Eating even a small amount of red meat increases your diabetes risk

link between red meat and diabetes

The link between red meat consumption and type 2 diabetes has been well established. So, cutting back to a few serves a week should help alleviate the risk right? Not according to this research.

Your risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases with just two servings of red meat per week, according to a study from Harvard University.

The researchers also found replacing red meat with healthy plant-based protein sources, such as nuts and legumes, or modest amounts of dairy foods, was associated with reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.

What is type 2 diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic medical condition characterised by high levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood. It is caused by the pancreas’s inability to produce insulin (a glucose-controlling hormone) or an inability to use insulin effectively.

The main types of diabetes are type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes specifically, is a condition in which the body becomes resistant to the normal effects of insulin and gradually loses the capacity to produce enough insulin in the pancreas.

The condition has strong genetic and family-related risk factors, but is also often associated with modifiable lifestyle risk factors.

Red meat and diabetes

It’s long been known that overconsumption of red meat contributes to type 2 diabetes risk, but this study is the first to show just how little meat it actually takes to increase that risk.

The researchers looked at data from 216,695 participants, taken from several other studies. Participants’ diets were assessed with ‘food frequency’ questionnaires every two to four years, for as long as 36 years in some cases.

During this assessment time, more than 22,000 participants developed type 2 diabetes.

The data showed a strong link between red meat consumption, both processed and unprocessed, and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Participants who ate the most red meat had a 62 per cent higher risk of diabetes compared to those who ate the least.

Each additional daily serving of processed red meat was associated with a 46 per cent greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes and each serving of unprocessed red meat was associated with a 24 per cent greater risk.

The researchers also looked at the potential effects of substituting one daily serving of red meat with another protein source.

They found that substituting a serving of nuts and legumes was associated with a 30 per cent lower risk of type 2 diabetes, and substituting a serving of dairy products reduced risk by 22 per cent.

Professor Walter Willett, a co-author of the study, says the results show those who really want to avoid type 2 diabetes should stick to just one serving of red meat per week.

“Given our findings and previous work by others, a limit of about one serving per week of red meat would be reasonable for people wishing to optimise their health and wellbeing.”

How often do you eat red meat? Do you think you could survive on only one serve per week? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

Also read: What your heart rate reveals about you

Written by Brad Lockyer

Brad has deep knowledge of retirement income, including Age Pension and other government entitlements, as well as health, money and lifestyle issues facing older Australians. Keen interests in current affairs, politics, sport and entertainment. Digital media professional with more than 10 years experience in the industry.

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  1. Irresponsible Headline!!!!

    This study doesn’t appear to be peer reviewed. What is reported is an observational study NOT a randomised double blind study.

    The results could be ‘relative” NOT absolute. This technique was used to misconstrue the results of statins and their impact on cardiovascular disease. Another topic where the media headlined the pharmaceutical company message.
    What other criteria were measured by the researchers?
    Who sponsored the research?
    Why is it the carnivore diet is used successfully by some physicians?

    Just using Harvard and number of people studied doesn’t justify the headline.

    If this was true the human race and A type predators would have died out long ago. Man is a meat eater.

    I’m going to keep eating meat. I applaud those that don’t as it leaves more for normal people.

    • Correct. Bias is ubiquitous and insidious in all human studies. Anything less than randomised double blind testing is meaningless (and often intentionally mischievous). I would like to know whether any of the ‘researchers’ involved in this ‘study’ are vegetarians or vegans? Also as Diogenes states correlation does not prove causation. All other potential factors must also be taken into account. Human studies are complex and rarely easy to undertake.

    • Agreed. It struck me as a pretty poor study. Over 36 years many other foods would have been eaten , let alone other things taken by mouth, what were their associations with type 2 diabetes, or other conditions. And of course “link” or correlation does not prove cause and affect.

  2. I have read this article with interest. I also note that while condemning consumption of red meat, you show a person with a bowl of spaghetti, a processed food, meatballs and sauce of unknown ingredients.
    The spaghetti will have up to 90g processed carbohydrates per serve and goodness only knows how much carbs in the sauce.
    While I may accept that red meat is an issue, I’m not impressed that you have then presented this article with a photograph of a diabetic unfriendly meal.

  3. Wow, Brad, your article has prompted a rather hostile response to date! But it is not clear to me that all that hostility is warranted. While a number of fair points have been raised and some reasonable questions asked, I note the following:

    (1) the article has been published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which is a peer-reviewed journal; it is not clear to me how the article could NOT have been peer reviewed;
    (2) the key point that the article makes, namely that read meat increases diabetes risk, appears already to be well accepted by the academic medical research fraternity, and the main contribution of the article is to provide a statistical basis for quantifying the impact based on a very large study. So the idea that eating too much red meat is not good for you isn’t exactly “new news”, and it is hard to see why this particular study arouses so much anger;
    (3) while I agree that the “gold standard” in research methodology is double blind random trials, and double blind trials probably work well in the context of drug treatments, I would ask how feasible double blind trials would be in this context – you’d have to literally blindfold people every time they ate a meal for (up to) 36 years! Bagging this study because of its methodology seems a bit unrealistic.
    (4) although your article does not specify in detail which other potentially relevant factors were allowed for, the authors do report that “We used multivariable-adjusted proportional hazards models to estimate the associations between red meats and T2D.”. Put another way, they did indeed make efforts to allow for other potentially relevant explanatory variables.
    (5) I agree that a statistical correlation does not prove cause and effect and I’m not a doctor so I’m not well placed to comment in detail, but I would have guessed that the biological mechanism by which diet (including red meat intake) contribute to disease are reasonably well understood.

    In short I can’t yet see strong reasons to criticise your article or the headline!

  4. I think this is a load of rubbish .. it’s not checked, we are told to eat red meat for iron .. it’s just like them saying coffee is no good for you .. it’s your pancreas that’s controls your diabetes ..

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