Food, Health

Just 2 Servings Of Red Meat Per Week Can Raise Risk Of Diabetes

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Consuming more than one serving of red meat per week may elevate the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to a recent study.

Examining health data from nearly 217,000 individuals who completed multiple dietary questionnaires over up to 36 years, researchers found that over 22,000 participants developed type 2 diabetes during this period.

Comparing those with the lowest processed red meat consumption to those with the highest, the study resultsthat were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed a 62 percent increased likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes for the latter group.

Similarly, individuals with the highest unprocessed red meat intake had a 40 percent higher risk compared to those consuming the least.

Lead study author, Xiao Gu, PhD, a researcher at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said, “In terms of preventing type 2 diabetes, we recommend people replace red meat with plant-based protein sources, such as nuts and legumes.”

Replacing one daily serving of red meat with nuts and legumes was associated with a 30 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes, while substituting red meat with dairy showed a 22 percent lower risk. These findings highlight the potential benefits of incorporating plant-based protein sources into one’s diet.

To Lessen Risk of Diabetes, Lessen Processed Meat Intake

For those aiming to have a substantial impact on their diabetes risk, focusing on the quantity of processed meat in their diet is advised, according to the study’s findings. This is emphasized by the fact that each additional daily serving of processed red meats, such as bacon, hot dogs, or cold cuts, is linked to a 46 percent higher risk of type 2 diabetes.

In contrast, an increase in the consumption of unprocessed red meat, including beef, pork, and lamb, is associated with a 24 percent higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes for each extra serving. The study highlights the importance of paying attention to portion sizes, revealing that one serving of unprocessed red meat in the study amounted to about 3 ounces – significantly less than a quarter-pound burger.

Comparatively, servings of processed meats were roughly equivalent to a single slice of bacon, one hot dog, or a couple of slices of deli meat.

Plant-Based Proteins Could Lessen the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

One particular limitation of the study lies in the predominantly white composition of the participant pool, suggesting a potential variance in results for individuals with different racial or ethnic backgrounds. Another drawback is the reliance on participants to accurately recollect and report their eating habits over an extended period.

However, despite these limitations, the results offer valuable insights for individuals seeking to diminish their diabetes risk through dietary modifications, as highlighted by Dr. Gu. The pivotal strategy involves substituting animal proteins that elevate the risk with plant proteins that have a mitigating effect.

“Plant-based proteins are abundant in vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibers, making them nutritious alternatives to red meat in many ways. We currently do not have evidence to show that replacing red meat with refined grains, such as pasta, is good for health,” says Dr. Gu.

Registered dietician, Samantha Heller, RD, based in New York City says that there are tons of healthy plant-based proteins that can be substituted for red meat. Notably, Dr. Heller was not involved in the study.

“Consume protein with meals and snacks such as tofu, edamame, beans, nuts and nut butters, seeds, and seitan,” Dr. Heller says. While pasta doesn’t have to be off the table entirely, people looking to lower their diabetes risk should choose whole grain versions while keeping the portions under control.

Most grain should be whole. This includes while wheat and brown rice, while also adjusting the portion sizes. According to the U.S. dietary guidelines, one serving of pasta should be around a half cup when cooked.

Moreover, Dr. Heller says that if you’re not exactly sure how to change things up, seek help. There’s tons out there.

She says, “Working with a registered dietitian can be very helpful for patients and take the guesswork out of grocery shopping and meal planning. Most patients are pleasantly surprised at the wide variety of foods, dishes, and cuisines they can include in their daily fare.”