Timothy Woods
Published by Timothy Woods
Last Updated On: September 15, 2022

As a long-time enthusiast of the carnivore lifestyle, I've learned a thing or two about eating meat. Indeed, most people do very well with a meat-based diet.

But, as with any diet, there are always a few people who have trouble when they digest meat.

All meat is not the same when it comes to digestion, and I have done substantial research to figure out what meat is easiest on the digestive system.

This article will explore the hardest meats to digest and offer some tips on making them easier to eat.

Quick Summary

  • Food eaten with high fiber and fat content are the worst foods for the body to digest.
  • Low-fat meats like fish and chicken are easier to digest than higher-fat meats like beef and pork.
  • Processed and fast foods are more challenging to digest than unprocessed meats.

Nutrient Digestion

Slices of meat with tomatoes and other spices

To understand why some meats are harder to digest than others, we must first understand how our bodies break down and absorb nutrients.

There are three main stages of nutrient digestion:

  1. Mechanical digestion refers to the physical breakdown of food by chewing and grinding. This process breaks food into smaller pieces, which makes it easier for enzymes to access the nutrients inside. Ground meats are easiest for this part of digestion.
  2. Chemical digestion is the name of the process by which stomach acid and digestive enzymes break down foods into their simplest nutrient forms. Enzymes are proteins that speed up chemical reactions.
  3. Absorption is the process by which nutrients are taken from the digestive tract and transported to the body's cells.

When it comes to meat, particularly red meat, the first phase of mechanical digestion is relatively straightforward. Meat mainly consists of muscle tissue, which is relatively easy to chew.

Of course, some meat is tougher than others. And meat with lots of gristle or other tough fiber makes it hard for enzymes to get at the nutrients inside.

As a result, poorly chewed meat can be difficult to digest.

However, the second and third phases of chemical digestion can be more challenging to understand. Each nutrient takes a different amount of time to be broken down and absorbed.

Fiber

Fiber rich foods on top of a cutting board

Fiber is the indigestible part of plants and is found in raw vegetables and other foods found in a vegetarian diet. It is comprised of long chains of carbohydrates called polysaccharides.

Enzymes in the human digestive system do not digest fiber. Instead, it passes through the gastrointestinal tract essentially unchanged. This makes too much fiber or high-fiber foods difficult food to digest.

Fiber does have some health benefits, though. It helps add bulk to stool, making bowel movements easier to pass.

And it can also help slow down the absorption of sugar and other nutrients, which can help regulate blood sugar levels [1].

Fat

Fats are the next most difficult nutrient to digest. This is because fats are mostly made up of triglycerides, which require a two-step process to be broken down.

First, because triglycerides are not water-soluble, they must be emulsified (or combined with water) before you can digest them.

Once triglycerides are emulsified, enzymes called lipases can break them down into their component parts: fatty acids, monoglycerides, and diglycerides.

These smaller nutrients are then absorbed through the walls of the intestines into the bloodstream and the cells.

This two-step process makes fatty foods and saturated fat some of the worst foods to digest. Fatty foods can take up to 10 hours to be fully digested and absorbed from a meal [2].

Protein

Different protein-rich foods

Proteins are made of long chains of amino acids. Twenty different amino acids can be used to make proteins, and each protein has a unique sequence of these amino acids.

Protein digestion starts in the stomach. That is where pepsin breaks down proteins into smaller units called peptides.

Peptides are further broken down into individual amino acids by enzymes in the small intestine called proteases.

Finally, these amino acids are absorbed through the walls of the intestines and into the bloodstream. From there, they're transported to cells, where your body can use them to build new proteins or for energy [3].

“If there's one thing to know about the human body, it's this: the human body has a ringmaster. This ringmaster controls your digestion, your immunity, your brain, your weight, your health and even your happiness. This ringmaster is the gut”

- Nancy Mure, Author, PhD

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the simplest nutrient for the body to break down. They can start providing energy to the body minutes after they are eaten [4].

Carbohydrates are found in citrus fruits, artificial sugar, bread, and even the healthy leafy greens of a vegan diet. These are the fastest foods digested.

However, red meat only has negligible levels of carbohydrates. Thus this nutrient has nearly no role in how difficult it is to digest meat.

Meat Digestion

A person eating steak and potatoes

With what we know about nutrient digestion, it is now possible to understand how you can digest different types of meat differently.

It is apparent that meats with the lowest fiber and fat will be the easiest to digest and absorb. So leaner cuts will digest faster than fried foods.

Fatty foods slow digestion compared to other high protein foods like beef steak. Protein-rich foods like fish tend to digest more quickly than difficult foods.

For example, the protein contained in chicken, fish, and shellfish is typically digested relatively easily because they're low in fat and fiber.

Then pork and beef are a bit more difficult because they're higher in fat.

And processed red meat like sausage or jerky can be even harder to digest because they contain high fat and fiber levels.

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FAQs

What Types of Beef Take the Longest to Digest?

Beef that is high in fat takes the longest to digest. This includes processed red meat products like skinless hot dogs, jerky, and skinless sausage patties.

However, it also encompasses regular cuts, such as ribeye or T-bones.

What Is the Easiest Type of Meat to Digest?

Chicken and fish are the easiest type of meat to digest because they're low in fat and fiber.

The actual winner depends on species and cut. For example, both a skinless chicken breast and rainbow trout have only 3g of fat [5].

The Digestion of Meat

For most people, the type of meat they eat won't make a big difference in how easy it is to digest.

However, if you have an upset stomach, irritable bowel syndrome, or digestive issues, you may find specific types of meat more difficult to digest than others.

If this is the case, you may decide that type should be eaten sparingly.

If you are looking for easily digestible, low-fat meats to be delivered to your home, a meat delivery service may be the perfect solution.

Check out our roundup of the best meat delivery services by clicking here and get the sustainably-sourced, grass-fed meat that’s hormone and antibiotics-free.


References:

  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fiber/art-20043983
  2. http://pressbooks.oer.hawaii.edu/humannutrition/chapter/digestion-and-absorption-of-lipids/
  3. https://med.libretexts.org/Courses/American_Public_University/APUS%3A_An_Introduction_to_Nutrition_(Byerley)/APUS%3A_An_Introduction_to_Nutrition_1st_Edition/05%3A_Proteins/5.04%3A_Protein_Digestion_Absorption_and_Metabolism
  4. https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/best-indoor-cycling-bikes-13771759.html
  5. https://greatist.com/health/choosing-healthiest-meats

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