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11 Signs Meat Is Messing With Your Body

It’s a familiar feeling: waking up after a night out with the tell-tale stomach cramps, dark eye circles, and feeling like you need to down a gallon of water. No, it’s not a hangover — wondering “Why does meat make me sick?” the morning after a steak dinner is a more common experience than you’d think.

Meat can be a really healthy, protein-packed staple in your diet, but it doesn't necessarily work for all body types and metabolisms. Knowing if there are signs your body doesn't digest meat well can help you eat smart and feel more comfortable. There are certain foods that trigger an intolerance or sensitivity, and unless recognized, you might experience irregular bowels, head pains, body aches, and other symptoms.

Eating meat isn't a requisite for a healthy and happy lifestyle, and while someone might thrive when eating a meat-heavy diet, another person might notice stomach pain or diarrhea after eating red meat. Anything that throws the body out of balance can cause problems, and food is a common trigger for such instability. If you find that you can't tolerate meat, it's not a diet-buster, as you can still find protein and iron in plant-based sources — and will probably feel a lot better. Here are 11 signs that your body can't process meat well, and you might want to avoid it.

If you notice bloating after eating meat, it could be a sign of malabsorption or be representative of a failure to digest food properly. Per a 2018 study in Nutrients, fatty meats contain large amounts of the amino acid methionine, which contains sulfur and is broken down into smelly gas in your gut. That can build up and make you bloated. Abdominal distention and an overall feeling of fatigue after eating meat is a large enough reason to eliminate it and see if you feel better.

Nausea, heartburn, and indigestion could be signs that you’re not digesting meat well, and these symptoms can prove to be incredibly uncomfortable, Rachna Govani, CEO and co-founder of public health technology company Foodstand, tells Bustle. If you get stomach pain and diarrhea after eating red meat, you may have a meat intolerance, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI). This can be caused by a meat allergy, which affects 1-3% of people and can develop as a symptom of a tick bite.

If you're not able to digest meat well, you might find yourself getting sick more often, especially with food-borne illnesses, such as salmonella and E. Coli. An antigen found in red meat has been linked to lower immune system function and higher incidences of cancer because the body struggles to digest it, per the Cancer Research Institute. If your immunity isn’t what it used to be, it could be due to eating high amounts of red meat.

That abdominal cramping might be a sign that your body has an intolerance to meat, the ACAAI says. If you consistently feel like somebody’s kicked you in the gut after eating meat, but an allergy test comes up clear, another culprit could be diverticulitis, an inflammation of the colon that’s connected to high consumption of red meat in men, per a 2017 study in Gut.

"One important problem you may not feel — high blood pressure. High blood pressure can be silent, and still cause damage," Neil Grimmer, head of Plum Organics, tells Bustle. Some processed meats, like bacon, contain high amounts of sodium, which can increase blood pressure. Research from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health in 2018 also found that eating well-done meat, as opposed to rarer or less-cooked meat, was linked to a higher risk of blood pressure issues. "If you are one of the millions of Americans with high blood pressure, this may be a good sign that you’d do better cutting back on meat," Grimmer says.

"Every person has a unique digestive system that functions based not only on their genetics but also heavily on their dietary habits as well. I've found more and more clients complaining about indigestion and constipation post red meat consumption which may be related to a variety of factors," Elizabeth Ann Shaw, M.S., R.D.N., C.L.T., tells Bustle. "For instance, depending on the cut of meat, some are exceptionally high in fat. Fat takes longer to digest in the body so it may cause indigestion based on the other foods you are consuming during the meal.” A study published in Gut & Gastroenterology in 2020 suggested that eating large amounts of red meat can cause constipation.

Dark circles don't just come from a poor night's sleep. Apparently, not digesting meat properly can mess with your beauty regimen, too. "If you get dark cycles under your eyes after eating meat, especially the next day it's a sign the meat has not been digested properly," Liana Werner-Gray, nutritional expert and author of The Earth Diet and 10-Minute Recipes, tells Bustle. Allergies and food intolerances can lead to dark circles thanks to an increase of nasal congestion, Healthline reports. At the same time, dark circles can also be a sign of anemia, or a lack of iron in the blood, for which eating more red meat is often recommended. It’s never a bad idea to consult your doctor if you’re concerned about your undereye circles.

Drinking water is a really easy way to improve your digestion — your body needs H2O to flush out the byproducts of processing your meals, a process your liver and kidneys do without much help. But meat is high in sodium, which can throw off your body’s natural balance of fluids if you have too much. If you find yourself reaching for your comically oversized water bottle after eating meat, it could be a sign that your body isn’t having fun digesting that hamburger.

"Bad breath and body odor are both signs that your body isn't digesting meat properly. If meat isn't digested properly, the smelly odor can go back into the digestive system which eventually makes its way to the skin and breath," explains Werner-Gray. She recommends taking digestive enzymes to help break it down. A 2006 study published in Chemical Senses actually found that the body odor of non-meat eaters was regarded as more attractive than those who ate meat.

"If you feel really sluggish and tired after eating meat it's a sign your body doesn't properly digest meat. It's a sign that the meat is stuck in your bowels and actually draining energy from your body working it off to digest it," Werner-Gray says. Some sleepiness after eating, particularly heavy meals, is common, but consistent flat-out tiredness after meat consumption in particular may be a signal that the meat isn’t being processed properly.

“You may experience loss of muscle,” Dr. Partha Nandi M.D., F.A.C.P, creator and host of Ask Dr. Nandi and Chief Health Editor at WXYZ-TV (ABC) Detroit, tells Bustle. Protein is a major fuel for muscle maintenance, and if your body isn’t breaking down meat proteins, that steak can’t help keep your muscles healthy.

If you notice any of these symptoms after eating meat, it might be wise to alter your diet and try more plant-based foods to see if there's an improvement.

Experts:

Rachna Govani

Neil Grimmer

Dr. Partha Nandi M.D. F.A.C.P.

Elizabeth Ann Shaw, MS, RDN, CLT

Liana Werner-Gray

Studies cited:

Cao, Y., Strate, L. L., Keeley, B. R., Tam, I., Wu, K., Giovannucci, E. L., & Chan, A. T. (2018). Meat intake and risk of diverticulitis among men. Gut, 67(3), 466–472. https://doi.org/10.1136/gutjnl-2016-313082

Dallas, D. C., Sanctuary, M. R., Qu, Y., Khajavi, S. H., Van Zandt, A. E., Dyandra, M., Frese, S. A., Barile, D., & German, J. B. (2017). Personalizing protein nourishment. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition, 57(15), 3313–3331. https://doi.org/10.1080/10408398.2015.1117412

Górska-Warsewicz, H., Laskowski, W., Kulykovets, O., Kudlińska-Chylak, A., Czeczotko, M., & Rejman, K. (2018). Food Products as Sources of Protein and Amino Acids-The Case of Poland. Nutrients, 10(12), 1977. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10121977

Havlicek, J., Lenochova, P. (2006) The Effect of Meat Consumption on Body Odor Attractiveness. Chemical Senses, 31(8), 747–752, https://doi.org/10.1093/chemse/bjl017

Monif, G. (2020). Chronic Constipation and Red Meat Consumption. Gut & Gastroenterology, 3(2).

Wilson, J. M., & Platts-Mills, T. (2019). Red meat allergy in children and adults. Current opinion in allergy and clinical immunology, 19(3), 229–235. https://doi.org/10.1097/ACI.0000000000000523

This article was originally published on Feb. 1, 2017