Harvard University has just published the results of their survey of 440,000 people in which they examined the link between eating red meat and the incidence of type 2 diabetes. The researchers report that people who ate three ounces of unprocessed meat a day had a 12% increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. If the meat was processed, the risk was 32%. Even accounting for other lifestyle factors that might have increased the risk for diabetes in the people involved in the survey, the researchers say that there is still a link between meat consumption and diabetes. In addition, previous research showed that eating red meat daily increased the risk of dying from any cause over ten years.
The reason why red meat may cause diabetes is uncertain. It’s known that red meat contains heme iron, the type that is most easily absorbed from the small intestine into the bloodstream. Excess iron in the body causes inflammation, a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. It’s also possible that the meat eaters were eating too much saturated fat, or were being affected by unhealthy additives in processed meats such as sodium and nitrates. The researchers suggest that we substitute poultry and fish for red meat and also eat more plant-based foods.
The number of Type 2 diabetes cases is increasing in the United States. There may be several factors responsible for this increase, including excess red meat consumption, excess consumption of refined carbohydrates and an increased incidence of obesity. In Type 2 diabetes, sometimes known as diabetes mellitus, the body doesn’t respond properly to a hormone called insulin that is made by the pancreas. Insulin stimulates the entry of blood sugar (glucose) into the body’s cells, which use it to produce energy. When the cells don’t absorb enough sugar, the sugar builds up in the blood. The pancreas may be unable to make enough insulin to trigger the extra sugar to enter the cells.
The results of the Harvard University Study can be read in this Scientific American article.