5 Little-Known Things That Happen To Your Body When You Eat Red Meat

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What we eat plays a big role in what happens in our body, but it's not often we sit and think about the details of how certain foods directly affect us. With more people going plant-based, people are especially paying attention to meat's effects, and there are a number of surprising things that can happen to your body when you eat red meat. Whether you're going vegetarian or just considering cutting down on your animal consumption, you might be wondering what eating meat does to your body.

"Although I always encourage more plant-focused diets, I don't want to create too much fear around meat," Carrie Walder, MS, RD tells Bustle. "I think when the correct sources are chosen (i.e. more grass fed vs. processed meats), small amounts can be included in the diet without negative effects — so long as we're getting in an adequate amount of plant foods. Problems arise when the diets are too meat-heavy, or include too many processed meats like cold cuts, salami, bacon, sausages, etc. Any negative health consequences are more a result of long-term habits rather than anything instantaneous."

Like most foods, red meat can has its nutritional benefits, but any time you go overboard with a food group, it can have a negative impact on your health. However, to make the right choices for your body, it can be useful to know all the different effects eating red meat can have on your body.

Here are five little-known things that happen to your body when you eat red meat, according to expers.

1. It Affects Your Gut Microbiome

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As mentioned earlier, balance is important when it comes to eating meat. "Eating a lot of red meat and not enough veggies can actually reduce the diversity of the gut microflora (those good bacteria in our gut), which is a bad thing," Mascha Davis MPH, RDN, tells Bustle. "We want lots of diversity in our microbiome." Research published in the journal Nature found that eating a meat-rich diet can alter the trillions of microbes living in the gut in as quickly as just a couple days. The study also found that one type of bacterium that flourishes under a meat-rich diet has been linked to inflammation and intestinal diseases in mice.

2. It Boosts Your Immune System

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"Your immune system may get a boost from red meat because it’s high in zinc, an essential nutrient to keep us healthy," Davis says. Red meat also provides a good amount of vitamin B12, which helps make DNA and keeps nerve and red blood cells healthy. Again, type of meat matters here, with unprocessed red meat providing the most health benefits.

3. It Strengthens Your Hair, Skin & Nails

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"From a positive standpoint, red meat is one of the best sources of iron, which helps with growing our hair, skin, and nails," Mandy Enright, MS, RDN, RYT, tells Bustle. "Iron also makes up a component of red blood cells called hemoglobin. Hemoglobin helps provide oxygen from the lungs throughout the body. Low iron levels can lead to a lack of energy, anemia, and very pale skin."

4. It Enhances Muscle Growth

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When it comes to working out and building muscle, red meat can be your friend. "Red meat is a high protein source, which helps build bones and muscles," Beth Warren, MS, RDN, CDN, tells Bustle. It is also rich in nutrients like creatine and carnosine. Non-meat eaters are often low in these nutrients, which may potentially affect muscle function, according to Healthline.

5. It Increases Your Risk Of Colon Cancer

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There have been a number of studies linking red meat consumption with increased risk of cancer, but research tends to be mixed. Many of these are observational studies, and they don't make a distinction between processed and unprocessed meat. However, there seems to be science to support that red meat increases your risk of colorectal cancer in particular. Multiple studies show a link between red meat consumption and increased risk of colorectal cancer, with one study concluding that a high consumption of red meat increases risk by 28 percent.

"A lot red meats are high in saturated fat, which raises cholesterol in the blood," Warren says. "When levels of LDL [cholesterol] are high, the risk of cancer increases."

Red meat in excess can be damaging to your body, but eating it in moderation — and sticking to unprocessed meat — can also have some surprising health benefits.