What Really Happens To Your Body When You Eat Red Meat Every Day

There's no denying that red meat is delicious. There's nothing quite like a juicy burger (with crumbled blue cheese and caramelized onions on top, ah) or a medium-rare sirloin steak (drizzled in chimichurri sauce and sprinkled in sea salt). Red meat generally refers to meat that is derived from certain farm-reared mammals, like pigs, cows, and lambs. Diabetes UK put it simply: "Red meat is any meat that's a dark red color before it's cooked."

It's your burgers, steaks, beef tacos, bacon, sausages — all that tasty stuff. And it's good for you in some ways. In fact, red meat is a great source of protein, iron, zinc, saturated fat, and B vitamins, according to Healthline. That said, not all red meat is created equal. Some of it is grass-fed and organic (i.e., no hormones or artificial additives), while some of it is processed. But even if you stick to the healthier varieties, eating too much red meat can still take a serious toll on your health. Here's a look at what really happens to your body when you eat red meat every single day.

Eating red meat daily can raise your cholesterol to dangerous limits

Red meat tends to have more saturated fats that raise your blood cholesterol, according to the American Heart Association. This means it's tied to heart disease, too. High cholesterol is dangerous because it can lead to an accumulation of cholesterol on your artery walls (this condition is known as atherosclerosis), which can reduce blood flow to your arteries. And this can cause a whole host of complications, including chest pain, stroke, and heart attack, according to the Mayo Clinic. So while you might think bacon is a great side to add to your breakfast, you might want to think twice before you eat it too often.

To help prevent high cholesterol, health professionals recommend you eat a diet that's low in animal fats and only use healthy fats in moderation (via Mayo Clinic). This means cutting back on, or entirely eliminating, your intake of red meats. While this may be easier said than done for some carnivores, it may also be worth the effort.

Consuming red meat every day may lead to death from heart disease

Red meat is tied to cardiovascular-related deaths, according to a 2016 research review published in the peer-reviewed journal, Public Health Nutrition. "The present meta-analysis indicates that higher consumption of total red meat and processed meat is associated with an increased risk of [cardiovascular mortality]," the researchers found.

Some 655,000 Americans die from heart disease every single year. That means about one in every four deaths is due to the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And heart disease costs the United States about $219 billion each year in "health care services, medicines, and lost productivity due to death."

When you think about the fact that many of these deaths may be a result of eating too much red meat, it probably makes you question just how great that burger really is. Is it worth your life? Sure, eating a burger every now and again isn't going to kill you. But when you eat red meat every day, you're certainly increasing your odds of a cardiovascular disease-related death.

You may increase your risk for cancer if you eat red meat daily

According to a study published in the journal, Cancer Medicine, red meats are "possible sources of human carcinogens relevant for CRC [colorectal cancer] risk." Colorectal cancer is incredibly common. With the exception of skin cancer, is the third most commonly diagnosed form of cancer in American men and women, Cancer.net revealed.

It's not just red meat that can increase your cancer risk, though. The way you cook foods also matters. The National Cancer Institute explained it this way: "Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are chemicals formed when muscle meat, including beef, pork, fish, or poultry, is cooked using high-temperature methods, such as pan frying or grilling directly over an open flame. In laboratory experiments, HCAs and PAHs have been found to be mutagenic — that is, they cause changes in DNA that may increase the risk of cancer."

While HCAs are not found in significant amounts in foods besides meats that are cooked at high temperatures, they are found in cigarette smoke and car exhaust fumes. So you can understand why they're not great for your health.

Cancer-related death is a real concern for daily red meat eaters

According to a 2016 review published in Public Health Nutrition, red meat has been linked to not just death from heart disease but also "cancer mortality." Approximately 39.5 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer within their lifetimes, according to the National Cancer Institute. While many will survive, cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States (via Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). The cancer death rate is 158.3 per 100,000 men and women per year, the Institute explained. Some of these deaths may be a result of eating too much red meat.

Colon cancer is one example, although researchers aren't entirely sure what it is about red meat that contributes to the formation of this cancer. "HCAs [heterocyclic amines] may play a role [in colon cancer], but since high levels can also be present in cooked chicken, they are unlikely to be the whole explanation," Harvard Men's Health Watch explained. "Preservatives have also been implicated in the case of processed meats; nitrates are a particular worry, since the body converts them to nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic. But since fresh meat is also linked to colon cancer, preservatives can't be the whole answer."

