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New research warns one dietary choice may be linked to diabetes: ‘A limit of about one serving per week … would be reasonable’

This study, which analyzed health data from over 216,000 participants for an extended period of years, strengthens the certainty of the association.

This study, which analyzed health data from over 216,000 participants for an extended period of years, strengthens the certainty of the association.

Photo Credit: iStock

Sugar, excess carbs, and foods high in saturated fats are all things to avoid for both prevention and control of type 2 diabetes, but another item has been added to the list: red meat. 

What happened?

A new study, led by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that people who eat just two servings of red meat a week might be at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who eat fewer. It further found that the risk increases the more red meat you eat. 

Previous studies have linked red meat consumption and type 2 diabetes risk, but this study, which analyzed health data from 216,695 participants for an extended period of years, strengthens the certainty of the association. 

Researchers found that participants who ate the most of both processed and unprocessed red meat had a 62% higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those who ate the least, with each additional daily serving of processed red meat carrying a 46% greater risk and every additional daily serving of unprocessed red meat a 24% greater risk.

“Our findings strongly support dietary guidelines that recommend limiting the consumption of red meat, and this applies to both processed and unprocessed red meat,” said first author Xiao Gu, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Nutrition, in a news release.

Why is the correlation concerning? 

According to the New York Post, data from the United States Department of Agriculture reports that in 2021, Americans consumed 30 billion pounds of beef, which equals almost 60 pounds per person per year. This statistic means that many of us are likely well within the window of increased risk. 

Further, type 2 diabetes rates are rapidly increasing worldwide, and it also brings an increased risk of cardiovascular and kidney disease, cancer, and dementia.

Agriculture also burdens the environment heavily, accounting for over a tenth (11%) of the world’s carbon pollution, according to the Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions, with livestock responsible for 14.5% of all planet-heating pollution, per PBS NewsHour. So, increased consumption puts not only human health but also that of the environment at risk.

What can be done about it? 

Changing the way we eat can make a big difference. The researchers further estimated that substituting a serving of nuts and legumes for one of meat was associated with a 30% lower risk of type 2 diabetes, with senior author Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition, stating that “a limit of about one serving per week of red meat would be reasonable for people wishing to optimize their health and wellbeing.”

Cutting back on red meat would also help slow Earth’s rapid overheating. 

Research published in the Nature Communications journal demonstrated how replacing half of meat products with plant-based alternatives could reduce pollution caused by global agriculture by as much as a third by 2050. 

Further, a study by an Oxford University professor stated that if the biggest meat eaters in the United Kingdom were to switch to low-meat diets, the environmental impact would be equivalent to eight million cars being taken off the road.

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