Red meat (beef, pork, lamb) is a good source of protein, vitamin B, iron, and zinc. Despite these benefits, red meat is known for its health risks, and for a good reason.
There is a ton of scientific evidence that long-term red meat can cause diseases like cardiovascular problems, cancer, diabetes. People who eat too much red meat have a higher risk of premature death. Substituting red meat with chicken, turkey or seafood reduces the risk.
However, eating meat might also cause health issues in the short term.
Stomach and chest pain after eating meat
Meat, especially red meat, contains a lot of protein and fat. Both protein and fat are hard to digest and they stay in the stomach for a long time. This might result in stomach or chest pain if you already have certain health issues or simply ate too much meat.
There are the most common health problems that cause chest or stomach pain after eating meat:
- acid reflux, heartburn
- gallbladder problems
- meat allergy
Does red meat cause heartburn?
There have been many debates about acid reflux and meat. While there’s no concrete evidence, some types of meat have been shown to worsen acid reflux symptoms in some people.
Certain types of meat – like raw steak – are especially hard to digest, which increases the risk of heartburn.
Reflux symptoms – like chest or stomach pain, excessive burping, heartburn – are triggered when stomach acid flows into the esophagus. This causes pain and irritation.
Our bodies have a muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). This muscle prevents acid from escaping our stomachs into the esophagus. It’s ring-like and naturally remains closed unless when we swallow or belch.
However, for people with acid reflux, the LES is weakened. The weakened muscle allows acid to flow from the stomach into the esophagus.
This worsens when one takes meats especially red meat like beef, pork, etc.
These meats contain high-fat content that may help relax the lower esophageal sphincter. When this happens, acid can easily escape from the stomach into your esophagus resulting in reflux symptoms.
Additionally, the high-fat content in meat promotes the release of cholecystokinin which is a hormone that encourages the lower esophageal sphincter to relax, which causes reflux.
Furthermore, this hormone encourages meat and other foods to stay in the stomach for an extended period, increasing the risk of acid reflux.
Therefore, reducing the amount of meat in your diet might help alleviate reflux.
Pain in right side after eating red meat
Pain in the right side of the stomach, chest, neck, arm, or shoulder after eating meat is the typical symptom of gallbladder problems, like inflammation or gallstones.
The gallbladder is a small organ on the right side of the stomach. It releases a fluid called bile into the small intestine. This fluid helps with digesting fat.
Fatty foods, like meat, make the gallbladder work harder. However, if the gallbladder is not healthy, e.g. because of an inflammation or gallstones, it might make the digestion process painful.
Common symptoms of gallbladder issues:
- stomach pain
- nausea, vomiting
- dark urine
- right shoulder pain (fairly common, even without other symptoms)
Gallbladder problems can be quite serious. If you are experiencing some of the above-mentioned symptoms, you should seek immediate medical attention.
Can I eat steak with gallstones?
It is generally not recommended to eat fatty meat with gallstones. Burgers, pizza, eggs, and a variety of other foods might trigger symptoms.
You might try lean meat, like chicken (do not eat the skin, though) or fish.
If you still want to eat steak, consult with your doctor first and try it well done, instead of rare.
Red meat and indigestion
Many people experience an upset stomach after eating red meat. Several factors increase the risk of having indigestion after eating red meat:
- Fat and protein: This is probably the most important factor. Because of the high fat and protein content, red meat makes your digestive tract work very hard, which might trigger symptoms. Especially if there is an underlying medical condition.
- Oil: Oily foods, such as fried foods, are also hard to digest. Roasting and baking are healthier cooking methods.
- Eating too much: A big slice of steak and a large amount of a side dish can be just too much for the stomach to handle. If meat is causing you symptoms, try to eat smaller portions.
- Side dishes: Since meat already contains a lot of protein, try to eat it with vegetables that are low in protein.
Meat and gastritis
Gastritis is the inflammation of the stomach lining. The most common symptom is upper stomach pain. Other symptoms are:
- nausea, vomiting
- loss of appetite
Common trigger foods are:
- Spicy foods: Spicy foods irritate the inflamed stomach lining or the ulcers if there are any.
- Fatty foods: Digesting fatty foods might just be too hard for the inflamed stomach.
If you have gastritis, the most important and best thing to do is to have multiple smaller meals and eat foods that are easy to digest. Your doctor might also prescribe you some medications.
Stomach pain after eating steak
Steak is not only one of the hardest foods to digest, but it’s also very easy to eat too much of it.
