If you feel sick to your stomach after eating beef, several potential factors could be to blame. Symptoms including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps and indigestion could be caused by anything from food poisoning to a new allergy or food intolerance.
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At some point in life, most people will experience an upset stomach or other gastrointestinal discomfort after eating. The Cleveland Clinic advises checking in with your doctor for help identifying the source of discomfort. Depending on the cause, you may be able to enjoy the foods you crave if you make adjustments, such as portion control, or switch up recipes to eliminate certain ingredients. A bit of precaution may prevent or minimize painful digestive issues.
Read more: Why is Red Meat Bad for You?
Food Allergy or Intolerance
Even if you grew up never having had an issue digesting meat, the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI) says you can develop a meat allergy at any time in life. Here's what happens.
When someone with a beef allergy consumes beef for the first time, the immune system senses danger and sends signals to the body. As ACAAI explains, antibodies created in response to that threat attach to immune cells and hang around, ready to respond if the danger returns. Any time beef is consumed after that first time, the cells release chemicals known as histamine to try to protect the body,
The type and severity of symptoms someone experiences is dependent upon where the antibodies are released in the body, adds ACAAI. Signs of an allergy may include the same symptoms as food poisoning as well as a long list of other potential indications:
- Difficulty breathing
- Tightness in the throat
- Swelling of the tongue or lips
- Pale or bluish colored skin
While an allergic reaction to beef can be life-threatening, an intolerance to beef is a digestive issue — not an allergy, notes the Cleveland Clinic.
About 1 to 2 percent of adults, and up to 10 percent of children, have food allergies, but as many as 20 percent of all people have some type of food intolerance, according to a review published in Nutrients in July 2019. It identifies enzyme deficiencies as a possible cause of food sensitivities, and that could explain why some people who ate beef without issue when they were younger suddenly experience an intolerance as they get older.
"Beef needs more stomach acid and enzyme for proper digestion," says Marina Yuabova, FNP, DNP, a family nurse practitioner and associate professor at City University of New York. As you age, normal production of digestive enzymes declines, and without enough enzymes, indigestion, abdominal bloating and a feeling of gastric fullness can occur, she explains.
Consuming beef that is raw or undercooked can lead to food poisoning. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in six Americans — or 48 million people — get food poisoning every year.
It can take a few hours or several days before symptoms show up, and the severity of symptoms will vary depending on the type of germ that causes the foodborne illness, notes CDC. Common symptoms are diarrhea, stomach cramps and vomiting. Symptoms of food poisoning from consuming bad beef may come on suddenly and they can last for a couple of hours or up to four days.
Most instances of food poisoning are mild, but when the contamination is caused by E. coli, food poisoning can turn into a life-threatening event. The CDC reports that 5 to 10 percent of people with this type of foodborne illness will have a life-threatening complication. More than 128,000 people are hospitalized in the US each year because of food poisoning, and approximately 3,000 people die.
If you think you or someone you know may have food poisoning, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids and seek medical attention if symptoms are severe, says CDC. Signs to watch for may include:
- A fever above 102 degrees
- Blood in feces
- Diarrhea for more than three days
- Frequent vomiting.
- Marina Yuabova, FNP, DNP, family nurse practitioner, associate professor, City University of New York
- American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI). “Meat Allergy”
- Cleveland Clinic. "Food Problems: Is it an Allergy or Intolerance"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Food Poisoning Symptoms”
- Nutrients. “Food Intolerances”
- CDC: "Burden of Foodborne Illness: Findings"