There have long been health warnings over eating too much red meat. Initially the concern was over its fat content, and more recently there has been interest in whether the way red meat is broken down in the body might be behind an increase in the risk of heart disease and, to a lesser extent, stroke. Eating red meat has also been shown to have links with bowel cancer.

Now it may be the turn of type 2 diabetes, a rapidly increasing disease that not only brings its own problems but also contributes to the risk of heart disease.

Researchers* have used health data collected in nearly 150,000 American men and women who were followed up over more than 7 years. Among these, there were 7,450 new cases of type 2 diabetes.

In addition to the already known factors that might have explained these new cases, the researchers looked changes in the amount of red meat the participants ate. Those who increased their consumption by an average of half a serving of red meat a day for a four year period were more likely to get diabetes during the subsequent four years than those who didn’t. And those who cut their red meat consumption over the first four years were then less likely to go on to develop diabetes.

This wasn’t the whole story as there were changes in body weight – which is known to be a factor in diabetes – to take account of. But there was enough evidence to suggest red meat played a part in these people developing the condition.

However, a word of caution is needed. A study of this sort that looks retrospectively through data that wasn’t specifically collected for the purpose is not enough to establish cause and effect, or to say how such an effect arises.

For researchers, it raises interesting questions about red meat and how it might have led to this finding. For the rest of us, it is a useful reminder that we should be conscious of what we eat and of maintaining an appropriate body weight, and that those of us who consume a lot of red meat might consider the already current advice to replace some of it with fish, chicken, pulses or vegetables.

*Link to the study abstract:


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