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Red meat intake can affect diabetes risk
Increasing the amount of red meat you eat might raise your risk of diabetes, a new study shows. But there’s also good news - lowering your red meat consumption may reduce the risk in the longer term.
BMJ Group News
What do we know already?
Diabetes happens when you have a build-up of a sugar called glucose in your blood. Certain things, called risk factors, can increase your chances of getting diabetes. Being very overweight, or obese, is the main risk factor for type 2 diabetes. The types of food you eat have an effect on your weight, and doctors think this may also affect the chances of developing diabetes.
For example, studies have shown that people who say they eat a lot of red meat are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. But these studies only asked people about what they eat once. People often change their diet and their eating habits as their lives change, and these studies haven’t reflected these changes.
To look at the link between red meat consumption and the risk of diabetes more accurately, researchers surveyed 150,000 people who were taking part in three different studies about diet, lifestyle, and health. The participants filled out questionnaires about their eating habits, including how many times a week they ate red meat. The researchers gave people the same questionnaire every four years for 16 years. They then looked to see if changing the amount of red meat people ate affected their chances of developing diabetes.
What does the new study say?
During the study, 7,450 people developed diabetes. When the researchers pooled the results of the three different studies, they found that people who increased the amount of red meat they ate within a four-year period were more likely to develop diabetes in the next four years than people who carried on eating the same amount of red meat.
For example, people who increased the amount of red meat they ate from less than two servings a week to more than seven servings a week were twice as likely to have diabetes as people who continued to have two servings of red meat a week.
On the other hand, people who reduced the amount of red meat they ate were less likely to have diabetes than people who continued to eat the same amount. The risk wasn’t any lower in the short term (within four years), but averaged out over the length of the entire study, people who reduced the red meat in their diet still had a lower risk of developing diabetes.
How reliable is the research?
In this study, the researchers accounted for things that we know affect people’s diabetes risk, such as the overall quality of their diet. But there may have been other things common to people who eat a lot of red meat, such as their background and lifestyle, which the researchers didn’t account for, which may have affected people’s weight and their risk of diabetes.
It’s possible that people who reduced the red meat in their diet were motivated to improve their diet or lifestyle in other ways, or may have changed their diet as part of the treatment for other health problems. We don’t know if these kinds of things affected their risk of diabetes.
What does this mean for me?
We need to be slightly cautious with this type of study because, while it shows a link between eating red meat and diabetes risk, it can’t prove that eating red meat causes diabetes. But it’s never a good idea to over-indulge in any one type of food. A balanced diet with plenty of variety is a much better option.