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Eating red meat connected with increased type 2 diabetes risk, study finds

[Oct. 20, 2023: Staff Writer, The Brighter Side of News]

In an era where quick meals and fast foods are often centered around red meat, health-conscious individuals may need to rethink their dietary habits. (CREDIT: iStockphotos)

In an era where quick meals and fast foods are often centered around red meat, health-conscious individuals may need to rethink their dietary habits. A groundbreaking study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has established a robust connection between red meat consumption and an escalated risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

This comprehensive research underscores the health benefits of substituting red meat with healthier proteins derived from plants or dairy products, a move that could also significantly mitigate environmental burdens.


The study, poised to be published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, intensifies the dialogue around dietary choices and their long-term health repercussions.

“Our findings strongly support dietary guidelines that recommend limiting the consumption of red meat, and this applies to both processed and unprocessed red meat,” asserted Xiao Gu, the study's first author and a postdoctoral research fellow in Harvard's Department of Nutrition. The research amplifies existing knowledge by reinforcing the adverse health impacts of frequent red meat consumption.


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Type 2 diabetes is a global concern, with cases burgeoning in the U.S. and around the world. The malady is not only a profound health burden in itself but also paves the way for other severe conditions, including cardiovascular and kidney diseases, cancer, and dementia. The escalating rates of this lifestyle-related disease have triggered urgent calls for preventative strategies, primarily through dietary modifications.

In this large-scale cohort study, the researchers meticulously analyzed health data drawn from 216,695 participants involved in the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS), NHS II, and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS).


These participants were subjected to food frequency questionnaires every two to four years over an extended follow-up period that spanned up to 36 years. It was during this time frame that over 22,000 participants were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, providing the researchers with a substantial set of data to investigate dietary influences on disease prevalence.

Red meat intake and risk of type 2 diabetes in a prospective cohort study of United States females and males. (CREDIT: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition)

The research team, delving deep into the data, discovered a compelling association between red meat intake—encompassing both processed and unprocessed types—and an elevated risk of type 2 diabetes. Participants who consumed the highest quantities of red meat were faced with a staggering 62% increased risk of developing the disease compared to their counterparts who consumed the least.


The study delineated the risk further, noting that each additional daily serving of processed red meat correlated with a 46% increased risk, while each extra serving of unprocessed red meat was linked with a 24% higher risk.

Study supports current dietary recommendations for limiting consumption of red meat intake and emphasizes the importance of different alternative sources of protein for T2D prevention. (CREDIT: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition)

In an era increasingly focused on preventive healthcare, the study didn’t just stop at highlighting the problem; it also proposed solutions. The researchers ventured into hypothetical territory, estimating the potential health benefits if one daily serving of red meat were replaced with different protein sources. The results were telling: substituting with nuts and legumes correlated with a 30% reduction in the risk of type 2 diabetes, while opting for a serving of dairy products was associated with a 22% lower risk.


Senior author of the study, Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition, recommended a practical dietary limit based on the research findings. “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 optimize their health and wellbeing,” he remarked. This advice, grounded in robust scientific evidence, serves as a guideline for individuals striving for a healthier lifestyle.

Global meat production (a) and meat production by livestock type (CREDIT:

Moreover, the implications of this dietary shift aren't confined to human health. The researchers highlighted the environmental dividend of choosing plant-based proteins over red meat. This change in global dietary habits could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, combat climate change, and deliver other environmental benefits. The study, therefore, not only serves as a wake-up call for individual health awareness but also resonates with global themes of environmental sustainability.


Other contributors from the Harvard Chan School, like Frank Sacks and Frank Hu, have lent their expertise to this monumental study, which is part of an ongoing effort to understand the complex relationship between dietary patterns and chronic diseases. Their collective work is a clarion call to the public and policymakers alike, emphasizing that the food choices we make are not just about satisfying hunger, but have far-reaching impacts on our health and the planet's future.

Eating certain amounts of red meat has been linked with higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. (CREDIT: Getty Images)

This seminal study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health is a vital piece in the puzzle of understanding how our dietary habits affect our health and the environment. By choosing to limit red meat consumption and favor healthier proteins, individuals are taking a proactive step towards not only safeguarding their health—reducing their risk of diseases like type 2 diabetes—but also protecting the planet.


As the world grapples with the dual challenges of public health and climate change, the message is clear: the journey to a healthier future for both humanity and the earth might just begin on our plates.

For more science news stories check out our New Innovations section at The Brighter Side of News.


Note: Materials provided above by The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.


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