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In recent years, we’ve seen a lot more research into plant-based diets. People who eat less meat (or no meat at all) tend to be at a lower risk of getting heart disease and other diseases. Meanwhile, people who eat more red meat have been linked to a higher risk of death from heart disease, stroke or diabetes. Processed meat eaters see these rates go up even more.
Now, there could be another health reason to limit eating red meat – the risk of Type 2 diabetes. On Thursday, a large study was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that details how people who eat more red and processed meat can be more likely to get Type 2 diabetes somewhere down the line. Red meat, here, refers to pretty much any meat that isn’t poultry (and rabbit). And by processed meat, we mean stuff like bacon, hot dogs and lunch meat.
The study itself involved tracking the diets of over 200,000 people involved in long-term health studies for up to 36 years. It found that people who regularly ate a lot of red meat – over one serving a day – had a notably higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
"When we looked at the women and men who consumed the most red meat compared to the least, we found about a 50% increase in risk," says one study author, Dr. Walter Willett from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The research suggests that every added daily serving of processed red meat was associated with a 46% higher chance of developing Type 2 diabetes. Every added daily serving of unprocessed red meat was linked to a 24% greater risk.
Unfortunately, scientists don’t know exactly what drives up the risk factor here. But, red meat does tend to be higher in saturated fats, which has been linked to insulin resistance. It’s also possible that people who eat more red meat have other related factors adding to that risk. In this study, participants who ate higher amounts of red meat typically also had higher body mass indexes.
Xiao Gu, a nutrition researcher at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health who also authored the study, says that when it comes to how much red meat you eat, “the lower you go, the better.” One serving a week is a good goal, according to him.