The Truth about Red Meat Digestion

I was enjoying a perfectly cooked rare beef fillet mignon yesterday when I was rudely interrupted by my friend who thought it pertinent to tell me that “Red meat stays in your digestive tract for 3 months, you shouldn’t eat it”. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this myth about the digestion of red meat taking 3 months, but I always thought it seemed rather far fetched. For my benefit, and now yours, I decided to find out the truth about red meat digestion.

I think it’s helpful to begin by defining what red meat is. According to Wikipedia, the nutritional definition of red meat is simply meat that comes from mammals. Meat from poultry is considered “white meat”.

How long does it take for red meat to be digested? According to Lisa Cicciarello Andrews, College of Nursing, University of Cincinnati, red meats on average take from 1 to 3 days to be completely digested and eliminated from the body. Red meats take much longer to digest than other foods because of their high protein and fat content.

Is eating red meat a few times a week bad for you? After reading many journals and articles, there seems to be a general consensus that red meats should be eaten only on occasion, such as once a week. The primary concern about too much red meat in the diet is that it is high in saturated fat that raises blood cholesterol. Other concerns about red meat stem from it being linked to the development of some serious diseases, such as breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer and heart disease. According to a study published by the American Cancer Society, people who eat 3 or more ounces of red meat per day, which is equivalent to the amount of meat in a hamburger, are 30-40% more likely to develop cancer in the lower part of the colon. People who eat processed meats, such as ham, bologna and bacon are in the highest risk categories for colon cancer and rectal cancer.

The message here seems to be that red meat should be eaten at most a couple times a week. Other foods, such as poultry, fish and beans are great red meat substitutes that provide lots of protein and should be eaten more frequently. When you do eat red meat, choose smaller portions and lean cuts. When preparing, red meat should be baked, broiled, or poached, rather than frying or charbroiling (BBQ’ing) it.

17 comments to The Truth about Red Meat Digestion

  • I belived it!
    However, I didn’t focus on the time – rather considered what impact daily eating of red meat had on the system… you would assume there is greater stress on the system. Not surprised cancer has been connected to this type of food consumption.

  • mark deane

    i cant help thinking that all this about red meat is total rubbish….im a odybuilder and been for 35 years..i eat fillet steak every day and so do millions of other bodybuilders and athletes…if this cancer rubbish was the ase then youd have sooo many athletes etc dying early…i take most of these articled are written by veggies who porbably have higher cholesterol and tryglycerides than non veggies due to the extremely high fat in nuts etc…..prehistoric man ate grass did he….

  • I don’t know what the veggie to meat eater ratio is at the American Cancer Society – lol. There has always been quite a bit of concern about how red meat is cooked. In particular, people who barbeque their red meat may be exposing themselves to higher levels of carcinogens that those who broil or fry. This may be part of the reason why people are encouraged to limit their intake.

  • Tim (Nutrition Guy)

    I think a mixture of common sense and science should answer this question. Its a matter of going back to basics. First, man has been on this planet for a long time. He consumed red meat for survival. He was a scavenger, feast and famine was his way of life. Unless you a have medical condition that prohibits you from digesting red meat, I would say you should have no problems as long as you don’t eat just red meat. I good no red meat cleanse two times a year can be beneficial. Science tells us that our metabolic systems are designed to handle just about as much red meat as you can throw at it, without significant problems. Unless you are a professional athlete just remember, eat in moderation, exercise, and enjoy.

  • Raeannen

    thank you so much for that!! I have always had a hard time digesting red meat, this write up made it more clear for me. I am going to try and give up on red meat for a while, see how I feel after a couple of weeks!!

  • r-d

    always had a hard time digesting red meat? last i checked i didnt have a digestion indicator on my stomach. you eat you drink you pass the food you eat again. eat everything in moderation and live an active lifestyle. that’s all there is to it.

  • susan threlkeld

    I really enjoy a steak from time to time and feel I really need for the protein, but every time I eat it I am sorry, and I have payed close attention to to this for several yrs and it is always the same, it takes days to digest and go through me and causes me to be constipated and takes about a month for me to get back on track. I have a pelvic problem left over from a hysterectomy, prolapse, and this causes me a lot of pain. Don’t know if it gets bound up and causes twisting in my colon or what but, the stool is not normal. I was hoping in my search that I could find a product that would help me digest it because I do believe it has something in it that is helpful, because I tend to get anemic because of the fear of eating meat in general, and the red meat hurts me the most, fish the least.

