7 Unexpected Things That Can Happen To Your Body Right After You Eat Red Meat

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How your body processes food is complicated, and sometimes it may seem like everyone has an opinion on what you should and shouldn't eat. Fortunately, there have been a lot of studies to help you better understand red meat's affect on your health. You may be surprised to find out what actually happens to your body after eating red meat , and how beneficial some of the nutritional qualities can be.

There's a pretty well-known study from the Harvard School of Public Health that can seem quite alarming, stating that eating even one extra serving of red meat a week can increase chance of death by 20 percent. But, although that's a scary statistic, follow up research suggests that the correlation between red meat and mortality is way more tenuous.

Whether eating red meat is good or bad for you is a very complicated question to answer. Red meat, or meat that's pink when raw, is hard to study as a distinct group. There's a huge difference between processed meat, conventional meat, and grass-fed, organic meat. So while there have been many observational studies — studies that detect correlation but not causation — between red meat and heart disease, diabetes, and death, you may want to think about your red meat consumption on a much smaller level.

Looking at the way red meat actually affects your body as you digest it can provide you with some valuable insight. For all of the extreme claims about red meat's potential harms, or extreme benefits, your decision about what to eat to optimize your health is very personal.

Here are seven things that can happen to your body after you eat red meat.

1. You Absorb Iron

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Adult women are recommended to eat 18 milligrams (mg) of iron each day, according to the United Kingdom's National Institute of Health (NIH). And a bit of red meat can help you achieve this goal.

Iron comes in two forms, heme and non-heme. Plant-based foods largely only consist of non-heme iron, while red meat can be heme iron-rich. So when you eat red meat, your body gets its heme iron, which is better for people with iron-deficiency, according to the Iron Disorders Institute.

2. You Get A Good Amount Of Zinc

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You may know about taking zinc for colds, but according to the NIH, zinc is important for all sorts of aspects of cellular metabolism. And red meat is an "excellent source of zinc," the NIH says.

Adult women are recommended eight milligrams of zinc a day, and ground beef or beef chuck supply five to seven milligrams in one serving. So your body can get a lot of the daily nutritional allowance for this important vitamin by having just one meal that contains red meat.

3. You Get A Good Source Of Protein

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Red meat is well-known to be a good source of protein. But before your body can use this protein from red meat to build and repair tissues (which helps with working out), the large molecules of protein found in red meat are digested by enzymes into small molecules called amino acids — which then transport throughout your body.

After this process finishes, the protein you've gotten from a serving of red meat can be really beneficial for muscle growth, especially if you're doing strength exercises.

4. It Doesn't Wait To Begin Digesting

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There's a pretty well-known myth that red meat sits in your stomach. Luckily, your body doesn't actually just carry the red meat you eat around with it before it begins digesting.

Nothing actually "sits" in your gut. So while different foods digest at different speeds, you can relax knowing that your body — barring allergies or intolerances — will quickly begin to digest red meat.

5. It May Start The Process Of Raising Cholesterol Levels

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One of the potential downsides of not approaching red meat consumption with moderation is the potential for your body to be exposed to too much saturated fat.

"Red meat is higher in saturated fat compared to many types of meat," Ysabel Montemayor, lead registered dietician (RD) at Fresh n' Lean, tells Bustle. "Eating too much saturated fat may cause high cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke." So while eating red meat just once will not lead to a direct line towards disease, it may be worth noting the possible links between saturated fat and health problems.

6. You Get B Vitamins

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B vitamins are essential to your health, and luckily largely don't need to be supplemented, since they're available in most people's diets. Also, vitamin B-3 (niacin) is known to cause a pretty common reaction called niacin flush when taken as a supplement.

Luckily, red meat can be a good way of getting the B vitamins you need without needing to spend money on pills or risking adverse effects. Lean red meat contains B-12 for a healthy nervous system and B-6 for a strong immune system, plus niacin and riboflavin (which promotes healthy skin and eyes). So eating red meat can be an important first step towards promoting the health of the different body systems.

7. It Begins A 24 To 72 Hour Process

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The human body takes about 24 to 72 hours to process food completely. So when you finish eating red meat, your body might begin a multi-day process.

Don't be scared, though. Women tend to take much more time to digest food than men, and red meat — although it can take longer than most foods to digest — takes up about as much time in your body as fish does. Balancing these proteins with high-fiber foods (which move through your body quicker) can keep your digestive system on track.

Your diet is your choice, but it can still be a good idea to get to know how exactly your body processes food. Every person's digestive system behaves differently, and every food affects it differently as well. Learning more about the nutrients you get, and how they're absorbed, may help you make more informed decisions about your health.