Meat consumption and your risk of diabetes

Cooking meat properly, along with substituting other proteins, can help to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.

Meat on a grill.
Photo: Pexels/Desativado.

For many, meat is considered a staple in the diet and may be the main dish with other foods added as sides. This is known typically as a “Western-based” diet. Meat provides our bodies with a good source of protein and can be prepared in a multitude of ways including baking, frying, grilling and broiling. With creativity, meat can take on many different flavors and textures from spicy and tangy to blackened and charred. But does meat consumption increase our risk for diabetes?

A study conducted in 2014 and published through the National Institute of Health (NIH), followed multiple cohorts of men and women for over two decades collecting data related to their consumption of meat, which included red meat, processed meat and chicken. There are several ways that meat consumption may contribute to diabetes. According to researchers, the nitrates and preservatives in processed meats can damage cells in the pancreas which are involved in insulin production. Red meat contains a high amount of “heme” iron, which can contribute to oxidative stress and inflammation. This study concluded that the consumption of meat is consistently associated with an increased risk of diabetes.

A recent study conducted in 2018, through the Harvard School of Public Health, found that the way red meats are cooked is consistent with the risk of diabetes in a person. Based on data from over 289,000 adults followed for 12 to 16 years, researchers found that there was 1.5 times more opportunity for type 2 diabetes when red meats, chicken and processed meats were eaten after being cooked at high temperatures. This high temperature cooking method is representative of charring the food through grilling and open-fire cooking. This was compared to people that ate meat cooked until lightly browned. The exact reason for the increase is unclear but researchers cite that the chemicals produced from charring could cause an inflammatory effect in the body affecting insulin production and usage. The fact that there was an increased risk of weight gain and obesity from eating foods cooked at high temperatures also may contribute to increase the diabetes risk.

Red meat is generally classified as meat with higher myoglobin levels and is mostly found in four-legged mammals like cattle, pig, lamb, horse and goat. Red meat generally contains higher levels of saturated fatty acids and cholesterol which contribute to cardiovascular disease.

Should you cut meat from your diet if I you are at risk or have type 2 diabetes? According to the American Diabetes Association, decreasing the amount of red meat and processed meat in your diet because of the higher saturated fat and salt amounts is recommended. Try to choose the leanest variety of these meats if you decide to consume them. Include poultry, fish and seafood and don’t forget about non-protein choices like dried beans. Remember, to read food labels for carbohydrate content. Incorporating physical activity on a regular basis is also a great choice to reduce the risk of and manage type 2 diabetes.

For more information on managing diabetes, visit MSU Extension's Diabetes website.

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