As for processed meats, the high levels of sodium and nitrites could potentially be a factor; diets high in nitrites may increase people’s risk for insulin resistance, which is a risk factor for diabetes.
As with any observational study, the current research does not establish a causal relationship between red meat consumption and diabetes risk, but the evidence that they are associated is fairly strong.
“Many previous studies have shown the link between processed meats and diabetes, but this is one of the first (large studies) to show that unprocessed red meat is a significant risk factor,” Hu told USA Today. “Clearly, processed meat is much worse than unprocessed meat for raising the risk but unprocessed red meat is not benign.”
With more than 25 million Americans — that’s 8.5% of all adults in the U.S. — affected by diabetes according to the American Diabetes Association, any guidance for reducing that risk is key. That includes maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, cutting out excess sugar, and, according to the new study, reducing our consumption of red and processed meat.
“We should minimize the consumption of processed meat as much as possible and also reduce our consumption of red meat,” Hu told WebMD. “It shouldn’t be the center of our plate.”
The average American currently consumes more than 100 lbs. of red meat each year — far more than is necessary to meet basic dietary protein requirements. Need more reason to cut back? Previous studies have also associated red and processed meat consumption with increased risk of colon cancer and death.