Why Does Beef Make Me Sick?

Beef is a staple food for many people. It’s tasty, nutritious, and a great source of protein. However, some people experience digestive distress and other unpleasant symptoms after eating beef. If you feel sick every time you eat a hamburger or steak, you may wonder – why does beef make me sick?

There are a few potential reasons why beef may cause sickness:

Food Allergy

Some people are allergic to beef. This allergy causes an abnormal immune response when beef proteins are consumed.

The body mistakes beef as harmful and releases IgE antibodies to defend against it. Chemicals like histamine are also released, leading to allergy symptoms.

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI), beef allergy can develop at any point in life. The first time beef is eaten, the immune system senses it as dangerous. After that, symptoms occur whenever beef is consumed again.

Beef allergy symptoms may include:

  • Hives, itchy skin
  • Swelling of the lips, face, tongue
  • Wheezing, difficulty breathing
  • Abdominal pain, vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Runny nose, watery eyes
  • Dizziness, fainting
  • Anaphylaxis (a life-threatening reaction)

About 2% of adults and up to 10% of children have diagnosed food allergies. Beef allergy is one of the more common food allergies.

If you experience any concerning symptoms after eating beef, see an allergist. They can do skin or blood tests to diagnose a beef allergy. Carrying an epinephrine auto-injector is recommended to treat anaphylaxis.

The only way to prevent allergic reactions is to completely avoid beef and products containing beef. Check labels carefully, as beef broth, extracts, and powders are added to many foods.

Beef Intolerance

Beef intolerance is different than a beef allergy. With an intolerance, the immune system releases IgG antibodies instead of IgE when beef is eaten.

This causes inflammation and a variety of gastrointestinal symptoms like:

  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Heartburn

Headaches, fatigue, joint pain, and respiratory issues may also occur. Symptoms typically start hours after eating beef and can last for a day or more.

It’s estimated that 15-20% of people have some type of food intolerance. Beef is one of the more commonly intolerated foods.

The reason people develop intolerances is not entirely clear. Possible causes include:

  • Changes in digestive enzymes as you age
  • Damage to the gut lining
  • Farming practices, additives, and preservatives
  • Overuse of antibiotics
  • High stress levels

Food intolerances are usually managed through elimination diets. Removing beef and other trigger foods can help prevent symptoms.

In some cases, a beef intolerance may go away over time. After following an elimination diet for several weeks or months, many people can add beef back without issues.

Food Poisoning

Consuming undercooked or contaminated beef can cause food poisoning. Bacteria like E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Listeria are common beef contaminants.

When present in raw or undercooked beef, these bacteria can multiply and cause illness. According to the CDC, around 1 in 6 Americans get food poisoning each year.

It takes from a few hours to several days to develop symptoms after exposure. Food poisoning causes:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever

Most food poisoning cases are mild. However, certain strains of bacteria like E. coli O157:H7 can lead to severe, life-threatening complications.

To prevent food poisoning, cook beef to a safe internal temperature (160°F ground beef, 145°F steaks). Be extra cautious with ground beef, as bacteria can contaminate throughout.

Practice food safety habits like washing hands, preventing cross-contamination, and refrigerating leftovers promptly. Avoid higher risk products like raw sprouts, unpasteurized milk, and undercooked eggs.

Other Causes

While allergy, intolerance, and food poisoning are the most likely reasons for sickness after eating beef, other causes are possible:

  • Medications: Some drugs can cause nausea or stomach upset, especially when taken with food. Antibiotics like tetracycline have this side effect.

  • Gut infections: Parasites, bacterial overgrowth, and viral infections often have gastrointestinal symptoms. Food may worsen discomfort.

  • Digestive disorders: Conditions like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), peptic ulcers, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can flare up after meals.

  • Enzyme deficiencies: Lactose intolerance is an example. Without enough lactase enzymes, dairy in beef dishes may cause issues.

  • Histamine intolerance: An excess of histamine from longer-aged beef products like cheese or salami can trigger headaches, rashes, GI upset, and breathing problems in sensitive people.

