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Red Meat Linked to Increased Diabetes Risk

Large study finds higher consumption increases risk, but experts are at odds with findings

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The interaction of the many genetic and lifestyle factors that cause obesity and type 2 diabetes is remarkably complex and is still being studied, Zonszein added. "Doing cross-sectional analysis or epidemiological analysis produces questions but not answers," he said.

Blaming red meat for diabetes is misleading, said William Evans, head of the Muscle Metabolism Discovery Performance Unit at GlaxoSmithKline and the author of an accompanying editorial in the journal.

The amount of saturated fat that is also found in many types of meat is the most likely cause for the association of red meat and risk of diabetes, he said.

"Red meat is not the bad food that it is touted to be," Evans said. "There are many cuts of beef that are red and have as much fat as a chicken breast, and the redness in meat provides the most available form of iron from any food that we eat."

But Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, countered that Americans are eating too much red meat.

"In 2012, Americans ate an estimated 166 pounds of meat per person," she said. "That is a titanic amount of unhealthy saturated fat and other compounds found in meat, such as iron, zinc or N-nitroso -- compounds that research suggests are linked with increased risks for diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancers."

"A plate loaded with meat also leaves less room for vegetables, whole grains and other healthy foods," Heller said.

Zonszein also doesn't put the blame for type 2 diabetes on red meat alone.

"The public health message should be to eat a heart healthy and balanced diet with balanced macronutrients, and low in saturated fat," he said.

He added, however, that "excessive caloric intake is not good, but I will eat a good steak and potatoes from time to time and enjoy it."

"If the cause of the associated risk is saturated and total fat content," Evans said, "the public health message should be to reduce intake from all sources, such as cheese, whole milk and meat that is rich in saturated fat, not to single out specific types of meat because of redness."

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