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Do changes in our meat-eating habits affect our risk of developing diabetes? To study this question, researchers collected information on diet and other health habits from 26,357 men and 122,786 women—participants in the long-running Health Professionals Study and the Nurses’ Health Study.
The study authors accounted for other factors linked with diabetes, including age, family history, race, marital status, initial red meat consumption, smoking status, and initial and changes in physical activity, alcohol use, calorie intake, and diet quality. During four years of follow-up, 7,540 new cases of type 2 diabetes were diagnosed in the group.
The findings clearly point the finger at red meat as a culprit in type 2 diabetes risk. Compared with people who had no change in how much red meat they were eating over time, people who ate half a serving more of meat per day were 48% more likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and people who ate half a serving less of red meat per day were 14% less likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
After accounting for weight gain during the study period, the additional half serving of red meat daily led to a 30% increased risk of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes—less of a risk increase than initially noted, but still significant, even among people who did not gain weight.
This study is observational, and therefore cannot prove cause and effect, but it agrees with previous research. And as lead study author An Pan, PhD notes, it’s not just diabetes we need to worry about: “Our study adds more evidence to the health risks of eating high amounts of red meat, which has been associated with type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease stroke, and certain cancers in other studies.”
For all of these reasons, taking some smart steps to make sure your diet isn’t too heavy on the red meat makes sense:
(JAMA Intern Med 2013;173:1328–35)