Beef is a staple on many American dinner plates. Yet certain people may have stomach pain, cramping and even diarrhea after eating steak, burgers or other red meat products.
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If they happen every time you eat such foods, these symptoms might be triggered by a red meat intolerance or allergy.
Of course, diarrhea can always be a one-off event, possibly due to food poisoning, Jacqueline Wolf, MD, a gastroenterologist and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "Campylobacter and salmonella are frequent causes of food poisoning, leading to abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting one to three days post ingestion," she says.
And if you enjoyed your filet with a few too many glasses of wine, a side of french fries or an ice cream sundae, these foods may be the real cause of your diarrhea.
Here, we'll break down the reasons red meat might give you diarrhea and what you can do about them.
1. Meat Allergy
Diarrhea from red meat could be an allergic reaction. A meat allergy could lead to loose stools every time you have even a small amount of the food, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI).
Although uncommon, this type of allergy can develop at any age, per the ACAAI. Symptoms vary from person to person but can include diarrhea along with:
- Indigestion or stomach pain
- Wheezing or shortness of breath
- Cough or tightness in the throat
- Dizziness or confusion
- Anaphylaxis, a rare but life-threatening reaction that causes difficulty breathing and shock
Sometimes a meat allergy can develop after a tick bite. Known as Alpha-gal syndrome, this allergy can occur when a Lone Star tick bites and transfers a sugar substance known as alpha-gal, which then prompts the immune system to react adversely to meat like beef, pork and lamb, per the Mayo Clinic.
If you think you have a red meat allergy, make an appointment with an allergist, who can go over your treatment options, Dr. Wolf says.
Seek medical help right away if eating red meat causes a skin rash, swelling, nausea, vomiting or difficulty breathing, as these could be signs of anaphylaxis.
2. Red Meat Intolerance
Diarrhea can also be a sign of meat intolerance, which sounds similar to an allergy but differs in the way your body reacts to the irritant. A food intolerance is a digestive problem, rather than one related to the immune system, according to the Cleveland Clinic. In other words, your body has a hard time breaking down the food or a component of the food, such as the fat, Dr. Wolf says.
Because the ingredient in question remains undigested, you'll likely suffer from inflammation and irritation to the lining of your intestines, causing:
- Bloating and gas
- Stomach pain
These symptoms usually occur within a few hours of eating red meat.
To treat beef intolerance, you may want to keep a food diary so you can track how you feel after each meal. Avoiding meat is the best defense, though you may also try over-the-counter medications like antacids to ease the above symptoms.
3. Food Poisoning
Anytime you have diarrhea along with vomiting and stomach cramps, food poisoning is a probable culprit.
If you have food poisoning from eating red meat, you can expect symptoms to begin within two to six hours, thanks to a product that's likely been contaminated with infectious organisms, such as bacteria, toxins, parasites or viruses, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
The best way to feel better fast after a bout of food poisoning is to get enough fluids and eat only what sounds good to you, such as chicken noodle soup or something bland like toast. Medications to fight nausea can help, as does plenty of rest to allow your body to recover.
4. Gallbladder or Pancreas Issue
Rarely, diarrhea after eating red meat may be caused by an underlying abnormality with the gallbladder or pancreas, Dr. Wolf says. These organs help your body digest rich and fatty foods, including beef. If your body isn't able to properly break down the meat, you may have loose stools.
If your bathroom issues are accompanied by any of the following symptoms, per Johns Hopkins Medicine, you should make an appointment with your doctor:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Fatty stools
- Weight loss
- Dark urine or lighter stools, or both
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Food Poisoning"
- Mayo Clinic: "Alpha-gal Syndrome"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Food Problems: Is It An Allergy or Intolerance"
- American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: "Meat"
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "The Digestive Process: What Is the Role of Your Pancreas in Digestion?"
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Gallbladder Disease"
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.