Can red meat cause type 2 diabetes?

Red meat has also been associated with higher risk of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers

Maggie O'Neill
Tuesday 24 October 2023 22:13 BST
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Diabetes breakthrough

Eating just two servings of red meat a week may increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to a new study.

The study, which was conducted by researchers at Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that risk increases with consumption.

“Our findings strongly support dietary guidelines that recommend limiting the consumption of red meat, and this applies to both processed and unprocessed red meat,” study author Xiao Gu said in a statement on the new study.

The study adds to a growing body of evidence linking red meat to many health issues; it’s also been tied to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers, per the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

As of 2021, pork was consumed more than beef worldwide, though poultry was consumed more often than both, per data from Statista.

Diabetes affects more than 37 million Americans—about one-tenth of the population—and more than 90 per cent of them have type 2. It often develops in people 45 years or older, but it is becoming increasingly more common in children, teens, and young adults, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Type 2 diabetes occurs when a person’s cells stop responding normally to insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas. They then develop insulin resistance, causing the pancreas to produce more insulin in an attempt to make the cells respond. This can lead to high blood sugar, which can, in turn, cause vision loss, heart disease, or kidney disease.

The symptoms of type 2 diabetes—which include increased hunger, thirst, and urination; fatigue; blurred vision; tingling or numbness in the hands or feed; and sores that won’t heal—may develop over the course of several years. A doctor can diagnose type 2 diabetes following a simple blood test.

Just two servings of red meat a week can raise diabetes risk, according to new research.

Among people who participated in the new study, those who ate the most red meat had a 62 per cent higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, when compared to those who ate the least amount of red meat.

Each additional daily serving of red meat that had been processed caused the risk of type 2 diabetes to rise by 46 per cent; each additional serving of unprocessed red meat caused the risk to rise by 24 per cent.

To lower your risk of developing the condition, the authors of the new report recommend swapping out excess servings of red meat with other sources of protein, such as legumes, nuts, or dairy.

Swapping out one serving of red meat a day for legumes or nuts was linked to a 30 per cent decrease in type 2 diabetes risk while swapping out one serving for a dairy product was linked to a 22 per cent lower risk.

The new research doesn’t imply that people should eliminate all red meat. “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,” study author Walter Willett said in the press release.

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