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Red Meat, Processed Meat Linked to Diabetes Risk

Red Meat, Bacon, Hot Dogs May Increase Risk for Type 2 Diabetes
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 9, 2011 -- Red meat, particularly processed red meats like bacon, sausage, and hot dogs, may increase a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The more processed or unprocessed red meat a person eats, the greater the risk, according to a new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Type 2 diabetes is linked with obesity. It occurs when they body does not produce enough of the hormone insulin, or the cells do not use insulin properly. Insulin helps the body use glucose or blood sugar for energy. When blood sugar remains elevated with diabetes, complications such as heart disease, blindness, and nerve and kidney damage can occur.

In the study, participants who ate one 3.5-ounce serving of non-processed red meat a day, such as steak or hamburger, were almost 20% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

Those who ate half of this amount of processed meat, such as two slices of bacon or one hot dog, had a 51% increased risk for developing diabetes.

“The amount is not huge, but the risk is pretty high,” says Frank B. Hu, MD, PhD, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. “Regular consumption of red meat, especially processed, is associated with an increased risk for type 2 diabetes. The findings are important given the rising epidemic of diabetes and the increasing consumption of red meat.”

But an industry group disputes the findings of the study.

"A significant body of research shows lean beef plays a beneficial role in a healthy diet, including reducing type 2 diabetes [and] there is simply nothing in this recent Harvard study that should change how people enjoy nutrient-rich beef as part of a healthy, balanced diet, " says Shalene McNeill, PhD, RD, the executive director of human nutrition research at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association in a statement to WebMD.

“The most important health advice for reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes is to manage your weight, be physically active and follow a diet consistent with Dietary Guidelines which includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and protein such as lean beef,” the statement reads.

 

Less Red Meat on the Plate

Exactly how red and processed meat may affect diabetes risk is unknown. “For processed meat, the high amount of nitrate preservatives may increase risk for insulin resistance,” a pre-diabetes condition that occurs when the cells of the body become resistant to the effects of insulin, Hu says.

What’s more, red meats also contain high amounts of iron, and high total body iron stores have been associated with an elevated risk of type 2 diabetes, according to the study researchers.

“We should minimize the consumption of processed meat as much as possible and also reduce our consumption of red meat,” Hu says. “It shouldn’t be the center of our plate.”

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