People who eat the most protein, especially from animal sources, are more likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, according to a study of European adults.
The new study compared the diets of people who went on to develop diabetes and those who did not get the disease. The findings are consistent with those from other studies that have linked a higher intake of total protein, especially animal protein, with long-term risk of developing diabetes.
For the new report, researchers examined data from a large previous study of adults in eight European countries spanning 12 years. The study collected data on participants' diet, physical activity, height, weight and waist circumference, then followed them to see who developed diabetes.
A team of researchers from Wageningen University in the Netherlands selected 11,000 people who developed type 2 diabetes from the data and 15,000 people without diabetes for comparison.
Overall, the adults in the study typically ate roughly 90 grams of protein per day. Those who ate more tended to have a higher weight-to-height ratio and to eat more fibre and cholesterol than people who ate less protein.
After accounting for other diabetes risk factors, every additional 10 grams of protein people consumed each day – the amount found in about 1.5 ounces of meat – was tied to a six percent higher chance that they would develop diabetes.
Dividing participants into five groups based on how much protein they ate, the researchers found those who ate the most, about 111 grams per day, were 17 percent more likely to develop diabetes than those who ate the least, or around 72 grams per day.
Specifically, those who ate the most animal protein, 78 grams per day, were 22 percent more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than those who ate the least, around 36 grams per day. That's only a modest increase on an individual level, an expert said.
People who ate the most protein got about 15 percent of their calories from red meat, processed meat, poultry, fish and dairy, which appears to be too much. A high intake of animal protein is usually accompanied by a greater intake of saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium.
The association between animal protein and diabetes risk appeared to be strongest among obese women.
Plant protein, on the other hand, was not linked to diabetes.
Previous research has found plant protein foods such as nuts, legumes and whole grains protective from diabetes. Replacing red meat and processed meat with plant foods is important for diabetes prevention.
Source: Diabetes Care, online April 10, 2014.
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