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Is Beef Hard to Digest? Why Fatty Meats Digest Easier

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 08/31/2023

If you are having trouble digesting lean cuts of beef, you are not alone.

The higher the fat content of meat, the easier it is to digest. Fatty foods slow down the digestive process, which allows more time to break down and absorb proteins. 

Learn why eating high-fat meats is easier on your digestive system and how you can speed up digestion with digestive enzymes and bile salts.    

Variety of red meats

Is beef hard to digest?

How easy it is to digest beef depends on how it’s prepared and how much fat it contains. 

“The big reason why it's easier to digest fattier meats like hamburger steak is because of the fat,” explains Dr. Berg. “The more fat in the protein, the more delayed the digestion is. This means it sits in your small intestine longer, and the enzymes can do their work to help with fat and protein digestion.”

Eating lean cuts of beef can overwhelm the digestive system due to its high protein and low-fat content.

Because fat digestion takes time, high-fat meats remain longer in your digestive tract, which helps the body to digest protein-rich foods, particularly red meat.  

When saturated fat and long-chain fatty acids enter the small intestines, it triggers the release of cholecystokinin (CCK). CCK is a digestive hormone that stimulates the gallbladder to release bile, which is crucial to break down and absorb dietary fats. 

It also stimulates the release of digestive enzymes from the pancreas responsible for the chemical digestion of meat and slows down the movement of food through the digestive tract, which allows more time for digestive processes.

Watch the video below to learn why digesting meat with high-fat content is easier for your digestive system.

Lean beef vs. fatty beef

Lean beef such as tenderloin, sirloin, round, and flank steak typically contain less than 10 percent fat. 

In contrast, fatty beef like ribeye, T-bone, and brisket have a fat content of more than 10 percent, making these cuts juicer and more flavorful than leaner cuts. 

Fatty beef also contains more cholesterol, fat-soluble vitamins, and saturated fats, making them an excellent choice for a high-fat diet like Healthy Keto®

Saturated fat has received some negative press, linking it to an increased risk of heart disease. However, it’s important to understand that this claim is inaccurate. 

Outdated research included processed meat and fried foods in their analysis which muddied the waters when assessing the impact of saturated fats on cardiovascular health. 

In fact, an expert group of epidemiologists published a report in the Journal Of The American Heart Association stating, “There were no strong associations between dietary saturated fatty acids and coronary heart disease incidence.” 

Digestive system illustration

Is beef harder to digest than chicken and pork?

Lean red meat can be the hardest meat to digest due to its high protein and low-fat content.  

It’s important to note that the digestibility of meat products depends on several factors, such as cooking method, preparation, and the health of your digestive system.  

Deep-fried meats may be more difficult to digest than grilled or baked dishes, and chicken with skin is higher in fat and, therefore, can be easier digested than leaner cuts of chicken. 

Additionally, some people may have difficulty digesting red meat due to conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome or an allergic reaction to specific compounds in beef, such as alpha-galactose or histamine, which can cause inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract and impair digestion.

 Digestive issues

Signs you have difficulty digesting beef

Feeling heavy and lethargic after you eat meat can indicate that you have difficulties digesting beef. In addition, there are a range of other symptoms that can develop as a result of sluggish protein digestion.

Difficulty digesting beef can manifest in several ways, including:

It’s important to remember that sluggish digestion is just one possible cause of gastrointestinal symptoms. You should consult a healthcare provider to determine potential underlying causes and formulate a treatment plan if you experience persistent intestinal issues. 

Healthy young woman

How to speed up digestion when you eat meat

Experiencing digestive issues after eating red meat doesn’t mean you have to stop eating meat altogether. 

Fortunately, there are several steps that you can take to speed up red meat digestion.  

1. Eat high-fat meats

To boost protein digestion, choose fatty meats with 20 to 30 percent fat content. Fatty cuts remain longer in your small intestines, which promotes meat digestion as it allows plenty of time for digestive enzymes to break down protein into amino acids. 

Ideally, choose grass-fed meats over grain-fed products. Organic, grass-fed beef has been raised on a GMO-free feed and is a rich source of anti-inflammatory fatty acids, vitamins, and antioxidants.

2. Improve stomach acidity 

Stomach acids are essential for digestive processes, provide a first line of defense against harmful microbes, and are crucial for the breakdown and absorption of nutrients.

Low stomach acid, also known as hypochlorhydria, is common in people over 50 and can increase the risk of vitamin B12 and iron deficiency and often leads to poor protein digestion and digestive issues.  

Taking betaine hydrochloride supplements with meals can significantly aid digestion and lowers gastrointestinal discomfort after protein-rich meals.

