Burger Nation: Avoid Red Meat, Diabetes Risk

New study strongly supports moderation

burger up close

New research about red meat consumption may make you pass on that burger. While there’s nothing new about eating habits being closely linked to rates of type 2 (or adult-onset) diabetes, a new study underscores this link.

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A study published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that people who ate less red meat saw a decline over time in their risk of developing diabetes, while those who ate more red meat saw just the opposite – heightened risk for developing diabetes.

“When you decrease your intake of red meat, you’re having a direct impact on your risk of developing diabetes, even though you might not see it immediately,” says Betul Hatipoglu, MD, a staff member of the Department of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism at Cleveland Clinic. “This demonstrates how much you’re able to control your overall health by making good food choices.”

Closely linked

So just how strong is the link between red meat and diabetes?

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  • People who increased their red meat intake by more than a half serving per day had a 48 percent higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • People who reduced their red meat intake by more than a half serving per day had a 14 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Study researchers analyzed results from diet questionnaires taken by nearly 150,000 people who were tracked for more than 20 years by staff members at the Harvard School of Public Health.

That survey had already shown the connection between eating red meat and rates of heart disease, stroke and colorectal cancers.

In this newest study, researchers analyzed the changes in diet and rates of diabetes over four-year periods, directly comparing the two between each four-year period. “This demonstrates just how strong the connection between the two really is,” says Dr. Hatipoglu.

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What people need to remember

Dr. Hatipoglu’s message to patients is simple and critical to long-term health: Eat red meats in moderation, balanced by plenty of whole grains, healthy proteins, fruits and vegetables.

“We have to be very conscientious about what we put in our mouths, and moderation in eating red meat is very important,” she says. “Consuming less red meat doesn’t just correspond to lower rates of diabetes. It’s also linked to better cardiovascular health and reductions in overall mortality.”