One minute you're feasting on a juicy filet mignon steak, and the next your forehead is dripping water like a leaky faucet. If your sweat glands seem to go into overdrive after eating meat, you might be struck with a case of the meat sweats.
Yep, chowing down on chicken or polishing off a plate of pork can produce a puddle of perspiration for some people. While this food phenomenon is usually no cause for concern, sometimes it can be a symptom of an underlying health issue (more on this later).
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Here, dietitian Amanda Holtzer, RD, explains why meat sweats happen, when they might be a sign of something more serious and how to minimize them for a sweat-free food experience.
Why Do Meat Sweats Happen?
Before we get into why a meaty meal may produce perspiration, it's important to understand what happens, in general, to your body temperature after you eat.
"Our bodies produce heat during the process of metabolism — aka breaking down the food we eat into the nutrients that our body needs and using those nutrients for different processes in the body," Holtzer says.
That means the digestive process triggers an uptick in body temperature. In fact, "our body's resting heat production (the amount of heat we produce just by existing) rises about 10 to15 percent after a meal," Holtzer says.
But that boost can be even higher after a high-protein dish. "Research suggests that a higher protein intake can increase diet-induced thermogenesis — or the increase in metabolic rate following the ingestion of food — when compared to that of a lower protein intake," Holtzer says.
That's probably because animal protein can be more difficult to digest than other kinds of foods. So, it requires more energy from the body to break down.
"When more energy and heat are generated within the body, the body then has [to use] compensatory mechanisms to restore homeostasis [in other words, to return to your normal resting temperature]," Holtzer says.
And what's your body's natural way of cooling you down? Yep, you guessed it: sweating.
Sweating helps regulate your body's internal thermostat. Here's how: Once your sweat glands secrete H2O (and some salt), the water evaporates, cooling the surface of your skin, according to the State of Victoria's Department of Health.
"Simply put, meat sweats are a sign that your body is hard at work digesting the protein you've just consumed" and resetting its temperature to a pre-meal state of equilibrium, Holtzer says.
Why Do Certain People Get Meat Sweats?
While munching on meat can raise your body temperature, not everyone experiences this sweaty side effect to the same degree.
For example, people who frequently eat a lot of meat may have a lower chance of becoming sweaty compared to those who eat less meat on a regular basis. That's because their bodies are likely accustomed to metabolizing animal protein.
"Our bodies are highly adaptable," Holtzer says. "In a person who typically eats 8 to 10 ounces of protein, meat sweats might not be something they experience. However, if a person who typically eats around 4 ounces of protein at a time goes to a party and dives headfirst into the charcuterie, then enjoys three lamb chops and some meatballs, they are much more likely to experience meat sweats," she explains.
Still, other people who have a tougher time digesting meat — such as older folks or those taking an antacid (which reduces the acid in your stomach that breaks down food) — may also be more prone to perspiration after a plate of animal protein.
Can a Meat-Specific Food Allergy Cause Meat Sweats?
"An allergy or intolerance to meat is quite uncommon, but not impossible," Holtzer says.
The condition is usually caused by a Lone Star tick bite, which initiates an immune system response resulting in an allergy to animal proteins including beef, pork, lamb or other mammal products, such as gelatins or dairy foods, per the Mayo Clinic.
Symptoms of alpha-gal syndrome may include, according to the Mayo Clinic:
- Hives, itching or itchy, scaly skin (eczema)
- Swelling of the lips, face, tongue, throat or other body parts
- Wheezing or shortness of breath
- A runny nose
- Stomach pain, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting
If you experience any of the above symptoms and suspect you're dealing with a food allergy or intolerance to meat, see a medical professional like an allergist who can perform a proper assessment and diagnosis.
That said, "meats sweats are more often a sign that you simply ate a bit too much versus an allergy or intolerance," Holtzer says.
Seek immediate medical attention if you’re having any of the following symptoms after eating meat, per the Mayo Clinic:
- Difficulty breathing
- Rapid, weak pulse
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Drooling and inability to swallow
- Full-body redness and warmth
These might be indications of anaphylaxis, a severe, potentially fatal allergic reaction.
Could Your Meat Sweats Be a Sign of Frey's Syndrome?
If a meaty meal makes your pores pour with sweat, you might have a rare, neurological disorder called Frey's syndrome. Also known as gustatory sweating or gustatory hyperhidrosis, this chronic condition causes you to profusely perspire while eating, according to the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.
Frey's syndrome usually happens when your parotid gland (a large salivary gland located below the ear) is harmed in some way (think: after a complication with surgery or trauma to the face), per the International Hyperhidrosis Society.
Here's why: Sometimes when the nerves related to the parotid gland become damaged, they regenerate abnormally, linking to the incorrect glands, according to the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. And if this occurs, a person may also sweat when they're supposed to salivate.
In addition to excessive sweating on the cheeks, temples or behind the ears when eating (or even simply when thinking about food), other symptoms of Frey's syndrome include, per National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences:
- Facial flushing
- A burning sensation
- Pain around the affected area
On top of trauma or injury to the parotid gland, certain medical conditions such as diabetes, cluster headaches, Parkinson's and facial herpes zoster or shingles are also associated with a heightened risk of gustatory sweating, according to the International Hyperhidrosis Society.
Are Certain Meats More Problematic for Perspiration?
Nope. "It can happen with any form of [animal] protein," Holtzer says. Chicken, beef, pork, lamb or fish are all fair game offenders that can make your pits moist.
Whether you sweat up a storm is "more significantly related to the quantity of protein versus the type of protein," Holtzer says.
Translation: When it comes to meat sweats, serving size is key. That is to say, your probability of perspiring amplifies eat a large portion of sweat-inducing meat.
How to Prevent (or Minimize) Meat Sweats
"Meat sweats typically occur when we consume meat in excessive amounts, so the best way to prevent them is to enjoy meat in appropriate portions," Holtzer says.
That means, like most things in life, moderation is a must. So, what does that look like? "For the average adult, an adequate serving of meat is about 4 ounces," Holtzer says.
"This of course can vary based on sex, height, weight and physical activity level," she adds. "For example, if you're a 6'4 man who lifts weights five days a week, you'll need more than 4 ounces."
And eating a little less meat will not only slash the sweats, but it'll also help your long-term health. Indeed, picking more plant-based proteins in favor of animal products is correlated to a reduced risk of developing certain cancers and heart-related diseases, according to an August 2019 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine.
When to See a Doctor and Treatment for Meat Sweats
"Generally speaking, meat sweats are not something to be concerned about," Holtzer says. "They're fairly common and often just a product of eating a bit too much meat or protein at one sitting."
But if you're experiencing other symptoms along with sweating, such as GI distress, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness or headache after eating meat (or any other food), Holtzer recommends talking with your doctor to rule out any underlying health issues.
Likewise, if your excessive gustatory sweating causes you extreme embarrassment and/or interferes with your quality of life, speak with your doctor about possible treatments.
For example, if your gustatory hyperhidrosis isn't caused by another, treatable underlying health issue, a dermatologist may be able to help. Dermatological treatments and procedures like prescription antiperspirants or Botox could help keep your food-related sweating at bay, according to the International Hyperhidrosis Society.
- State of Victoria’s Department of Health: “Sweat”
- Mayo Clinic: “Alpha-gal syndrome”
- International Hyperhidrosis Society: “Gustatory Sweating (Frey's Syndrome)”
- National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences: “Frey's syndrome”
- Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine: “Association of Animal and Plant Protein Intake With All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality in a Japanese Cohort”