Do you get stomach pain after eating red meat? Tucking into this food group — which includes beef from cows as well as lamb, pork and processed options like sausage, pepperoni and bacon — may cause belly cramps, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting for some people.
But getting to the bottom of this issue can be tricky, as there are several possible reasons for the discomfort. For example, you may have eaten something else along with that burger that's setting your stomach aflame, such as alcohol, dairy or fried foods. And there are literally dozens of reasons out there for a case of abdominal pain, per the Mayo Clinic.
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Learn more about the connection between stomach pain after eating red meat, including the likely culprits behind it and some stress-free ways to ease — and maybe even avoid — the pain.
1. Food Intolerance
Stomach pain after eating red meat could be a sign of a food intolerance, according to the Cleveland Clinic, which means your body has a hard time breaking down this specific food group.
Other signs of a food intolerance include:
- Bloating and gas
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Feeling irritable or nervous
Fix it: If you notice these symptoms appear every time you eat red meat (a food diary can help you keep track), you may have an intolerance. There is no cure, so your best option is to avoid eating the problem food.
2. Red Meat Allergy
Tummy pain or indigestion from red meat could mean you have an allergy to this food group, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI), although this type of food allergy is not very common.
Other symptoms of a red meat allergy can include:
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath
- Feeling dizzy or confused
This kind of allergy can develop at any age, per the ACAAI. And sometimes it can be the result of a bite from a Lone Star tick (known as Alpha-gal syndrome), per the Mayo Clinic.
Fix it: If you think you have a red meat allergy, see your doctor or an allergist, who can talk you through your treatment options.
Rarely, a food allergy can lead to anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction marked by shock and difficulty breathing. Get medical help immediately if you notice these symptoms.
3. Digestive Diseases
You're not alone if a digestive disorder is the cause of your stomach pain after eating steak. In fact, digestive diseases affect an estimated 60 to 70 million Americans, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
One digestive disease in particular that causes stomach pain is diverticulitis, an inflammation of one or more of the small pouches in the gastrointestinal tract. One study, published March 2018 in Gut, looked at red meat consumption and the risk of diverticulitis and found that eating more was associated with an increased risk of this digestive condition.
This small study could be of concern to meat-lovers, but there needs to be more direct data, says Jacqueline Wolf, MD, a gastroenterologist and associate professor at Harvard Medical School. "A prospective study that compares people on a meat diet with those who aren't is the next step here, but there could potentially be a change in the gut microbiome in people with diverticulitis who consume a lot of meat," she explains.
According to the Mayo Clinic, other signs of diverticulitis include:
- Abdominal tenderness
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Constipation (sometimes diarrhea, but that's less common)
Fix it: Talk to your doctor, who can diagnose diverticulitis and discuss how best to treat it.
Another reason you may be experiencing stomach pain could be due to a case of gastritis. This is an irritation of the stomach lining, per Johns Hopkins Medicine, which can be caused by a bacterial infection, an autoimmune disorder, the long-term use of pain medications and more.
Fix it: To treat the typical symptoms of gastritis, which include indigestion, heartburn and abdominal pain, you might want to eat smaller, more frequent meals and avoid fatty foods (including red meat), per the Mayo Clinic.
5. Food Poisoning
If the pain you feel only occurs after eating red meat once, it could be that you have food poisoning due to a foodborne illness. These events are usually singular in nature and tend to occur when the food you eat is contaminated with bacteria, parasites or viruses.
Typical symptoms of food poisoning include the following, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Upset stomach and cramps
- Diarrhea and/or vomiting
The two most common bacteria behind it include E. coli and C. perfringens. "E. coli is from undercooked beef and can cause stomach pain and other GI symptoms, while C. perfringens is a toxin that can be found in contaminated beef," Dr. Wolf explains.
Fix it: Unfortunately, time is the best cure for food poisoning. Just make sure to stay hydrated until your symptoms subside. And call your doctor if your symptoms persist for more than a couple days.
6. A Bug
Keeping track of what you ate and when you started having symptoms is one way to pinpoint stomach pain after eating red meat. But in some cases, your discomfort may not even be related to the abdomen.
Certain types of sickness, like the flu, are known to cause fever, aches, chills and a stuffy nose, per the CDC, but abdominal discomfort, like nausea and vomiting, are also possible signs of this seasonal illness. And per a Stanford Medicine study, it's not uncommon for people with COVID-19 to experience gastrointestinal distress.
Fix it: If your symptoms are mild, stay home and avoid contact with other people, per the CDC. If your symptoms are severe or you're in a high-risk group (including pregnant people and older adults), call your doctor, who may prescribe antiviral medication.
Remedies for Stomach Pain After Eating Beef
Belly discomfort is no picnic, of course, but if you're looking for a remedy for stomach pain after eating beef, the fix is about the same as for other cases of mild GI distress. Here's a look:
- Sip clear liquids: Drinking clear liquids, like broth, can help, per the Cleveland Clinic.
- Nix solid foods: Skip solid food for the first few hours after symptoms appear and avoid high-fat foods or ones that are fried or greasy, as these may cause GI discomfort, per Harvard Health Publishing.
- Try mint: "If your symptoms aren't severe, you could try Pepogest ($16.99, Amazon.com) or another mint product before eating," suggests Dr. Wolf.
- Get some rest: The best remedy is some good ol' down time. The reason? Sickness, dehydration, stomach pain and more can drain your body of energy,
- Mayo Clinic: "Abdominal Pain"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Is Something in Your Diet Causing Diarrhea?"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Flu Symptoms & Complications"
- Stanford Medicine: "Gastrointestinal Symptoms Common in COVID-19 Patients"
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Digestive Disease Statistics for the United States"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Clear Liquid Diet"
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Gastritis"
- Mayo Clinic: "Gastritis"
- Gut: "Meat intake and risk of diverticulitis among men"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Food Problems: Is it an Allergy or Intolerance"
- American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: "Meat"
- Mayo Clinic: "Alpha-gal syndrome"
- Mayo Clinic: "Diverticulitis"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Food Poisoning Symptoms"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.