People who eat red meat just twice a week have a higher chance of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life, and the risk is even larger with greater consumption, a new study found.
Researchers from Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health reached this conclusion by studying the eating habits of more than 216,000 people enrolled in health studies that spanned three decades, according to the study published Thursday in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Every two to four years, these participants answered detailed questions about their diets, and by the end of the study, more than 22,000 developed Type 2 diabetes.
Participants who ate the most red meat had a 62% higher risk of developing the disease compared to those who ate the least.
This included both processed meats — like sausage, bacon and hot dogs — and unprocessed meats — like hamburgers, beef, pork and lamb.
Eating an additional serving of processed or unprocessed red meat had a 46% or 24% higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, respectively.
Additionally, the researchers found substituting just one of these daily red meat servings for another protein source, like a serving of nuts and legumes, was associated with a 30% lower risk, and substituting for a serving of dairy had a 22% lower risk.
And although it didn't definitively link eating red meat to causing Type 2 diabetes, the study built upon evidence from previous studies strongly associating the two by adding details about how red meat consumption affects a person over time.
"Given our findings and previous work by others, a limit of about one serving per week of red meat would be reasonable for people wishing to optimize their health and well-being," said senior author Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition.
This optimizing of health is vital as rates of Type 2 diabetes are rising globally, with 90% to 95% of the 37 million Americans with the disease having Type 2. And although it was once an issue for adults over 45, more children and teens are getting the diagnosis due to rising obesity rates.
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