Does Eating Meat Raise Type 2 Diabetes Risk?

| May 5, 2017

As I wrote here recently, a healthy diet is key to preventing and managing type 2 diabetes. That means cutting right down on sugary and starchy carbohydrates and replacing them with green vegetables, low-GL fruits and healthy sources of fat and protein. But it seems that not just any kind of protein will do, as there is evidence that eating meat could negatively affect diabetes risk.

In a new study from Finland, researchers found that plant and egg proteins were associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, while people whose diet included a lot of meat had a higher risk.1 This follows on the heels of several other studies that have linked red meat consumption with type 2 diabetes risk. So, should we be ditching the Sunday roast?

With studies of this kind, it pays to look behind the sensational headlines and understand what the findings really mean. In this case, researchers analysed data on 2,332 men between 42 and 60 years of age, who took part in a 19-year survey on heart disease risk factors that began in the 1980s. Information on their diet took the form of food diaries completed over a period of four days. And diabetes incidence was estimated from a mixture of self-administered questionnaires, blood test results and cause-of-death records.

OK, so now we know the initial study was not primarily designed to test for a link between eating meat and type 2 diabetes. It covered only a limited sector of the population. And the new study’s conclusions were based on unverified information about what the participants were eating, for a few days around 30 years ago, and on a “best guess” about which of them developed type 2 diabetes. So, let’s not give too much weight to its results!

Non-protein components of meat may be to blame

The researchers found protein from eggs and vegetable sources to be associated with a reduced diabetes risk. But there was no link between type 2 diabetes and protein in general, animal protein or protein from meat, fish or dairy products. They did, though, find that those men with the highest meat intakes had a higher-than-average risk of type 2 diabetes, and they suggest that this may be due to compounds other than protein present in meat.

It’s my guess that those compounds are likely to include the antibiotics fed to intensively-reared livestock, the nitrites used to cure bacon, ham and hot dogs, and the nitrosamines formed when such meat products are cooked at high temperatures. And grain-fed meat also contains high levels of omega-6 fatty acids, which, as I pointed out in a recent post, have also been linked with elevated blood sugar and type 2 diabetes.

We should by now have learned some lessons from the low-fat fiasco of the last century. First, that research showing a statistical association between diet and disease doesn’t prove cause and effect. And second, that demonising a single component of the diet, without considering the overall balance, is a deeply flawed approach.

When it comes to eating meat, if you are not vegetarian or vegan (and I have a lot of respect for those who are), “quality not quantity” is always a good rule of thumb. It’s far better to splash out on a good piece of organic, grass-fed lamb or beef every once in a while than to make cheap sausages, burgers and canned meat your everyday fare.

These processed meat products can play havoc with your gut bacteria, triggering inflammation and raising type 2 diabetes risk. You probably know that probiotics and prebiotics can help to keep those little chaps happy – but have you heard of postbiotics. I’ll tell you what they are and why they could be important in my next blog post.

Wishing you the best of health,

Martin Hum
PhD DHD Nutritionist
for Real Diabetes Truth

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Sources:

1. Virtanen HE, Koskinen TT, Voutilainen S et al. Intake of different dietary proteins and risk of type 2 diabetes in men: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. Br J Nutr. 2017 Apr 11 (Online ahead of print).

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