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Red Meat Linked to 48% Increased Diabetes Risk

Large study finds higher consumption increases risk, but experts are at odds with findings….

The findings of a large new study out of Singapore involving 149,000 U.S. men and women showed that people who eat a lot of red meat increase their risk of developing type 2 diabetes, while those who cut down on red meat cut their risk.

The researchers found that increasing the consumption of red meat can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 48 percent.

Lead researcher An Pan, an assistant professor at the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore, stated that, "There is no need to have more red meat on your plate; it increases the risk of diabetes." "It is better to reduce your red meat consumption by replacing it with other healthy food choices, like beans, legumes, soy products, nuts, fish, poultry and whole grains," he added.

For the study, Pan’s team collected data on three Harvard group studies: the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, the Nurses’ Health Study and the Nurses’ Health Study II. All the participants answered questions about their diet every four years, resulting in more than 1.9 million person-years of follow-up.

There were more than 7,500 cases of type 2 diabetes, the researchers found.

Comparing diet with the cases of diabetes, Pan’s group found that people who increased their consumption of red meat by 0.5 servings per day during a four-year period were 48 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, compared with people who ate less red meat. Moreover, people who cut their red meat consumption were 14 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, they found.

But outside experts argued about the findings.

"Epidemiological studies made by questionnaires are not accurate, and they never prove causation, no matter how big and how good the statistics are," said Dr. Joel Zonszein, director of the Clinical Diabetes Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.

The interaction of the many genetic and lifestyle factors that cause obesity and type 2 diabetes is remarkably complex and is still being studied, Zonszein added. "Doing cross-sectional analysis or epidemiological analysis produces questions but not answers," he said.

But Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, countered that Americans are eating too much red meat.

"In 2012, Americans ate an estimated 166 pounds of meat per person," she said. "That is a titanic amount of unhealthy saturated fat and other compounds found in meat, such as iron, zinc or N-nitroso — compounds that research suggests are linked with increased risks for diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancers."

"A plate loaded with meat also leaves less room for vegetables, whole grains and other healthy foods," Heller said.

online edition of JAMA Internal Medicine, June 17, 2013