Meeting Red Meat Risks

Type 2 diabetes risk increased by eating processed and unprocessed red meat

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) A big, juicy steak may be delicious, but it is not necessarily good for your health. Eating too much red meat could put you at a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.

People who eat a daily serving of unprocessed red meat may be raising their risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Processed red meats are linked to an even greater risk. On the other hand, replacing that serving of red meat with another source of protein - such as nuts, low-fat dairy products, and whole grains - lowers the risk of diabetes.

"Don't eat red meat every day."

These findings should have a huge effect on the public health world given that rates of type 2 diabetes continue to rise and red meat is becoming more commonly eaten around the world, says Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health and senior author of the study.

The researchers found that eating a 100-gram daily serving of unprocessed meat - which is about the size of a deck of cards - was associated with a 19 percent greater risk for type 2 diabetes. Eating only half that amount of processed meat (50-grams, or one hot dog or sausage) was associated with a 51 percent greater risk.

In light of their study's results, Hu and his colleagues recommend that people try to eat as little of processed red meats (hot dogs, bacon, sausage, deli meats) as possible. They also say that people should try to reduce the amount of unprocessed red meat that they eat.

According to Mark Bans, D.C., of Bans Health & Wellness (, "Processed meats should be kept to a minimum. Studies show that the nitrates, fillers, etc. in these meats can have an effect on one's health in a negative manner."

Bans continues, "As far as unprocessed red meat (assuming that we are talking about the kind that is organic and has not been subjected to hormones, antibiotics, etc), I feel that keeping portion size under control is important whether diabetic or not. However, I do not feel it has the same detrimental effect as processed meats."

He goes on to explain that humans have eaten red meat for thousands of years and our bodies are well-adapted to utilize the proteins found in unprocessed red meats.

"In this society today, and other socities that have adopted the Western Diet, red meat and whole-fat items have gotten a bad rap," says Bans. "They are not the culprits. It's the processed foods, fast foods, sugars, excess carbohydrate consumption, etc. that are to blame for the current state of people's bodies not being able to utilize what for millennia has been the way that man has and was meant to eat."

In addition to cutting out red meats, another healthy choice would be to replace those red meats with other sources of protein. In fact, the researchers found that replacing one daily serving of red meat with one serving of nuts could lower the risk of type 2 diabetes by 21 percent. Replacing the red meat with low-fat dairy could lower the risk by 17 percent. Substituting one serving of whole grains could lower the risk by 23 percent.

According to study leader An Pan, research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health, this study suggests that eating both red meat - especially processed red meat - may raise the risk of type 2 diabetes. He explains that the U.S. dietary guidelines for 2010 still include red meat in the same "protein foods" group, which is also comprised of fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds, beans, and soy products. Because red meat seems to be linked to many health problems (diabetes and heart disease, in particular), Pan recommends that the guidelines should treat red meat differently than healthier sources of protein.

Pan, Hu, and colleagues came to these conclusions by studying the answers to questionnaires from more than 37,000 men followed for 20 years in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study; 79,570 women followed for 28 years in the Nurses' Health Study I; and over 87,500 women followed for 14 years in the Nurses' Health Study II. The researchers also performed a meta-analysis, in which they combined data from their study with data from past studies.

Their research - which is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition - was supported by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 12, 2011
Last Updated:
August 15, 2011