Betaine hydrochloride is a natural acid that increases the acidity of the stomach, which improves digestive function and can help you digest meat easier. 

Alternatively, you can take an apple cider vinegar drink with meals to boost meat digestion. 

Apple cider vinegar is a rich source of acetic acid, a natural acid that amplifies stomach acid’s digestive-promoting properties by stimulating bile flow and speeding up the digestion of fats and proteins.  

3. Promote bile flow 

Bile is secreted by the gallbladder in response to eating fatty foods. Bile is a vitally important digestive fluid needed for fat digestion and triggers the release of protein-digesting enzymes. 

To promote healthy bile flow, increase your intake of choline, an essential nutrient that helps to regulate gallbladder function and stimulates bile secretion into the small intestine.

Choline-rich foods, including cruciferous vegetables, beet tops, artichokes, ginger, and egg yolks, can speed up digestive function and improve meat digestion.

People on a low-fat diet, having bile sludge and gallstones, liver disease, and those without a gallbladder are at risk of sluggish digestion, and taking a bile salt supplement can significantly enhance digestion.

Opt for a high-quality digestive support supplement that contains purified ox bile, choline, and bile salts to aid the breakdown and absorption of dietary fats and protein.

Digestive support supplement

4. Take digestive enzymes 

Proteases are protein-digesting enzymes secreted by the pancreas that break down proteins into smaller molecules that the body can absorb and use. 

Some individuals don’t produce adequate amounts of digestive enzymes, leaving them at risk of poor digestion, nutrient deficiencies, and digestive problems. 

If you find it hard to digest red meat, you may benefit from taking a digestive enzyme complex to speed up digestion and reduce discomfort, bloating, and gas after meals. 

Choose a comprehensive digestive enzyme supplement that includes protease for protein digestion, lipase for fat digestion, and amylases for carbohydrate digestion. 


5. Support intestinal health 

Supporting a healthy intestinal microflora to speed up protein digestion is often overlooked. 

An imbalanced composition of the gut flora's microbial makeup, also known as dysbiosis, can lead to digestive issues and increases the risk of autoimmune and gastrointestinal disorders. 

Dysbiosis can trigger immune reactions and cause inflammation of the intestinal lining, which can significantly impair digestive processes. 

Interestingly, sluggish meat digestion can result in bacterial protein fermentation linked to an imbalanced microflora. Research published in Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology found that protein fermentation releases metabolites that can damage intestinal health and contribute to dysbiosis. 

You can support your intestinal health by consuming plenty of fiber-rich foods such as onion, leeks, asparagus, and garlic, which help beneficial bacteria in your gut to thrive. 

Grilled tomahawk steaks

Key takeaways

Leaner cuts can be harder to digest than fattier meats. Fat digestion is slow, which allows more time for digestive enzymes to break down and digest protein. 

If you have trouble digesting meat or experience digestive discomfort, you may benefit from taking a digestive support supplement and boosting your stomach’s acidity with apple cider vinegar. 

Promoting a balanced intestinal microflora with fiber-rich foods also helps to support digestive health and speeds up meat digestion.  


1. Can beef cause digestive system problems?

It can be difficult to digest meat that’s lean—especially lean cuts of beef—due to the high protein and low fat content. Lean meat contains too much protein and can overwhelm your digestive tract. In contrast, fattier beef is typically easier to digest.


Fat digestion takes time, and high-fat meats remain longer in the small intestines, which gives digestive enzymes more opportunity to break down and digest protein. If you eat red meat that’s fatty, it can improve digestion and reduce bloating.

2. What is the easiest meat to digest?

How easy a type of meat is to digest somewhat depends on your digestive health and how the meat has been prepared. Fatty meats such as hamburger meat, chicken with skin, and pork belly tend to be easier to digest. 

The high amounts of fat in these meats trigger cholecystokinin (CCK), a digestive hormone that stimulates the release of bile and digestive enzymes needed to break down and absorb dietary fats and proteins. Eating beef that’s very lean means you’re eating more protein, which is often more difficult for your body to digest.

3. Is red meat more difficult to digest than chicken?

Which meat is harder to digest depends on the amount of fat in the protein. A fatty cut of beef can be easier digested than lean chicken, and chicken with skin can be easier digested than lean beef. 

4. What meat takes the longest for the digestive tract to break down?

Lean meat, especially beef, can take the longest to digest due to its high protein and low fat content. 

5. What is the hardest food to digest?

Specific foods that are hard to digest include legumes, whole grains, seeds, some high-fiber foods, and lean meat. Some individuals also have issues digesting other foods, including citrus fruits, spicy foods, and leafy greens.  


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