Less red meat and more legumes reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes

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 (Image: Pixabay CC0)
(Image: Pixabay CC0)
Replacing a daily serving of processed red meat with a serving of legumes or nuts reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes by 41%.

If, at the start of 2024, you’re looking for a simple resolution that will produce long-term health benefits, it wouldn’t hurt to consider reducing your red meat intake. Indeed, a study just published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition confirms that there is a direct link between red meat consumption and the risk of type 2 diabetes. What’s more, the study shows that replacing a daily portion of red meat with nuts, legumes or dairy products substantially reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes over the long term.

Jean-Philippe Drouin-Chartier , professor at Laval University’s Faculty of Pharmacy, and a group of researchers from Harvard University arrived at these findings at the end of a study involving 216,695 people. "None of these people had diabetes when they were recruited into the study, but 22,761 became diabetics during the 30 years of follow-up," explains Professor Drouin-Chartier, who is also a researcher at the Center for Nutrition, Health and Society and the Institute for Nutrition and Functional Foods.

All participants were asked to complete periodic dietary questionnaires in which they reported their consumption of processed red meat (sausages, bacon, sandwich meats, etc.) and unprocessed red meat (beef, pork, lamb).

Using these data, the researchers established that the risk of developing type 2 diabetes increased as a direct function of red meat consumption. Those in the highest quintile of total red meat consumption were 62% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those in the lowest quintile. When only processed red meat was considered, the increased risk was 51%. For unprocessed red meat, the risk was 40% higher.

This increased risk of type 2 diabetes could be attributable to saturated fats and the type of iron found in red meat," says Professor Drouin-Chartier. The presence of nitrates in processed meats could also be a factor. Finally, we know that red meat consumption is associated with weight gain, and that adiposity in itself is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes."

"Eating less red meat may seem like a good idea, but you also have to consider what you’re replacing it with."

-- Jean-Philippe Drouin-Chartier The researchers also carried out modelling to measure the effect of substituting one daily portion of red meat with another protein source. The exercise enabled them to establish that substituting one portion per day of processed red meat with one portion of legumes or nuts reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes by 41%. In the case of unprocessed red meat, the reduction was 29%. If dairy products were substituted for processed red meat or unprocessed red meat, the risk reductions were 33% and 20% respectively.

Given our results, eating less red meat may seem like a good idea, but you also have to consider what you’re replacing it with," insists Professor Drouin-Chartier. Our results are in line with the recommendations of Canada’s Food Guide. There are major advantages in replacing red meat with plant-based proteins or dairy products, mainly yogurt. And if you insist on eating red meat, a steak would be preferable to processed cold cuts."