Just two servings of red meat per week could increase the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, new research suggests.
The American study analysed several Type 2 diabetes cases that developed over decades and asked the participants about their diets.
Researchers looked at health data from 216,695 people from the Nurses’ Health Study, NHS II, and Health Professionals Follow-up Study in the US, and asked them to complete questionnaires about their diet every two to four years, for up to 36 years.
Over this period, more than 22,000 respondents developed Type 2 diabetes, and the findings showed eating processed and unprocessed red meat was strongly associated with an increased risk of developing the condition.
Those surveyed who ate the most red meat had a 62% higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes compared with those who ate the least.
Every additional daily serving of processed red meat was associated with a 46% greater chance of developing the condition.
Meanwhile, every additional daily serving of unprocessed red meat was associated with a 24% greater risk.
The researchers have also backed replacing red meat with plant-based protein sources such as nuts and legumes, which they say may reduce the chances of developing the condition.
Senior author Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health, said: “Given our findings and previous work by others, a limit of about one serving per week of red meat would be reasonable for people wishing to optimise their health and wellbeing.”
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When researchers estimated the effects of replacing one red meat serving of for another protein, they found that substituting a serving of nuts and legumes was associated with a 30% lower risk, and a serving of dairy products was linked to a 22% lower risk.
According to the scientists’ findings, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, swapping red meat for healthy plant protein sources would also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and tackle climate change, and provide other environmental benefits.
Previous studies have indicated a link between red meat consumption and Type 2 diabetes risk, and researchers say this study adds a greater level of certainty about the association.