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10/09/2019

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Why Red Meat Is Upsetting Your Stomach

Is there anything better than sinking your teeth into a juicy steak? It’s one of the great pleasures of life, and it’s why the cattle industry is massive. Americans eat a lot of beef, and men lead that charge. We know what we like, and by God, we live in a land of indulgence. The problem is that the beef doesn’t always love us back. If you’ve ever had a sudden and violent trip to the bathroom shortly after downing a porterhouse, you’re not alone. It turns out that red meat has this impact on a lot of people. Rather than force you to choose between a delicious meal and intestinal drama, maybe we can learn about what’s really happening here If you understand the problem, then a solution shouldn’t be far behind.

Before we jump in, let’s go with a little disclaimer. We’re going to focus on beef because it’s more common, but most of this applies to any red meat. 

The General Rule

Really, there are a lot of things that can contribute to gastrointestinal distress. It ranges from genetics to infections to more things than will fit in this one little discussion. We’re going to cover as much as we can, but it makes the most sense to start with the most prolific problem and go from there.

Protein Digestion

In the vast majority of cases, meat pains are caused by eating more protein than your body can process in a standard digestion cycle. You can think of it kind of like a combustion engine. If you inject too much fuel, it won’t all burn, and you’ll have some come out in the exhaust. The problem is that your digestive tract can’t recycle unspent protein and send it back through for another round of digestion. That would be disgusting.

So, the generic problem is that you eat more protein than you can handle. That causes a bunch of protein to enter the large intestine. That’s where most of the bacteria in your body can be found, and their primary purpose is to handle leftovers. The problem with giving them a massive buffet of beef is that they create byproducts of their own. Normally, you can handle those byproducts, and it’s no big deal. But, when they get to go into overdrive, the buildup of bacterial waste is enough to make your belly hurt. It gives you bloating, gassiness and a projectile power behind your eventual defecation.

why red meat is upsetting your stomach

Now, we’re talking about protein in general, so couldn’t you have this problem from eating too much chicken, or even spinach? The answer is, yes. Any source of protein can lead to this pain, but beef is one of the most protein-dense foods that you can eat. Still, the overall protein problem is why having a side of beans with a bunch of meat is usually worse on your gut than a side of potatoes (or whatever). If you learn nothing else from what you’re reading, let this be the thing you remember. The problem is too much protein, so skip a protein shake and eliminate beans on steak night. That’s the very easiest way to handle an upset stomach stemming from red meat.

There’s more to this story, and it’s the part you probably won’t like. This protein digestion issue is a function of metabolism. It’s why not everyone experiences the same level of discomfort when they go HAM on some burgers. It’s also why you can expect the issue to get worse as you get older. There’s no escaping it. Old age slows the metabolism, and that lowers the amount of beef you can comfortably handle. It doesn’t mean you’ll for sure have to give up beef in a few years, but you might have to learn about portion control. As sad as you might feel right now, it’s better to know these things ahead of time. It gives you a chance to savor your meals before you have to give them up.

A Medical Look at the Pain

So, in general, eating too much beef will hurt. That’s a simplified look. In reality, the varying medical conditions that can afflict anyone all factor into this equation, so now we’re going to explain the bulk of those conditions. And, no, this isn’t one of those times where the internet is just going to tell you that you have cancer. That’s actually one of the less-likely scenarios.

Protein Intolerance

Technically, everyone is protein intolerant if they over-indulge. That said, the level of beef a person can handle depends a lot on your unique physiology. So, on a technical level, protein intolerance still mostly leads to too much protein in the large intestine and the microbial fallout of that situation. What’s different with someone who has a specific protein intolerance is how the body reacts.

For starters, people who are more susceptible to beef pains tend to produce a smaller amount of enzymes that break down the proteins. If you make fewer enzymes, you process less meat. It’s pretty easy. 

What you should also understand is that intolerance can be the result of a shortage of just one enzyme. There’s a whole slew of different proteins in red meat. If you can handle all but one of them, you’re still going to spend some extra time on the pot.  

Ultimately, a protein intolerance is like any other food intolerance. You can relate it to lactose intolerance. In both cases, your body can’t digest the food and your large intestine makes you pay. The only difference is the specific chemicals that you struggle to digest.

why red meat is upsetting your stomach

Beef Allergies

Even though the symptoms can overlap, beef allergies are fundamentally different from intolerances. With an allergy, your body is straight up rejecting some of the compounds specific to beef. Now, beef allergies aren’t always that narrow. A lot of proteins can be found in every red meat, and it’s common for someone with a beef allergy to be allergic to other red meats. The point is that a beef allergy is causing you distress in a different way.

In a little bit, we’re going to discuss ways to combat meat pains. If your problem is a beef allergy, most of those remedies won’t help. You either need a lot of antihistamines or no beef in your diet. Simple remedies don’t apply. 

One of the ways you can distinguish an allergy from an intolerance is in symptoms. A beef allergy can definitely cause indigestion and vomiting. It can also cause difficulty breathing, itchiness or rashes. In a lot of ways, beef allergies look like any other allergies. Just keep in mind that difficulty breathing should never be taken lightly. It is possible for a beef allergy to cause anaphylactic shock, and that’s extremely deadly. If you struggle to breathe, go see that hospital.

Here’s the truly terrifying bit. Beef allergies can develop later in life. Being able to eat it fine so far in your life is no protection against future allergies. The worst part is that these allergies can be caused by an infection. There’s a tick in the eastern U.S. that carries a specific disease. If you catch that disease, one of the common side-effects is red-meat allergies. The change is permanent, and in many cases, the allergies are severe. If you live anywhere where Lone Star ticks can be found, you take them seriously. Those bastards have taken many of our fellow men down. Don’t be the next victim.

