Increasing Red Meat Consumption Linked With Higher Diabetes Risk, Study Suggests

06/19/2013 09:50am ET

Increasing consumption of red meat is linked with a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, according to a new study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Researchers at the National University of Singapore looked at data from 149,000 people who were part of three different studies (the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, the Nurses' Health Study and the Nurses' Health Study II) to find that people who upped their consumption of red meat had a higher risk of diabetes.

Specifically, researchers found that increasing red meat consumption by more than half a serving a day for four years was linked with a 48 percent higher risk of diabetes, while reducing red meat consumption by more than half a serving a day for four years was linked with a 14 percent lower risk of diabetes over a 16-year period. The finding is noteworthy because it tracked changing levels of red meat consumption, and its impact on diabetes risk.

"If possible, try to reduce red meat and replace with other healthy choices like beans and legumes, nuts, fish, poultry, whole grains, etc.,” study researcher An Pan, an assistant professor at the National University of Singapore, told Bloomberg.

For the study, researchers analyzed answers on food frequency questionnaires taken by the study participants each four years. Reuters reported that the participants were followed for 12 to 16 years, and daily red meat consumption ranged from a half serving to two servings each day (where a serving is equivalent to a three-ounce burger or a couple of bacon slices). By the end of the study, there were 7,540 new cases of Type 2 diabetes.

LiveScience reported that weight gain from meat consumption could potentially play a part:

Adjusting the results for body mass index and weight gain within four years changed the results only modestly, which suggests that gaining weight as a result of higher red-meat consumption may explain part of the results.

However, this study involved self-reported dietary information from the participants. And researchers cautioned that the study only showed an observational association, not a cause-and-effect association. Plus, it's important to note that other foods that the participants ate could play a part in their diabetes risk -- after all, a generally unhealthy diet will lead to weight gain and a hiked-up diabetes risk, and no one consumes any one food in a vaccuum.

But still, Bloomberg reported on reasons for why red meat might be linked with a higher risk of diabetes:

The meat contains high amounts of an iron that can cause insulin resistance, which may raise the risk of diabetes, he said. The food is also high in saturated fat and cholesterol and processed forms have nitrates and high levels of sodium that may also increase the danger of developing the disease, he said.

In 2011, another study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Harvard University researchers found that eating a daily three-ounce serving of unprocessed red meat raises Type 2 diabetes risk by 12 percent. And processed meat was even worse -- as much as two slices of bacon raises Type 2 diabetes risk by 32 percent, Scientific American reported.

For some tips on lowering diabetes risk -- and even reversing diabetes altogether -- check out HuffPost blogger Dr. Mark Hyman, M.D.'s post on the subject here.

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