Diabetes is usually linked with diets high in sugar intake. New research is now confirming that the consumption of red meat is also linked to an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes for adults.
You’ve probably heard about Type 2 diabetes, but what is it really?
Insulin is produced by beta cells in the pancreas and is used to control glucose levels in the body.
Type-2 diabetes occurs when the body does not use the insulin properly (“insulin resistance”) and eventually the beta cells are not able to secrete enough insulin to maintain healthy glucose levels. Complications include an increased risk for kidney disease, stroke, and high blood pressure when glucose levels are unstable. It’s an incurable illness but avoiding it is possible through exercise and a nutritious diet.
Hold The Meat
Meat should not be part of that nutritious diet. In fact, eating meat likely contributes to the development of the Type 2 diabetes. Research at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), led by professor of epidemiology Frank Hu and research fellow An Pan, tracked what happens when you increase or decrease meat-eating habits. Using data on the diets of about 100,000 people, collected from the Heath Professionals Follow-up Study and the Nurses’ Health Study, HSPH found evidence that the more meat you eat the higher your chance of developing Type-2 diabetes.
The average 10-year risk of getting diabetes for U.S. adults is about 10%. The study found that participants who ate about 3.5 servings or more per week of red meat increased their chances of developing Type 2 diabetes by 19%. And eating one serving of processed red meats a week, like a hot dog or two slices of bacon, increased that risk by 51%!
Since people who are overweight and obese are more likely to develop the condition, it’s important to note that the researchers controlled for body weight because it is a significant driver of Type 2 diabetes. There is something specific to red meat, beyond high levels of fat and calories, correlated with the increased risk of diabetes.
What’s in red meat?
Professor Hu explains that while it’s difficult to determine what compound in meat is inextricably linked to diabetes risk, there are three likely contributing components; sodium, nitrates, and iron. It’s well known that sodium increases blood pressure, but it also causes insulin resistance. Nitrates have also been linked to increased insulin resistance and can damage the function of pancreatic beta cells. Iron, though an important diet mineral, can drive the body to misuse insulin if hefty amounts are consumed.
HSPH researchers determined that an estimated 9.3% deaths in men and 7.6% in women were completely preventable if participants had consumed less or no red meat each day.
“This study provides clear evidence that regular consumption of red meat, especially processed meat, contributes substantially to premature death,” said Hu. “On the other hand, choosing more healthful sources of protein in place of red meat can confer significant health benefits by reducing chronic disease morbidity and mortality.”
Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diets Are Key!
The study found that substituting meat with other foods—such as whole grains, nuts, low-fat dairy, fish, and poultry (listed in order of effectiveness)—substantially lowered diabetes risk. In fact, research has also shown that whole-foods, plant-based diets can slow, stop, or reverse progression of diseases. The power of a plant-based, whole-food diet is clear and when paired with exercise, significantly impact overall quality of life.