  • Therese

    Instead of getting defensive, some of you meat-eaters should do a little research. I am a vegetarian, but I really don’t care if you eat every cow in the pasture and then have your dog for desert. The point I would like to make is that consuming meat at the rate that humans have been doing for the past hundred years is not the ideal way to live. In historical times the diet consisted of 5% animal foods, 95% whole plant foods and 0% refined foods. Our current lifestyle is 42% animal foods, 51% refined foods and 7% whole plant foods. Whole plant foods contain fiber, anti-oxidants water, nutrients without the cholesterol or hormones and preservatives. Animal foods have nutrients but no fiber, no anti-oxidants, and they are high in saturated fats, cholesterol, pesticides, toxins, oxidents and hormones. Before the 1900, and the onset of modern agriculture, heart desease was unknown, today its one of the major causes of death by desease. Cancer is another and then the list goes on from there. Heart disease and cancer went from being extremely rare, even unheard of, to rampant in just 100 years, with heart desease alone killing more than half the population.
    Defending meat consumption and comparing it to margarine versus butter is like defending smoking. At the very least you should reduce your meat consumption and increase you whole plant foods.

  • Jim

    We’re meant to/we’re not meant to…blah blah blah. I won’t tell you what to eat, and don’t tell me what to eat either. How about that? Vegetarians can be so smug, and meat eaters can be bombastic.

  • Carrol Lemon

    Go ahead & eat whatever you want, just consider that you’ll probably die sooner than those who chose to eat healthier. For instance, cancer rates, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, are extremely low amoung Asian cultures due to the fact that they ate/eat primarily fish & plant foods. Americans are eating in excess unhealthy diets, just look at the obesity rates in the U.S. which causes diabetes, heart disease etc.. Look around you, how many of the people you are standing in line with at the grocery store or overweight or obese? Look at what is in their shopping carts. It’s really not that hard to figure out and red meat is just the tip of that iceberg.

  • Sebastian

    I think Jim tells the truth here, nobodys gona listen to people telling them what to eat and what not to, do what you like with your body, its yours at the end of the day. You should know whats good and whats not good for you by now.

  • Daryl

    It’s true that people nowadays shouldn’t eat nearly as much red meat (along with other types of food) as they do, but being strictly vegetarian is idiotic. You would have to stuff yourself with a variety of different plant based foods to achieve the same nutritional value you’d get from eating a single meat based meal, especially if that meat is fish. And for any of you idiots that may suggest that human beings were not meant to eat meat (as I saw in another website), let me tell you that the human brain didn’t begin to develop into what it is today until our ancestors incorporated a good portion of meat into their diet.

    Oh, and for the fellow who suggested that cancer and heart disease were virtually unheard of 100 years ago… yeah, that’s because they went by different names 100 years ago. Tuberculosis was also nearly unheard of 100 years ago, simply because most people who had it were merely known as lungers, not because tuberculosis was rare.

  • T

    Whether or not we are “meant to” eat meat is irrelevant. Not all human beings are exactly the same; there’s tremendous variety within the species. Some people feel like they really need meat to have ample protein. Many vegetarians feel like they get enough whole grains, legumes. Digestion is different for everyone.
    Personally, I absolutely detest red meat. It makes me feel heavy and sluggish for a couple days, whereas if I eat vegetables or a lean protein like fish or even chicken, I feel energized. But other people have looked at what I eat, whether it’s a bowl of fruit salad, rice and beans with grilled veggies, or a green smoothie and just straight up said, “If I ate that, I’d be in the bathroom the rest of the day.” It’s never an issue for me. Clearly, those people feel physically healthier eating more animal-based proteins, where I personally feel better getting them from plant sources and the occasional lean (not red) meat.
    I think it’s very bad to call vegetarians idiotic, however. In general, they live significantly longer than omnivores, if only because they actually pay attention to what they eat, which many people don’t. The number one factor for increased likeliness of cancer is in fact the level of meat consumption. Professional athletes’ bodies are not like everyone else’s, because all of that protein is being utilized, rather than simply pushed through inactive bodies. There are plenty of vegetarian and flexetarian athletes, too.

  • Jordana

    Just wanted to say well said Daryl! ^^

  • Lucia

    Dear vegans and vegetarians. Eating meat is not the problem. Eating poor quality meat which is full of antibiotics from animals who live in a crowded space and do not eat their natural diet is a problem. Eating high fat meat WITH simple and complex grains and starches is a problem. Eating meat, vegies and fruit is healthy. Humans have very little history in our evolution eating legumes and grains, these were brought much later when agriculture was introduced and our bodies have different levels of allergic response to them. Grains and legumes cause sugar spikes and have antinutrient and inflamatory effects and meat is only a problem when eating these. Also, meat/vegie/nut/ fruit eaters look much stronger and vibrant to me whereas the vegans and vegetarians I know look pale, tired and have poor muscle tone.

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