With all the information we have about the negative health effects of eating red meat, many people are trying to not include it as much in their diet. As with any dietary change, there are a number of things that can happen to your body when you cut out red meat, and many of them are positive. After watching Supersize Me or Forks Over Knives, you may be tempted to take the leap yourself, so it's good to know what you're getting yourself into before giving up those burgers.
Red meat consumption has been linked to increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and early death, according to multiple studies. Of course, everything is okay in moderation, but considering the average American consumes 71.2 pounds of red meat per year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it couldn't hurt to scale back on all that beef and pork, even if you aren't giving it up completely or permanently.
"If you are thinking of reducing your red meat intake, give it a try, but know that what you are replacing it with matters for your health just as much as what you are removing," says Brigitte Zeitlin, RD over email. "So if you are freeing up some space on your plate, make sure you’re filling it up with vegetables, whole grains and other sources of lean protein like beans, lentils, fish and seafood, tofu, eggs, dairy, or white meat if you aren’t giving up all meat.
Curious what will be different once you ditch the food group? Here are nine potential things that could happen to your body when you give up red meat.
1 Your Heart Health May Improve
"Red meat has been linked to increased blood pressure and cholesterol, which contributes to heart disease and diabetes," says Zeitlin. In addition to saturated fat, red meat also contains carnitine, a protein building block that is converted into compounds that speed up hardening and thickening of artery walls, which in turn causes heart problems, according to a study from the journal Cell Metabolism.
2 You Might Not Feel As "Heavy" After Meals
It's not a coincidence that you feel sluggish after digging in to that steak. "Meat requires a lot of digestive enzymes and work," says Monica Heather Auslander, MS, RD, LDN over email. "Your body often feels quite full afterward since it has to do a lot." Eating less red meat might leave you feeling lighter and energetic following a meal.
3 You'll Probably Consume Less Hormones And Antibiotics
"Unless you are eating organic grass-fed red meat, a lot of red meat on the market today has hormones and antibiotics," says Zeitlin. "By eating less you will naturally be ingesting less of these substances." And getting rid of these extra hormones in your body can help lower your risk of cancer. According to a study Archives of Internal Medicine, women who ate more than six ounces of red meat a day (1.5 servings) had nearly double the risk of developing hormone-sensitive breast cancer than women who ate three or fewer servings per week.
4 You Can Absorb Calcium Better
"Iron, found in red meat, is not absorbed well in the presence of calcium," says Auslander. "They cancel each other out. Without red meat, you may absorb calcium better."
5 You Might Smell Better
You might not think that eating meat would have anything to do with your natural scent, but research says otherwise. A study from the Journal Chemical Senses found that people who eat a non-meat diet have body odor that is judged as significantly more attractive, more pleasant, and less intense than the body odor of those who eat meat.
6 It's Possible That You'll Feel Hungrier
"Cutting a significant source of fat out of your diet may leave you feeling hungry and less energized," says Tiffany DeWitt, RD, a dietician and scientist at Abbott, over email. "It’s important to plan ahead and before you make the change and make sure you’re getting plenty of high-quality fats and proteins from foods such as avocado, eggs, fish and dairy."
7 You Can Reduce Inflammation
A study published in the journal Nutrition found that vegetarians have less inflammation in the body than meat eaters. Inflammation has been linked to many diseases, but it can also affect your mental functions. "When you opt for less bad fats, your inflammatory profile and cognitive function will improve drastically," says Tiffany Newenhouse, RD, CDN email. "This means a healthier heart, more focus, better decision making, etc."
8 You May Feel More Confident In The Kitchen
"Often giving up a food you were used to eating lets you really get creative with your meals and more involved with the meal planning," says Zeitlin. "This sense of empowerment of your food and health can result in a big boost in our feel-good hormones and self-esteem, which can be an amazing side effect of switching up your diet."
9 You Might Develop Stronger Bones
Eating less meat can reduce your risk of osteoporosis, according to a series of studies done by the Cornell-China-Oxford Project on Nutrition. Reducing your meat intake reduces the risk of losing bone density, as animal protein can leach more calcium from the bones than is ingested.