After all these years, I thought I was on top of pretty much every criticism of meat-eating.
The anti-industry and anti-animal food haters are numerous and vociferous, but after a while, you feel like you’ve heard it all before.
Meat makes you fat, ignorant and disease-ridden to the point that you die young, bloated and overcome by guilt, right?
There are as many variations on that theme as there are activist groups, but in the end most of the accusations are same old, same old.
Now there’s yet another reason that we’re supposed to be wary of eating red meat, and I’ll have to confess that it’s an (alleged) condition I hadn’t previously considered.
It’s called “meat sweats,” and apparently it’s an online meme and a trending topic.
As an “investigation” — and I use the term in quotes because the journalistic effort consisted of chatting with a single doctor — uncovered, the phenomenon is apparently prevalent enough that it’s worth analyzing.
Here’s how an article on the website food.mic styled the condition:
“You feel condensation starting to drip down your forehead; your clothes are getting sticky and humid; and the room definitely just got smaller, didn’t it? It’s a mysterious perspiratory condition that occurs after indulging in meat.”
If that scenario were playing out at a backyard barbecue in the middle of July, it would make sense. But on other dining occasions is such a condition actually real?
We know that meat sweats are a social media phenomenon, as are many other urban legends. In fact, there was apparently an iconic episode some years ago on the TV show “Friends” in which the Matt LeBlanc’s character Joey breaks out in a sweat after wolfing down a steak.
I know many people figure that if you saw it on TV, it must be true . . . but when it comes to meat sweats, is it? Is there a physiological explanation that would explain the apparent condition of sweating after indulging?
Let’s ask a doctor.
Facts or fallacies?
“There is one prevailing theory around meat sweats that tends to support their existence,” said Dr. Michael Smith, the chief medical editor for WebMD. Smith stated that the body uses up more energy when eating protein, versus fat or carbohydrates. Heat is produced when exercising, of course — that’s what causes sweating — and similar sensations can be produced during digestion.
Another explanation for post-prandial sweating (see, I can toss around medical terms just like WebMD) might be linked to the effects of salt or nitrates in the meat, which could trigger a bout of meat sweats. However, not only are all the examples in the story linked to eating beef, not processed meats, but as Dr. Smith noted, there is no actual scientific evidence to support that explanation.
Likewise, the idea that digestion could generate enough activity to force the body to break out into a sweat also lacks credibility.
Though the body has to expend additional energy to digest protein, the difference is small enough that even eating several pounds of meat would produce very little heat.
Digestion doesn’t really raise your body's core temperature, which is causes sweating, Smith explained.
“You’re using more muscles when you walk to the bathroom than when you digest protein,” he stated, “and you don’t really break out into a sweat when you do that.”
Uh, no, although I’m enjoying the mental imagery of eating meat, and then walking to the bathroom. You couldn’t come up with another example of less-than-energetic activity that wouldn’t cause sweating? Clearing the dishes? Packing up leftovers? Putting the cat outside?
So the only possible explanation left to justify all the babbling over meat sweating is what happens in the aftermath of overindulgence.
“I’m certainly not disagreeing that eating pounds of meat will make you feel miserable; no doubt it will,” Dr. Smith stated. He added that the “pain” from overeating might cause someone to break out into a sweat, but that’s the result of eating way too much food, not necessarily meat, at a single setting.
As the designated medical expert concluded, “The best way to avoid meat sweats is to not eat a ridiculous amount of meat.”
Thanks for the diagnosis, Doc.
Please don’t send me a bill.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator