Eating Red Meat Associated With Increased Risk Of Diabetes
June 18, 2013

Eating Red Meat Associated With Increased Risk Of Diabetes

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

A new study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine has drawn an association between red meat consumption and Type-2 diabetes. This is hardly the first time red meat has been accused of increasing a person´s risk of Type-2 diabetes, but what makes this study different from the rest is its size.

Researchers from Harvard School of Public Health and the National University of Singapore conducted this study as a follow up from three other studies, tracking 149,000 American men and women over many years to observe how eating habits can affect a person´s health. After compiling the data, the researchers concluded even the smallest amount of red meat increases a person´s risk of diabetes, and even a slight decrease in red meat intake doesn´t make a significant or immediate difference.

"This is stronger evidence that red meat consumption contributes to an increased risk of diabetes," explained senior author Frank Hu with the Harvard School of Public Health in a statement to USA Today.

An Pan with the National University of Singapore and the lead author agreed, telling Reuters Health in an email: "I think the difference is enough to encourage people at least not to increase red meat consumption, and then think about ways to reduce the consumption.”

Hu, Pan and colleagues conducted this study as a follow up to three previous Harvard studies spanning from 1986 to 2007. There were 26,357 men (between 40 and 75 years on average) and 122,786 women (between 25 and 42 years on average) included in these studies throughout the years. These participants were asked to fill out questionnaires to determine their diet. Of all the participants in the study, 7,540 of them had developed Type-2 diabetes by the time the study had ended.

After looking at the results, Hu and Pan concluded those who increase their red meat intake by as little as half a serving a day (only 1.5 ounces) increase their risk of developing Type-2 Diabetes by 48 percent in only four years. According to the data, removing this risk isn´t as easy as simply cutting back on the red meat. Those who decreased their intake by half a serving for four years did not see a short-term decrease in risk of developing diabetes. If these people continued to decrease their intake over the next ten years, their risk of diabetes decreased by only 14 percent.

Previous studies have suggested it is the weight gain associated with red meat that is responsible for the increased diabetes risk, but Hu and Pan´s study finds this is only half of the story. While weight gain associated with red meat consumption did play a part of the increased risk, it was not solely to blame. Today´s study applies to both processed and unprocessed red meats as well, and while the association was greater between processed meats and diabetes, the findings can apply to both.

The research duo invited William J. Evans, PhD, of GlaxoSmithKline and Duke University, to provide some commentary after the study and provide some insight on the results. He says while red meat has been found in this study and others to lead to an increased risk of diabetes, he believes the elements in red meat are responsible and not the meat itself.

“Perhaps a better description of the characteristics of the meat consumed with the greatest effect on risk is the saturated fatty acid (SFA) content rather than the amount of oxygen-carrying proteins,” said Evans in a press statement.

“A recommendation to consume less red meat may help to reduce the epidemic of (Type-2). However, the overwhelming preponderance of molecular, cellular, clinical and epidemiological evidence suggests that public health messages should be directed toward the consumption of high-quality protein that is low in total and saturated fat.”

Evans suggests low-fat cuts of red meat along with plenty of fish, poultry and low-fat dairy products as healthy alternatives to standard processed and unprocessed red meat.