the general population. The carnivore diet can make this situation worse because an all-meat diet can lead to high cholesterol, raising the likelihood of heart problems. Eating large amounts of sodium from processed meats can also increase the risk of high blood pressure and, thus, other types of heart disease and stroke.
Cutting out all grains, legumes, fruits, and veggies can create health problems besides heart disease. Other potential side effects associated with a carnivore diet include:
In general, a diet focused on fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, lean proteins, and healthy fats is recommended for people with eczema or heart disease, as well as for general wellness. One example of this type of diet is the Mediterranean diet, which also includes low-fat dairy products and nuts and seeds. This type of diet is thought to have anti-inflammatory effects on the body, which may help improve eczema symptoms.
“I went to eating an anti-inflammatory diet, and my eczema has gotten a lot better,” one MyEczemaTeam member wrote. A Mediterranean diet limits added sugars, processed foods, and saturated and trans fats. Eating less of these types of foods may also help with eczema symptoms.
People with eczema may also find they benefit from limiting other foods and beverages that set off their particular symptoms. Common diet-related triggers include alcohol, dairy, sugar, gluten, citrus, eggs, and tomatoes.
Over time, you may discover that eating or avoiding certain foods helps you control your eczema symptoms. For specific medical advice about dietary changes, including taking supplements, talk with your dermatology provider or another health professional like a dietitian. Never adopt an extreme plan or an elimination diet without first consulting a medical provider, who can help you figure out the best and worst foods for you.
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How does your diet affect your eczema symptoms? Have you cut out or added any foods? Share your tips and experiences in a comment below or your Activities page.