You may be more likely to develop diabetes if you eat red meat every day

According to one study published in Diabetes Care by the American Diabetes Association, red meat is linked to diabetes.The researchers evaluated over 37,000 participants who did not have cardiovascular disease, cancer, or type 2 diabetes over an average of 8.8 years and, as it turns out, red meat is indeed a culprit behind some diabetes diagnoses.

During "326,876 person-years" of follow-up, the researchers found over 1,500 cases of type 2 diabetes. "After adjusting for age, BMI, total energy intake, exercise, alcohol intake, cigarette smoking, and family history of diabetes, we found positive associations between intakes of red meat and processed meat and risk of type 2 diabetes," they wrote. The next time you go to order a burger at your favorite fast food joint, you might want to think twice about just how often you indulge in red meat. While an occasional cheeseburger is no big deal, eating too much red meat over time may take a toll on your health.

Eating red meat daily can increase your risk of having a stroke

The more red meat you eat, the more you put yourself at risk of having a stroke, according to a growing body of research. One study published in the journal Stroke found the "stroke risk may be reduced by replacing red meat with other dietary sources of protein." During decades of follow-up, the researchers documented 2,633 strokes in women and 1,397 strokes in men. And they found that greater intake of red meat was linked to an increased risk of stroke.

On the contrary, however, higher intake of poultry (think: chicken) was associated with a lower risk of strokes. The next time you're craving some meat, you might want to swap that steak for some chicken wings instead. "The main message from this paper is that the type of protein or the protein package is really important for the risk of stroke," Frank Hu, co-author of the study and professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told Reuters (via Harvard).

Your body doesn't really need red meat to thrive

If you're going to eat red meat at all, do your best to limit your intake. "The evidence shows that people with a relatively low intake have lower health risks," Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told Harvard Men's Health Watch. "A general recommendation is that people should stick to no more than two to three servings per week."

While there are some health benefits to red meat, it's ultimately pretty unnecessary. All of the benefits you get from red meat (such as protein, zinc, iron, vitamin B12, etc.), you can get elsewhere — without all of the health risks. You don't need to eat it. "You can get the same amounts [of these nutrients] — and, in some cases, even more — from poultry, fish, eggs, and nuts, and as well as by following a plant-based diet," Dr. Hu told the Harvard publication.

Processed red meat increases your risk of dying early

If you eat processed meat, including processed red meat, you're more likely to die early, according to a 2013 study published in the peer-reviewed journal, BMC Medicine. "The results of our analysis support a moderate positive association between processed meat consumption and mortality, in particular due to cardiovascular diseases, but also to cancer," the researchers wrote.

They observed over 26,000 deaths, and determined a high consumption of red meat was related to "higher all-cause mortality." The researchers estimated that 3.3 percent of the deaths could have been prevented if the participants reduced their intake to about 20 grams of processed meat per day. 

But don't worry. You don't have to go full-blown vegetarian if you're not ready or willing to give up meat entirely. According to the research, "the consumption of poultry was not related to all-cause mortality" — so chicken is still in the cards for you.

Regular meat consumption is linked to obesity

According to a study published in the International Journal of Obesity, meat consumption, in general, is associated with obesity and central obesity among adults in the United States. Those who consumed more meat had a much higher daily total energy intake, and they also had higher BMIs and waist circumferences. Vegetarians and vegans, on the other hand, don't have as difficult a time managing their weight. In fact, a meatless diet is linked to a whole bunch of health benefits.

"Studies indicate that diets largely based on plant foods, including well-balanced vegetarian diets, which do not include meat, fish or fowl, offer a number of nutritional benefits, including lower levels of saturated fat, cholesterol and animal protein, as well as higher levels of carbohydrates, fiber, magnesium, potassium, folate and antioxidants," the researchers wrote. "Compared with non-vegetarians, vegetarians have been reported to have lower BMI, blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels; lower rates of hypertension, type 2 diabetes and prostate and colon cancer, and reduced death rates from heart disease."