  • Psychological factors: Stress and anxiety around eating can manifest physically with nausea, stomach pain, or other symptoms.

Common Questions

How do you know if you have a beef intolerance?

Signs of a possible beef intolerance include:

  • Consistent negative symptoms after eating beef, but not other foods
  • Symptoms start hours after eating beef
  • GI symptoms like bloating, diarrhea, and abdominal pain
  • No anaphylaxis or life-threatening reactions

To confirm a beef intolerance, elimination diets or food intolerance testing can be useful. YorkTest and other companies offer IgG blood tests to identify problem foods. Working with a dietitian may also help pinpoint intolerances.

What foods can you eat with a beef allergy/intolerance?

Those with confirmed beef allergies need to avoid all beef and beef-derived products. Check labels carefully.

People with intolerances can often still eat small amounts of beef or reintroduce it fully after an elimination period. Focus on poultry, seafood, and plant-based proteins like beans and tofu.

Is a beef intolerance the same as a red meat allergy?

No. Beef refers specifically to cow meat. A red meat allergy or intolerance affects all red meats – beef, pork, lamb, bison, etc. People allergic to one red meat are often allergic to all of them.

With intolerance, it varies person to person. Some react to only beef while others experience issues with multiple red meats.

Will cooking beef prevent a reaction?

For food poisoning, thoroughly cooking beef kills harmful bacteria and makes beef safer. Allergies and intolerances aren’t affected by cooking, though, so cooked beef will still cause a reaction.

Can you develop a beef allergy suddenly?

Yes, beef allergy can emerge at any time, even if you’ve eaten beef without issues your whole life. The immune system can suddenly decide to recognize beef as dangerous and trigger reactions.

Tick bites are one cause of new, adult-onset red meat allergy. The alpha-gal sugar in tick saliva prompts an immune reaction that gets triggered by beef.

What To Do If Beef Makes You Sick

If you feel ill every time you eat beef, get to the root cause:

  • See an allergist for allergy testing if hives, throat swelling, trouble breathing, or other severe symptoms occur. Carry epinephrine if you have a beef allergy.

  • Try an elimination diet without beef for 2-4 weeks and see if symptoms improve. Reintroduce beef and monitor symptoms carefully. This can help identify an intolerance.

  • Practice safe food handling and cooking practices and avoid higher risk products to prevent food poisoning.

  • See your doctor to rule out infections, digestive issues, enzyme deficiencies, histamine intolerance and other possible causes.

  • Keep a food and symptom journal. Detail everything you eat and any symptoms that occur. Look for symptom patterns and possible triggers.

While beef makes some people sick, it can be safely enjoyed in moderation by most individuals as part of a healthy diet. But if you experience consistent negative reactions, avoiding beef or limiting intake may be wise. Work with your doctor and dietitian to pinpoint the cause and find symptom relief.

Why Meat Makes You Feel Sick


Why do I get sick everytime I eat beef?

Alpha-gal syndrome (AGS) is a serious, potentially life-threatening allergic condition. AGS is also called alpha-gal allergy, red meat allergy, or tick bite meat allergy. AGS is not caused by an infection. AGS symptoms occur after people eat red meat or are exposed to other products containing alpha-gal.

Why does beef upset my stomach?

Meat products are one of the most difficult foods for the human body to digest because the protein contained in meat (especially red meat) is harder for us to break down, and this can cause bloating. Large amounts of fatty foods like meat make your stomach empty slower, which also causes bloating or discomfort.

Can you be intolerant to beef?

Meat from any kind of mammal — beef, lamb, pork, goat, and even whale and seal — can cause an allergic reaction. While meat allergy is uncommon, more cases have been reported in the past few years and the numbers continue to rise due to increased recognition of the diagnosis.

Why is my body rejecting beef?

For unknown reasons, some people have a strong immune response to these molecules. The body makes proteins called antibodies. These antibodies target alpha-gal as something the immune system needs to clear out. The response is so strong that people with this allergy can no longer eat red meat.

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