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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Mohan

Eating Red Meat Linked to Higher Risk of Type 2 Diabetes, Harvard Study Finds

Original Article Created By: Kristen Rogers, CNN

Presented By: Michelle Mohan, LEAD Wellness

Ok my friends, here is your Nerdy Nutrition Newsletter:


This article was just released less than 24 hrs ago and I couldn’t wait another second to give it to you.


A large new study by Harvard researchers suggests having just two servings of red meat per week increases risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life, and the risk further increases with greater consumption, according to the study published Thursday in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

“The association between red meat and type 2 diabetes has been observed in different populations worldwide,” said the study’s first author Xiao Gu, a postdoctoral research fellow of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, via email. “We keep strengthening existing evidence with improved data and techniques. I hope our study could settle the debate regarding whether we should limit red meat intake for health concerns or not.”


About 462 million people worldwide are affected by type 2 diabetes, a rate that has been rapidly increasing, the authors said.

Prevention of diabetes is important because this disease is itself a serious burden, and it also is a major risk factor for cardiovascular and kidney disease, cancer, and dementia,” Gu said.

Consumption of red meat has been linked with type 2 diabetes risk in past studies, but the authors of the latest research wanted to improve upon them by adding details about how diabetes diagnoses and related biomarkers were affected by intake over a long period of time.

The authors studied 216,695 people who had participated in the Nurses’ Health Study, the Nurses’ Health Study II and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, all of which recruited participants from around 1976 to 1989. The first two studies investigated risk factors for major chronic diseases among female registered nurses in North America, while the latter study assessed the same topics but for men.

Hold onto your hat because this is going to blow your mind!

By the end of the follow-up periods, nearly 22,800 people developed type 2 diabetes, and those who ate the most total red meat had a 62% higher risk of developing the disease, compared with people who ate the least. Eating the most processed or unprocessed red meat was linked with a 51% and 40% higher risk of type 2 diabetes, respectively.

Processed meat, the authors defined, included sausage, beef or pork hot dogs, bacon, processed meat sandwiches; one serving equal 28 grams of bacon or 45 grams of the other meats (including those expensive deli meats that most people think are “healthier”).

Unprocessed meat included lean or extra lean hamburger, regular hamburger, beef, pork or lamb as a sandwich or mixed dish; and pork, beef or lamb as a main dish. Eighty-five grams of pork, beef or lamb constituted one serving of unprocessed meat.

“The results of this study, which was extremely comprehensive, confirmed current dietary guidance to limit red meat intake,” said Alice Lichtenstein, Gershoff Professor of Nutrition Science and Policy and Tufts University in Boston, via email. Lichtenstein wasn’t involved in the study.

Here is the GOOD news…

Additionally, swapping a meat serving for nuts or legumes meant a 30% reduction in risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

“Of note, individuals who reported consuming red meat most frequently within each cohort were more likely to eat less fish (or) fruit and (more) calories, weigh more, and engage in less physical activity,” added Lichtenstein, who is also the director of Tuft University’s Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory. “This suggests they had poorer overall diet quality and were less likely to engage (in) healthy lifestyle behaviors.”

What is the relationship between meat and diabetes, you may ask?

For one, saturated fat, which is high in red meat, has been found to reduce insulin sensitivity and functioning of the beta cells in the pancreas, which produce insulin in a regulated manner to manage blood glucose.

Additionally, heme iron — the type of iron found in animal foods — Can: 1) increase insulin resistance 2) impair beta cell functioning 3) create oxidative stress 4) cause an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body. Free radicals are unstable molecules from animal products, environmental sources, cigarette smoke or pesticides, which all harm the body’s cells.

Elevated use of the amino acid glycine, which naturally occurs in most proteins, has also been observed after red meat intake and is associated with diabetes risk, the authors said. Excess body fat is another risk factor for diabetes, and red meat consumption was one of the dietary factors with the largest association with weight gain, according to the study.

What to eat instead?

Limiting your red meat intake can be done by reducing frequency or portion size, and a combination of both habit changes is best, Lichtenstein said.

“Consistently reported, legumes and nuts are the best foods with which to replace the red meat,” she added.

Given the findings, limiting red meat consumption to about one serving per week “would be reasonable for people wishing to optimize their health and wellbeing,” said senior study author Dr. Walter C. Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in a news release.

Choosing plant-based sources of protein would also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, Gu said, along with other environmental benefits.

So let’s wrap this all up.

According to numerous studies, including this one from Harvard University, have all clearly confirmed the correlation of red and processed meats with the development of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and many chronic diseases. The increased risk of developing diabetes is 62% higher if consuming red meat, especially if consumed more than once per/week.

Side Note: I would also like to mention that one of my research projects while studying at Stanford University, was investigating how many types of sugars are secretly added to meat products, including all brands of deli meats labeled hormone free, kosher, organic, etc….

You definitely want to sit down for this…. Drum roll....


There are up to 13 different types of sugars added to all meat products! So if you think that “Sugar is in Everything”, I bet you would have never guessed this one.

If you want to avoid diabetes along with all the other chronic and autoimmune diseases, strive toward completely eliminating red meat from your diet or at the very least set a goal to have only 1 serving per/week.

Every bite we take either helps us or hurts us…. You have the choice!

Be Well,

Michelle Mohan, NBC-HWC, CNWE

Nutritional Diagnostics & Gut Health Specialist

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