Eating a large rare steak with beans as a side dish and your protein intake is going to be just too much for your body to process. Upset stomach, stomach cramps, heartburn might be the result.
Many conditions might be causing stomach or chest pain after eating steak, including:
- beef allergy
- stomach cancer
- gallbladder or liver issues
These tips might help avoid the discomfort after eating steak:
- limit the amount of steak you eat
- prefer well-done over rare, as it is easier to digest it
- choose a side dish that has a low protein content
Lower abdominal pain after eating red meat
Diverticulitis, IBS, and IBD (irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease) are all possible causes of lower abdominal pain after eating red meat.
In a study, researchers found that long-term consumption of red meat is a risk factor of developing diverticulitis, which often causes symptoms in the lower part of the abdomen.
High-fat foods like red meat can overstimulate the gut, therefore they often trigger symptoms for those who have digestive disorders, such as IBS or IBD.
Other common symptoms are:
- gas, bloating
- both constipation and diarrhea
- nausea, vomiting
Sometimes meat intolerance can also trigger pain in the abdomen.
While not common, it is still possible to be allergic to meat. If you have a meat allergy, chances are you are allergic to all kinds of meat: red meat, chicken, lamb, pork, tuna, salmon, etc.
Like all allergic reactions, meat allergy is an abnormal response of the immune system to the food you eat, which is the meat, in this case.
Symptoms can be as light as runny nose or nausea, or as serious as anaphylaxis, which requires immediate help.
If you think you have a meat allergy, consult with an allergist to get a proper diagnosis.
Beef vs. chicken or fish
Red meat like beef is discouraged, especially for people with reflux, since it contains high amounts of fat that sit in your stomach for a long time.
This causes it to stretch hence increasing pressure on the LES that prevents stomach acid from flowing into your esophagus.
As a result, your stomach produces more acid which irritates your digestive system and affects your lower esophageal sphincter.
If you have too much acid in your stomach, you’re likely to have stomach contents go back into your throat.
It’s why doctors recommend lean proteins like fish, shellfish, beans, game meat, and poultry for people with acid reflux.
Chicken, fish, and other lean meats may help reduce acid reflux symptoms. Since they’re low in fat, they are easily digestible.
However, we advise that you eat them baked, poached, or broiled. Also, ensure that you choose chicken cuts without skin and never pan fry or deep fry your meat.
Additionally, choose lean fatty fish and avoid consuming them fried or deep-fried.
What to eat instead of meat?
Well, you can of course eat meat if you want to, but consider limiting the amount and try to eat meats with lower fat content.
Eating too much is also a common cause of chest or stomach pain. If you eat too much food with high-fat content, this can get even worse.
However, there are other good protein sources apart from meat that individuals can try. If you’ve cut or eliminated meat from your diet, consider these options;
- Healthy fats from olive oil, walnuts, etc.
- Egg whites but stay away from egg yolks since they’re high in fat
- Seafood and turkey
Other factors that can help alleviate reflux are:
- Losing weight
- Avoid drinking alcohol
- Eating in responsible portions and slowly
- Reducing stress
- Walking after meals
A good thing to consider for people with acid reflux is to cut back their meat consumption in general.
Try eating it only two or three times a week. You can also opt for beans, nuts, and soy to compensate for the lost protein.
But, because nuts have high-fat content, eat only small portions. A handful or two is enough but first read the label.
Frequently asked questions
Eating too much red meat increases the risk of serious medical conditions like cancer, diabetes, or heart problems. It can have severalother side effects, like weight gain, bad breath, etc.
According to the Harvard Medical School:
“eating 3 1/2 more servings of meat per week is associated with a higher risk of death. Consuming more than three additional servings may sound like a significant escalation. But consider that a standard serving equals about 3 ounces, a portion the size of a deck of cards. Eating a steakhouse filet, which typically weighs up to 12 ounces, you could consume roughly 3 1/2 servings in a single meal.” (source)
Looks like the best you can do is to try to avoid red meat. Especially processed meat, like hot dog and sausage, is bad for your health.
Chicken is easier to digest than red meat as it contains less fat. But it can still cause chest pain to some people. The skin is harder to digest, so it might be a good idea to avoid it.
However, it is quite possible that the problem is not chicken, but the other ingredients you eat.
If you like spicy chicken, the spice might irritate your stomach or esophagus, causing chest pain.
Oily french fries, ketchup, onions are often consumed with chicken. These foods are all known trigger foods for heartburn.