What Happens To Your Gut When You Stop Eating Meat

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Most fitness enthusiasts turn to meat, which is considered a good source of protein, to build muscle and support an active lifestyle. And for good reason. "Meat provides essential micronutrients, such as energizing B vitamins, iron, and zinc, and is also a source of complete protein," explained registered dietician Dani Levy-Wolins (via Real Simple). However, gone are the days when meat was heralded as the hero of a balanced diet. With the popularity of veganism and vegetarian diets, people have started looking to alternate sources of protein, too — like lentils, tofu, and quinoa. 

There is also a considerable amount of research that supports the theory that your gut health improves when you stop (or at least reduce) the consumption of meat. For starters, you might reduce inflammation-causing gut bacteria if you stop eating meat. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Translational Medicine found a link between inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and increased animal protein consumption. IBD comprises Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, both of which manifest as chronic inflammation in your gut.

Yet another study published in 2010 in PNAS found a difference in the gut health of kids from the African country of Burkina Faso and kids from Europe. The results revealed that the children in the rural African village who consumed a high-fiber, low-animal protein diet had an increased concentration of the gut bacteria associated with lowering inflammation when compared with the Italian children who had more of the inflammation-causing bacteria. 

Here are some other things that might happen when you reduce (or stop) your meat consumption.

You might prevent leaky gut syndrome, constipation, and bloating

Leaky gut syndrome is the theory that an impaired gut barrier allows toxins to enter your bloodstream, which in turn could give rise to other diseases, per Cleveland Clinic

According to a 2022 study published in the journal Gut, a meat-enriched diet can be a contributing factor when it comes to leaky gut which can lead to diabetes (via University of South Florida Health). Senior author of the study and director of the USF Center for Microbiome Research, Microbiomes Institute, Dr. Hariom Yadav shared, "We describe the unique role of the microbiome as a garbage cleaner of our body and our diets byproducts, such as how a meat-enriched diet increases the garbage in our gut that changes the microbiome. This creates leaky gut and inflammation that ultimately induces diabetes.'" 

Red meat — beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, etc. — in particular is considered problematic for your gut. In fact — when compared with skinless chicken, fish, and plant proteins — red meat, which is high in saturated fat (the type of fat that has been linked with cardiovascular disease), could actually be damaging your heart health starting from your gut, per a 2022 study published in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology. 

This isn't surprising, since gut health has been linked with several factors like immunity, autoimmune disease, mood and mental health, cancer, sleep, and heart problems (via Better Health Channel). An assistant professor of medicine, endocrinology, diabetes, and bone disease at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Dr. Maria Pena, told Livestrong that the inflammation-causing nature of red and processed meats can also lead to constipation and bloating.

Does this mean you should stop eating meat entirely?

It is a question only you can answer for yourself — depending on your health goals, personal beliefs, and how you feel about the entire topic — but you may want to think twice about eating red meat every day

Dani Levy-Wolins told Real Simple that there is a downside to completely removing meat from your diet, especially if you don't have substitute food products that can give you some of the nutrients animal protein is known for. You might put yourself "at risk of iron or B12 deficiency, anemia, and muscle wasting," explained the expert. 

That being said, there is quite a lot of research touting the benefits of a plant-rich diet, and a healthier gut is just one of them. Perhaps the key is to be mindful of just how much meat you're consuming in a day. Do all of your meals border on being meat-heavy? Is there a way in which you can make it more balanced? Dana Ellis Hunnes, senior clinical dietitian at UCLA Medical Center and author of the book "Recipe for Survival: What You Can Do to Live a Healthier and More Environmentally Friendly Life,"  told SheFinds that loading your plate with whole and plant-based foods will leave your gut (and your heart) thanking you. "Whole grains, fruits, nuts, seeds, vegetables, legumes, all are known for improving gut health as they are anti-inflammatory and feed the healthy gut bacteria," she explained.