Eating red meat significantly increases risk of type-2 diabetes – study


Despite the country’s significant number of vegetarians and vegans, Israel is, per capita, among the five leading consumers of red meat. The rate of type-two diabetes here is also high compared to other countries. Is there a connection? It could well be. 

A newly published study by researchers at Harvard University’s Chan School of Public Health has been published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition under the title “Red meat intake and risk of type 2 diabetes in a prospective cohort study of US females and males.”

The team found that eating more than one weekly serving of red meat could significantly raise the risk for type-2 diabetes, which is also connected to obesity, lack of exercise, and the consumption of junk food including simple carbohydrates. Replacing red meat with plant-based protein sources such as nuts and legumes may reduce risk of type 2 diabetes, they added. 

People who eat just two servings of red meat per week may have an increased risk of developing type-2 diabetes compared to people who eat fewer servings, and the risk increases with greater consumption, according to a new study led by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. 

The team headed by Dr. Xiao Gu, a postdoctoral research fellow in the school’s nutrition department, also found that replacing red meat with healthy plant-based protein sources like nuts and legumes or modest amounts of dairy foods was linked with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

Boxes of Ozempic, a semaglutide injection drug used for treating type 2 diabetes made by Novo Nordisk, is seen at a Rock Canyon Pharmacy in Provo, Utah, U.S. March 29, 2023. (credit: REUTERS/GEORGE FREY)

Study followed many cases over period of years

“Our findings strongly support dietary guidelines that recommend limiting the consumption of red meat, and this applies to both processed and unprocessed red meat,” said Gu, the first author. While previous studies have found a link between red meat consumption and type-2 diabetes risk, this study, which analyzed a large number of diabetes cases among participants being followed for an extended period of years, adds a greater level of certainty about the association.

Type 2 diabetes rates are increasing rapidly in the western and even developing world, creating a serious burden on healthcare systems as well as a major risk factor for cancer, cardiovascular and kidney disease, cancer and dementia.

For this study, the researchers analyzed health data from over 215,000 participants from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Diet was assessed with food-frequency questionnaires every two to four years, for up to 36 years – or a total of 5,483,981 person-years of follow-up. During this time, more than 22,000 participants developed type-2 diabetes.

The researchers found that consumption of red meat, including processed and unprocessed red meat, was strongly linked to a higher risk of diabetes. Participants who were found to eat the greatest amount of red meat had a 62% higher risk of developing type-2 diabetes compared to those who ate the least. Every additional daily serving of processed red meat was linked to a 46% greater risk of contracting diabetes, and every additional daily serving of unprocessed red meat was associated with a 24% greater risk.

Substituting one daily serving reduces risk of diabetes by 30%

The researchers, who estimated the potential effects of substituting one daily serving of red meat for another protein source, found that substituting a serving of nuts and legumes was connected with a 30% lower risk of diabetes and substituting a serving of dairy products was linked to a 22% lower risk.

“Given our findings and previous work by others, a limit of about one serving per week of red meat would be helpful for people who want to optimize their health and wellbeing,” said epidemiology and nutrition Prof. Walter Willett, who was the study’s senior author. 

The researchers said that in addition to health benefits, minimizing consumption of red meat and instead eating healthful plant protein sources would also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and climate change and provide other environmental benefits. They concluded that consumption of red meat should be reduced and even eliminated and stressed the importance of different alternative sources of protein for preventing type-2 diabetes. 

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