Other Health Conditions

Aside from intolerance and allergies, there are almost countless health conditions that can exacerbate beef pain. They range from ulcers to stomach cancer. We’ll skip the part where we terrify you with an endless list of ways you might suffer or die in the future. You can to to WebMD for that. Instead, let’s generalize. If you have a health condition that affects digestion, the chance that beef is going to hurt you goes up. It’s pretty obvious, right? Beef is one of the very hardest foods to digest. Keep that in mind if you’re dealing with digestive stuff.

In plenty of cases, getting a handle on the underlying problem can alleviate red meat symptoms and get you back to a happy diet. In others, you might have to deal with the red meat in order to alleviate chronic indigestion. It’s not fun, but there it is. Hopefully, the next section will generate some options for you. 

why red meat is upsetting your stomach

Solutions to Beef Pains

We’re men. We’re not just here for common sympathy as we all clutch our stomachs after eating that 40 oz steak. We want solutions.

Eat Less Beef

It’s so simple, it’s stupid. It’s also borderline intolerable for a lot of us, but we can’t ignore the basics. If eating too much protein is the problem, scaling back on consumption seems like the easiest way to deal with it.

This is actually more interesting than it seems. It turns out that a lot of intolerances go away if you leave them alone for a while. If beef pains are getting worse and worse, take a serious break from red meat. It’s tough, but a month without the excess protein can help your gut reset a bit. For a lot of people, periodic breaks are enough to completely overcome intolerance.

Keep in mind the scale. We aren’t talking about dropping from 30 beef meals a week down to 12. If you want a biological reset, you have to completely cut the beef for at least a month. Otherwise, you’re just denying yourself delicious meals for no gain.

Cook it Longer

This might be even more painful advice than eating less beef. Any steak cooked above medium-rare is obviously sacrilegious. That said, science is on the side of the well-done brigade.

Do you know why we call it red meat? Yes, because it looks red. But, the reason it looks red is because of the presence of myoglobin. A bloody steak doesn’t actually have blood running out of it. Instead, myoglobin is strongly present in the meaty tissues. This is the protein that moves oxygen around the cells of a cow, so it’s definitely in every slab of beef on the planet. It’s also one of the hardest proteins for your body to digest. When you cook your meat longer (so there’s less red juice and more clear juice), you’re denaturing the myoglobin. When it loses its red color, it’s easier to digest. 

As painful as it is to admit, taking the red out of the meat is one of the easiest ways to make things easier in the stomach.

Get a Butcher

Finally, this is enjoyable advice. You can reduce digestive problems by getting fresher beef. The chemicals used to preserve processed meat (mostly salts and nitrates) make digestion a little bit harder. So, if you trade some of your burgers, deli meats and jerky for fresh-butchered beef, you’re making everything easier.

The trick is to get a big freezer and buy in bulk. A quarter-side of beef usually includes more than 70 lbs of various cuts and delights. None of it is processed. It tastes better than what you’ve been eating. It’s vastly healthier, and you can often get it at a lower price point. If you go the extra mile and get grass fed and finished beef, you’ll cut the fat concentration too. If you can’t resist a good marbling, then a grass-fed, grain-finished cow is your weapon of choice. Aside from the marbling, it’s equally healthy and easier to digest.

Now, your fresh beef is still protein-rich, so you need to keep everything else in mind, but cutting preservatives never hurts when it comes to meat. Unless you eat it rotten. But, that’s why you got the freezer.

why red meat is upsetting your stomach 

Work Out

Remember how metabolism is a big part of this whole digestion equation? Even if you aren’t in your early 20s anymore, a good workout regimen will keep your metabolism high. That accelerates your digestive process and enables your body to handle more protein without getting overloaded. This doesn’t mean that walking to the mailbox is enough to stuff your face with all the steak you can eat. Instead, you can look at it the other way. Until a reasonable portion of beef stops hurting your gut, you need to up your game.

Obviously, you need to take your total health into account, but the reward of some delicious red meat could be the extra motivated you needed to elevate your workout game.

See a Doctor

The last remedy we have is the most boring. If you have a digestive problem you can’t resolve with a little extra fire, slightly smaller portions, and hefty workout, you might need professional help. That’s just the way these things go sometimes. There’s no chance that you can properly customize your lifestyle for maximum beef consumption until you properly understand how your body handles it. It’s like GI Joe taught us in the 80s: knowing is half the battle.

In case it isn’t clear, the true solution to red-meat pain is to combine all of these tips. Control your portions. Take a break if your body needs it. Never let up on the exercise (that’s important for so many reasons). Let a doc look at you and see what exactly is happening. Learn more ways to cook your meat. And, of course, get better meat. That last one should be something you do even if your body handles steak like water. Not only will these tips help you survive your favorite indulgence, they’ll help you be healthier in general. So, for all of that, you’re welcome.

That about covers it. Red meat can definitely hurt. Sometimes it’s worth the pain, but if you take the time to figure out why it doesn’t always agree with you, you might be able to craft a strategy to take pain out of the equation. Before we call it a day, it’s time to drop the hardest truth you’ll hear today. For all that we joke, your problem with well-done steak is actually you. If you can’t stand it, it’s probably because you don’t know how to cook a steak without burning it and turning it into jerky. Here are some tips to save you from yourself. If you still just can’t do it, then make sure you have a good bathroom plan when you indulge.

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