Oh the questions people have about red meat. Is pork a white meat or a red meat? What meats are classified as red meats? Is there a limit to how much red meat per week one should eat? What is a processed meat? Is there any research specifically on red meat and diabetes prevention? What are the health risks of eating red meat for those that have diabetes? Get ready to learn some very interesting facts!

facts on eating red meat and diabetes is red meat bad for diabeticsThe following meats are considered RED MEAT:
Beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, goat, bison, horse, rabbits, game animals, zoo animals and all members of the deer family including elk (wapiti) and (moose), mules, and other equine animals (1,2,3) 

Using the list above, you can see that pork is considered a red meat. What is a processed meat? The World Cancer Research Fund defines processed meats as those that go through a process to preserve them. This can include meats that are smoked, cured, salted or have preservatives added. (4) Examples of processed meats include: pastrami, hot dogs, pepperoni, sausages, ham, bacon and chorizo. (4,5)

Red Meat and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
Data from three cohort studies were analyzed in 2011 to attempt to determine if eating red meat increased the risk for diabetes. The risk of eating the following foods were also analyzed and compared to eating processed and non-processed red meats for developing diabetes: nuts, low fat dairy products, whole grain bread, brown rice, whole grain cereal, poultry and fish. The studies had a total of over 203,000 men and women as subjects. The analysis used data from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, The Nurses’ Health Study 1 and the Nurses’ Health Study 2. 

Findings included a positive association between the consumption of red meat and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. (6,7) In the study review, “A single serving of unprocessed red meat was defined as 3 ounces of beef, lamb, pork, or hamburger (about the size of a deck of cards). A single serving of processed red meat consisted of 3 slices of deli meat, 1 hot dog, 1 sausage, or 2 slices of bacon.”(8) Other red meats were not evaluated in the study.  

Study results revealed the fact that consuming processed red meat is associated with a higher relative risk than consuming unprocessed red meat. When dietary red meat was increased by one serving per day, the risk of type 2 diabetes increased by 12-32 percent. (6,7)

The consumption of one serving of the following foods per day was compared to eating one serving of red meat. (Eating these foods lowered the risk of developing diabetes by the following percentage)
Alternate Protein vs Red Meat Serving Size Lowered Risk of Developing Type 2 Diabetes
Nuts 28 grams 21 percent
Low-Fat Dairy Products (8oz low fat milk) 1 cup (240 mL) 17-23 percent
Low-Fat Cheese 28 grams 17-23 percent
Low-Fat Yogurt 1/2 cup (120 mL) 17-23 percent
1 Slice Whole-Grain Bread 32 grams 17-23 percent
Cooked Brown Rice 1 cup (200 grams) 17-23 percent
Whole-Grain Cereal 1 cup (200 grams) 17-23 percent

Lower risk was also seen when poultry or fish was substituted for red meat. (6,7) There was a higher risk seen when processed red meats were compared to the foods listed above then when unprocessed red meats were used. 

When unprocessed red meat consumption was increased by 100 grams/day (about 3.5 ounces) there was a 19 percent increased risk of type 2 diabetes. A 50 gram/day serving of processed meats (examples bacon, hot dogs and sausage) was associated with a 51 percent increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Astounding conclusions estimated that when a serving of nuts, low-fat dairy and whole grains per day were substituted for one serving of red meat per day the estimated risk of type 2 diabetes was lowered by 16-35 percent. (6, 7)

The following were recommendations by the research team:
  • Processed red meats should be minimized in the diet.
  • Unprocessed red meats should be reduced and replaced with nuts, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, fish, or beans. (6,7)

Risk of Developing Gestational diabetes and Diet prior to Pregnancy: 
A perspective cohort study (2013) reviewed 21,457 singleton births and evaluated the association between dietary protein consumed prior to pregnancy and the risk of gestational diabetes. This study concluded that a high intake of animal protein (red meat in particular) was associated with an increased risk of gestational diabetes. Vegetable proteins especially nuts consumed prior to pregnancy were associated with a lower incidence of gestational diabetes. Lower risk of gestational diabetes occurs when 5 percent of calories from vegetable protein is substituted for animal protein. A lower risk of GDM also occurs when poultry, fish, nuts or legumes are substituted for red meat. (9) 

A take home message from this study is to consider substituting non-red meat protein for at least some of the red meat consumed to help prevent gestational diabetes and type 2 diabetes.

Should people that already have diabetes worry about eating red meat?
When a person has diabetes, they need to take care of their total health, not just their diabetes. Various studies associate the consumption of red meat with an increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, mortality, and stroke.

1. Food frequency information was gathered from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (starting in 1986) and the Nurse’s Health study (starting in 1980) every four years on over 120,000 subjects entering into the studies that were free from cancer and cardiovascular disease. Results found that the people that consumed the most processed and unprocessed red meat had the highest risks of mortality including death from cancer and cardiovascular disease. Results indicated that one extra serving of unprocessed meat over the length of the study raised the risk of mortality by 13 percent. When an extra serving of processed red meat was consumed the risk of mortality was raised by 20 percent. This study used the same subjects as the Red meat and Diabetes study mentioned above. It was concluded that if participants ate less than 1.5 ounces of red meat per day 9.3 percent of deaths in men and 7.6 percent of deaths in women could have been avoided. (10) 

2. Results from The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study was published in 2009. This study had over half a million subjects located in ten countries in Europe. Findings from this study supported the assumption that when processed and unprocessed red meat are consumed, the risk of colorectal cancer increases. The intake of fish decreases this risk. (11) The American Institute for Cancer Research advises people to eat no more than 18 ounces of cooked red meat per week  and to avoid processed meats to help prevent colorectal cancer. (12) 

3. Six Prospective studies were evaluated in 2012 with over 3,290,000 participants researching red meat consumption and the risk of stroke. Conclusions drawn included that the consumption of red meat (both fresh and processed) was associated with an increased risk of total stroke and ischemic stroke. Red meat consumption was not associated with a risk of hemorrhagic stroke. (13)  
Everyone needs to carefully consider how much red meat they want to consume. Knowing the risks can help you make a better informed decision. Talk to your dietitian about your individual nutrition needs. A healthy meal plan should be a goal for everyone!