Harvard Study: More Red Meat = More Diabetes

June 24th, 2013

meatIncreasing one’s consumption of processed and unprocessed red meat could lead to a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, a major study has found.

Published online last week by the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, the study analyzed the meat intake over 20 years of some 149,000 health professionals. Researchers working at Harvard University found that increasing meat consumption by more than half a serving a day (roughly 1.5 ounces) was associated with a 48% increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, compared to those whose meat intake did not increase. The risk was highest when processed meats like hot dogs and bacon were consumed.

Those cutting back on red meat, researchers found, had a 14% lower risk of developing the disease over the long-term.

“Our results add further evidence that limiting red meat consumption over time confers benefits for [type 2 diabetes] prevention,” the study authors wrote. And in an email to Medscape Medical News, the study’s lead author, An Pan, PhD, now of the National University of Singapore, said:

“The public-health message [of the study] is to try to limit red-meat consumption (particularly processed red meat) and switch to plant-based food choices and more fish/poultry.”

Not to mention that eating too much red meat not only increases diabetes risk, it could end your life sooner. Last year, while at Harvard University, Dr. Pan published research using the same data pool as his current study that found frequent servings of red and processed meat increased individual mortality risk over the study period. Based on this 2012 research, our partners at the Center for a Livable Future were able to quantify the lowered risk of death from all causes by going Meatless Monday, and substituting nuts, whole grains and legumes for meat just one day a week.

In a blog post on the Center for a Livable Future website, Allison Righter, Registered Dietitian and Project Director for the Johns Hopkins Meatless Monday Project, echoes Dr. Pan’s suggestions.

“An important takeaway from all of these studies,” she writes, “is that a healthy diet involves not only cutting back on certain foods like red meat, but also eating more of the nutrient-rich, health-protective foods like vegetables, whole grains, legumes, seafood, and low-fat dairy.”

Of course one of the easiest ways to cut overall meat intake is to go Meatless Monday. By doing so you’ll not only reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer, you’ll likely be cutting your chances of developing type 2 diabetes, which now afflicts some 26 million Americans. And when you give up meat on Mondays you make room on your plate for healthful fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains — foods repeatedly shown to help in the prevention of disease. Clearly, Meatless Monday is a win win!