Eating red meat often will kill your sex drive

When consumed in excess, red meat can zap your sex drive, Amy Levine, sex coach and founder of Ignite Your Pleasure, told Muscle and Fitness. Of course, too much of any food can lower your libido, Corey B. Schuler, functional medicine nutritionist at the Metabolic Treatment Center, added. "The worst food that a man can have for his sex drive is too much of it." He continued, saying, "Midsection increase is probably the number one reason for lost sex drive. The better the person's diet is, the more healthy their sex drive."

Dr. Jamin Brahmbhatt, a board-certified urologist and co-director of the PUR Clinic in Clermont, Florida, told The Healthy that an unhealthy diet increases your chances of putting on excess weight and developing hypertension and diabetes — and these conditions can negatively impact your sex drive. By avoiding saturated fats, as found in red meat, you can protect not only your sex life but your full life. "It's best to eat better today for a healthier sex life tomorrow," the doctor continued.

Eating red meat every day will make you tired

Ever feel exhausted after housing a filet mignon or going to town at a barbecue? You know the feeling when you have to unbotton your pants and just lie down. Yes, red meat literally makes you tired. This is due to a high amount of fat, Dr. Pamela Peeke, physician and author of The Hunger Fix: The Three-Stage Hunger and Recovery Plan for Overeating and Food Addiction, told the HuffPost. While red meat is full of iron that gives you energy, it's also full of fat that can weigh you down. At the end of a red meat-heavy meal, it's probable that you'll feel pretty wiped out.

"That's because fats are more difficult for the body to break down and require a more elaborate process than other nutrients," Dr. Peeke explained. "Because of this, your body sends more energy to the source of digestion, leaving you feeling zapped."

Red meat could make period symptoms worse

For women, red meat could even make premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms worse. PMS symptoms are already difficult for a lot of women. As many as three of every four menstruating women suffer from any number of symptoms, including mood swings, fatigue, painful cramps, tender breasts, constipation, diarrhea, irritability, depression, and a whole host of other not-so-ideal symptoms before and during their periods, explained the Mayo Clinic. And, according to Healthline, red meat is one of the foods that can make some of that unwanted stuff a whole lot worse — like period cramps. Ouch.

"During your period, your body produces prostaglandins," Healthline revealed. "These compounds help your uterus contract and get rid of the uterine lining, resulting in your menstrual flow. However, high levels of prostaglandins cause cramps." Because red meat contains a high level of prostaglandins, the site recommends women avoid it during their periods. Yes, that cheeseburger will have to wait.

Red meat can trigger or worsen headaches

Red meat can bring on headaches, according to research. As Livestrong explained, a substance called tyramine, which is produced in various foods, can trigger migraines and tension headaches. Tons of meats, including red meats (and particularly fermented meats and meats that are improperly stored), contain tyramine in high amounts. If you feel a headache looming, choosing to eat red meat could bring it on. And, if you already have a pounding headache, eating red meat with tyramine could just make the throbbing worse.

Plus, eating too many cured meats, like bacon, can exacerbate headaches as they contain nitrates. "Nitrites and nitrates — typically found in processed meats, such as hot dogs, bacon and deli meat — can cause blood vessels to swell up and cause headaches," Vandana R. Sheth, registered dietitian nutritionist, explained when speaking with the National Headache Foundation. To avoid too much tyramine intake and too many nitrates, you may want to consider cutting back on your red meat intake. 

Eating red meat can give you bad breath

If nothing else makes you want to reconsider eating so much red meat, think about the simple fact that too much of it can give you bad breath. According to Colgate, vegetarians tend to have fresher breath for a reason. Bad breath, also known as halitosis, affects 40 percent of the adult population at some point — and a chunk of it can be contributed to meat consumption, Colgate reported. This is because foods that are rich in protein, like meats, can get stuck between the teeth and "attract bacteria" that cause bad breath.

Lisa Harper Mallonee, registered dietitian and associate professor at Texas A&M University, Baylor College of Dentistry, told Men's Health that although protein is a critical part of your diet, the remnants of red meat in your teeth can smell pretty funky. Thankfully, poultry and fish don't impact your breath nearly as much. Hm, suddenly that steak dinner date night doesn't sound so romantic, does it?