Processed red meat linked to diabetes

Staff - - 08/11/2011
Body and Brain

Skip the hot dogs, hold the bacon and forget the sausage. Eating processed meats and red meat regularly increases your risk of type 2 diabetes, a large study shows.

The Harvard study, published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found:

† A 2-ounce serving a day of processed meat (hot dog, bacon, salami or bologna) increased the risk of diabetes by 50 percent.

† A 4-ounce serving a day (the size of a deck of cards) of unprocessed red meat such as hamburger, steak, pork or lamb was associated with a 20 percent increased risk of diabetes.

† Substituting nuts, whole grains and low-fat dairy such as yogurt for a serving a day of these types of processed or unprocessed meats lowers the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 16 percent to 35 percent.

“Clearly, processed meat is much worse than unprocessed meat for raising the risk, but unprocessed red meat is not benign,” says senior author Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Hu says the high amount of sodium, nitrites and nitrates in processed meats are potential factors that increase diabetes risk. With red meat, it may be the high amount of iron, he says. “There are probably other factors in these meats that contribute to diabetes.”

Previous research has linked eating red meat and processed meat to an increased risk of heart disease and cancer.

The Harvard researchers analyzed dietary-intake data from more than 200,000 men and women who have been tracked for a decade or more as part of the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study and the Nurses’ Health Studies. They also did a larger analysis, combining their data and that from other published studies to analyze the diets of 442,101 people. About 28,000 of these people developed type 2 diabetes.

The researchers adjusted for the participants’ age, weight, physical activity level, smoking, family history of diabetes and other dietary and lifestyle factors.

Diabetes afflicts more than 25 million adults and children in the United States. Most have type 2 diabetes.

“Type 2 diabetes has a very strong genetic component, and multiple environmental factors, such as obesity, physical inactivity and poor diet interact with genetics to increase the risk and accelerate the development of the disease,” says Vivian Fonseca of the American Diabetes Association and a professor of medicine at Tulane. “People who are eating a lot of red meat and processed meat may not be eating as much nuts, beans and fish, which might be protective” against developing diabete.”

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