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Why Do I Feel Worse When Eating Red Meat

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 08/31/2023

You love your ribeye.

a photograph of a grilled steak on a plate next to a fork and knife

You love your lamb chops.

And venison is a treat.

In fact, one reason you’re interested in the keto diet is because you discovered you’d be able to eat these foods regularly yet still lose weight and increase your energy.

There’s just one problem.

When you eat meat, you often feel bad. Sometimes more than bad; you feel downright awful.

There are some good reasons for this.

In this article, I’ll explain:

Time to dive in.


The Two Main Reasons Why Eating Make Makes You Feel Awful

There are two main reasons why you feel awful when you eat red meat.

#1 You Have Too Little Hydrochloric Acid In Your Stomach

In order to properly digest protein, you need a sufficient amount of hydrochloric acid in your stomach. Having too little acid is very common. Happily, there’s a simple solution: consume betaine hydrochloride, otherwise known as apple cider vinegar.

a picture of a glass of apple cider vinegar drink

You can either drink it or take apple cider vinegar as a pill. Whichever method you choose, supplementing with it should help you more easily digest protein. This is particularly important if you do decide to go on the keto diet, since you may be increasing your meat-based protein consumption.

And as you age, it’s common to lose hydrochloric acid in your stomach, causing you to have a problem digesting protein in general, but especially red meat. If you’re a senior, you may particularly notice trouble digesting red meat.

Let’s take a look at the second possible reason you feel bad when you eat meat. It has the potential to be detrimental to your health, so I want you to be aware of it.

#2 You’re Accumulating Too Much Iron

Iron is an essential trace mineral. As the word “trace” suggests, you need only a very small amount for your health. Too much, and it becomes quite toxic. And the problem is that your body has no mechanism to get rid of iron.

an illustration of an iron molecule in the blood

Too much iron can actually damage your health.

Women who are menstruating each month usually don’t have a problem with accumulating too much iron, but men sometimes have a problem. They accumulate toxic levels of iron and compromise their health.

Iron can accumulate in the organs, including your liver, where it can create a serious disease called cirrhosis. Because cirrhosis starts silently in your body, it’s difficult to detect until it’s progressed to advanced stages.

Toxic levels of iron can also cause inflammation - the kind of inflammation that’s been linked to cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes.

Iron Toxicity’s Early Signs Are Subtle

In the beginning, signs of iron toxicity are more subtle than cirrhosis or cancer. They include:

  • Headache
  • Joint pain
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia

If you have any of these symptoms after you eat red meat, it’s possible you have too much iron in your body.


The Two Types Of Iron

There are actually two types of iron: non-heme, and heme. This is important for you to know, since only one kind tends to build up to levels that can become toxic and trigger the disease.

One type is what’s called non-heme. It’s found primarily in these foods:

  • Vegetables
  • Plants
  • Seafood
  • Eggs

The second type is the one that can accumulate to destructive levels. It’s called heme.

Heme is found primarily in meat as well as seafood, which has a combination of both non-heme and heme iron.

Meat also has a combination of heme and non-heme, but typically contains far more heme.

I know this is a lot to take in, but stay with me. As I mentioned, it's important for you to understand the difference between heme and non-heme because the non-heme form of iron doesn’t have as much of an impact on your health as heme does.

Heme Level Of Common Foods

You may be consuming too much heme iron without realizing it. That’s why I’m providing this list of commonly-eaten foods that contain the most heme iron as a percentage of its overall iron content:

  • Lamb 55%
  • Venison 51%
  • Beef 50%
  • Mussels 48%
  • Lobster 40%
  • Shrimp 40%
  • Pork 23%
  • Salmon 17%
  • Pate’ (pork liver) 16%
  • Chicken 0%

If you feel you’ve accumulated too much iron in your body, you can compare what you’ve been eating with this list, and start to understand how the accumulation is happening.

Another source of iron you may be surprised to discover, especially if you’re not on the keto diet or doing intermittent fasting, are grain-based foods that are enriched with iron. This includes bread, pasta, cereal, crackers, and biscuits. They’re often labeled as being fortified.

Of course, if you’re already on keto, you aren’t consuming any of these grain products.

The good news is that if you’re deficient in iron, you can plainly tell from this list which foods are best for you to consume to improve your iron levels.


7 Ways To Lower Your Iron If You’ve Accumulated Too Much

I’ve put together a list of 7 ways you can lower your iron level. As well, you can see that some of these can prevent the toxic buildup of iron in the first place.

  1. The best way to lower your iron levels, interestingly, is to donate blood.
  2. You can also take calcium supplements, because they inhibit your uptake of iron.
  3. As well, I recommend you avoid the foods high in heme iron on the above list, at least until you assess that your iron levels are healthy.
  4. Avoid supplements that have iron added to them, such as Centrum Silver and Geritol.
  5. Take phytates. Phytates block the absorption of iron. You can get phytates either from bran or from a supplement called IP6.
  6. Take a chelator called EDTA, on an empty stomach. Chelators bind with metal ions, allowing them to be excreted from your body. Although it’s very helpful for removing iron from your body, chelators also remove other minerals you do want, such as calcium. Thus, you may want to add calcium back in.
  7. Consume food-based antioxidants or food rich in antioxidants such as cruciferous vegetables. Antioxidants won’t decrease iron but they will help neutralize free radical damage caused by the iron-oxidizing within your body.

You Don’t Have To Live With Meat Making You Feel Bad

You can see that there are some straightforward reasons why eating meat can make you feel bad. It’s actually somewhat common; but, you don’t have to live with it now that I’ve given you numerous ways to correct the most typical reasons.

Meat should be a pleasurable meal, not one that leaves you feeling bloated, lethargic, or nauseated.

I want you to enjoy your meat, not grit your teeth and suffer the after-effects.

So, if it does leave you feeling terrible after you eat it, try these remedies. I want you to get your meat enjoyment back.

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Disclaimer: Our educational content is not meant or intended for medical advice or treatment.

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for quality and relevancy.

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