A major, new study from Harvard finds that eating red meat and processed meats, like hot dogs or bacon, daily can sharply increase your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. But substituting a serving of nuts, whole grains or low-fat dairy foods like yogurt for just one serving of meat a day can cut your diabetes risk by up to 35 percent.
The Harvard study isn’t the first to look at the link between meat consumption and increased diabetes risk, but it is “the largest and most comprehensive on the subject to date, following hundreds of thousands of people over the course of several decades,” according to the New York Times.
It also is the first to look at whether substituting dairy or plant-based protein, like nuts or whole grains, for a serving of meat could reduce the risk.
The Harvard School of Public Health researchers analyzed data from more than 200,000 men and women ages 25 to 75 in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study and the Nurses’ Health Studies. The scientists looked at the subjects’ eating and health habits dating to 1976.
The scientists also combined that data with data from other published studies to analyze the diets of more than 400,000 people. About 28,000 of these people developed Type 2 diabetes.
The findings, published online in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that:
* A two-ounce daily serving of processed meat (one hot dog or sausage, two slices of bacon, deli meats) was associated with a 51 percent increased risk of diabetes.
* A four-ounce daily serving (the size of deck of cards) of red meat, like steak, hamburger, pork or lamb, was associated with a 20 percent increased risk of diabetes.
* Among those who ate red meat daily, substituting one serving of meat for a serving of whole grains reduced the risk of diabetes by 23 percent; replacing a serving of meats with nuts resulted in a 21 percent lower risk; and choosing a serving of low-fat yogurt or another low-fat dairy protein over red meat daily decreased the risk by 17 percent.
The researchers did find that people who ate more red meat were also more likely to smoke, avoid exercise and weigh more — all factors related to poor health and increased diabetes risk. But even after adjusting for all of those factors, there was still a higher risk for diabetes among daily red meat-eaters, senior author Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard, said in an interview with the New York Times.
In a Harvard news release, the study’s authors noted that more than 25 million adults in the U.S. have diabetes and most have Type 2, which is primarily linked to obesity, physical inactivity and an unhealthy diet.
“Clearly, the results from this study have huge public health implications given the rising type 2 diabetes epidemic and increasing consumption of red meats worldwide,” the authors said in the release. “The good news is that such troubling risk factors can be offset by swapping red meat for a healthier protein.”
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