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Excess Animal Protein and Diabetes Risk

Apr 24, 2014

The source of dietary protein may affect its benefits…. 

Researchers investigated the association between total, animal, and plant protein intake and the resulting incidence of type 2 diabetes. From the prior EPIC cohort, researchers randomly selected 12,403 incident diabetes cases and a sub-cohort consisting of 16,835 individuals from within 8 European countries. A total of 26,253 individuals were included in the analysis. Researchers identified prevalent and incident type 2 diabetes cases using self-reports, primary and secondary care registers, drug registers, hospital admissions and mortality data. Using dietary questionnaires, researchers then gathered data including protein intake, physical activity, weight, height, and stomach circumference. Analyses were stratified and country-specific hazard ratios (HRs) and prentice-weighted Cox regression to estimate type 2 diabetes risk and incidence based upon protein consumption.


For an average follow-up time of 12.0 years, researchers observed a positive association between total and animal protein consumption and type 2 diabetes risk. After adjusting for diabetes risk factors and dietary factors, researchers found that the incidence of type 2 diabetes was higher among study participants having a high total protein intake (per 10 g: HR 1.06; CI 95%, 1.02 to 1.09, P-trend <0.001) and animal protein (per 10 g: HR=1.05; CI 95%, 1.02 to 1.08, P-trend = 0.001). In individuals with the highest total protein, the incidence of type 2 diabetes was 17% higher than that of individuals with lowest intake. Incidence of type 2 diabetes was found to increase by 6% per 10 gram increment of total protein intake at the expense of carbohydrates.

The association between total protein intake and type 2 diabetes appears to be explained by animal protein intake, with a 22% higher type 2 diabetes incidence when comparing highest versus lowest quintile and 5% higher incidence per 10-g increment of animal protein intake.

Researchers also found that the observed type 2 diabetes incidence was 38% higher in women — particularly obese women (defined as a BMI >30) with a risk increase of 19% per 10 g increment of animal protein intake.

Plant protein intake was not associated with type 2 diabetes incidence in this study (per 10 g: HR=1.04; CI 95%, 0.93 to 1.16, P-trend = 0.098).

These findings indicate that the source of protein should be considered in its potential impact on diabetes prevention.

Practice Pearls:
  • Meals containing higher amounts of protein and fat, and less carbohydrates are beneficial for type 2 diabetic patients
  • The type of protein consumed in place of decreased carbohydrates may have a significant role on the benefits
  • Limiting protein from animal sources may be beneficial for preventing type 2 diabetes 

Van nielen M, Feskens EJ, Mensink M, et al. Dietary Protein Intake and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes in Europe: The EPIC-INTERACT Case-Cohort Study. Diabetes Care. 2014; <http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/early/2014/04/07/dc13-2627>