New study ties red meat and processed meat to increased type 2 diabetes risk

A diet heavy on red meat and processed foods can significantly increase a person’s chances of developing type 2 diabetes, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health.

The team said that their findings, which were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, indicate that many Americans could benefit from making dietary changes to avoid these types of foods, as consumption of red meat and processed meat remains at very high levels.

Despite these findings, the study also showed that simply substituting a few servings of meat each week with healthier options may be enough to combat the onset of type 2 diabetes.

For the study, researchers collected data from more than 442,000 individuals. In some cases, participants provided up to 28 years’ worth of information on their physical health and their diets. The researchers then examined this data for correlations between meat consumption and metabolic health problems.

The results showed that those who consumed a daily 100-gram serving of red meat were 19 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, individuals who ate just 50 grams of processed meats per day had an increased risk of 51 percent.

However, the findings also indicated that relatively minor dietary changes could help individuals reduce their chances of becoming diabetic. Substituting one daily serving of red meat with a serving of whole grains reduced a person’s diabetes risk by 23 percent. Additionally, adding in a serving of nuts brought the diabetes risk down by 21 percent and a serving of low-fat dairy by 17 percent.

“Clearly, the results from this study have huge public health implications given the rising type 2 diabetes epidemic and increasing consumption of red meats worldwide,” said senior author Frank Hu. “The good news is that such troubling risk factors can be offset by swapping red meat for a healthier protein.”

Hu said that processed meats are bad for metabolic health largely because they have high levels of sodium and nitrates. These types of foods commonly include hot dogs, bacon, sausage, deli meats and any other type of meat that is not fresh.

In the U.S., these types of meat products have come to play an important role in many people’s lives. They are a staple of fast food and can be found in many sections of most grocery stores. The conclusion that these types of meats could be harming the metabolic health of people could have major implications for the diets of millions of people.

Type 2 diabetes rates are increasing at alarming rates. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that if current trends continue, one third of the U.S. population will have the condition by 2050. Currently, about 11 percent of the population has the metabolic condition.