Study: Red and Processed Meats Linked to Type 2 Diabetes

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As summer comes to a close, so does BBQ season. That’s a good thing for your health, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which finds that consumption of red and processed meat — including summer cook-out favorites like hot dogs, hamburgers and pork ribs — is associated with an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes.

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health analyzed data on 200,000 men and women who participated in the long-term Health Professionals Follow-Up Study and the Nurses’ Health Studies. They also conducted a larger analysis, which included data from other previously published studies, looking at a total of 442,101 participants, 28,228 of whom developed Type 2 diabetes during the study period.

After adjusting for contributing risk factors like age, weight, exercise habits, smoking, genetic predispositions and other dietary factors, the researchers found a strong association between eating red meat, particularly processed meat, and risk of Type 2 diabetes.

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Among their findings:

• Each 2-oz. serving of processed meat, including hot dogs, bacon, salami and other cold cuts, per day accounted for a 51% increase in diabetes risk

• A 3.5-oz. serving of unprocessed red meat, such as hamburger, steak, pork or lamb, per day was linked to a 19% increase in risk of diabetes

• Replacing one serving per day of red and processed meats with healthier options, such as nuts, whole grains and low-fat dairy, accounted for a 16% to 35% reduction in diabetes risk

The researchers weren’t sure exactly why red meat may contribute to diabetes risk, but senior author Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), hypothesized that the high amount of heme iron in red meat could be responsible; iron helps prevent anemia, but the Western diet contains an iron overload, and high levels of iron in the body have been associated with Type 2 diabetes.

NEXT: “Red meat is not benign”

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