Just 2 servings of red meat a week is enough to cause Type 2 diabetes, study warns

BOSTON — Whether it’s bacon with breakfast or steak for dinner, just two servings of red meat a week may elevate your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, a new study warns. Researchers with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health add that the risk appears to grow with higher consumption of red meat — a common part of many Western diets.

However, the study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, suggests that substituting red meat with plant-based protein sources like nuts and legumes can potentially reduce this risk. Study authors found that swapping red meat with these plant proteins or even modest amounts of dairy foods resulted in a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes.

“Our findings strongly support dietary guidelines that recommend limiting the consumption of red meat, and this applies to both processed and unprocessed red meat,” says first author Xiao Gu, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Nutrition, in a media release.

While prior studies have identified a connection between red meat intake and the risk of Type 2 diabetes, this recent research offers more definitive insights by analyzing a significant number of T2D cases over an extended time frame. The global surge in Type 2 diabetes rates is deeply concerning to medical professionals. Diabetes not only poses a grave health challenge but also amplifies the risk for cardiovascular and kidney diseases, cancer, and even dementia.

Two raw hanger steaks
Two raw hanger steaks (Photo by Alexander Raths on Shutterstock)

To reach this conclusion, the research team evaluated health data from 216,695 participants. They monitored their dietary habits using food frequency questionnaires every two to four years, spanning up to 36 years. Within this duration, over 22,000 participants were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

The data reveals a potent association between red meat consumption, including both its processed and unprocessed forms, and an augmented risk of Type 2 diabetes. Those who consumed the most red meat faced a 62-percent increased risk compared to individuals who consumed the least. An extra daily serving of processed red meat was linked to a 46-percent higher risk, while an additional serving of unprocessed meat correlated with a 24-percent heightened risk.

Further analysis uncovered that replacing a daily serving of red meat with nuts and legumes could result in a 30-percent reduction in the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Swapping it for dairy products led to a 22-percent decrease.

“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 optimize their health and wellbeing,” says senior author Walter Willett, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition.

The researchers also highlighted the broader benefits of opting for plant-based protein sources. Beyond individual health advantages, these choices could notably diminish greenhouse gas emissions, counteract climate change, and offer other environmental benefits.

South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.

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