While a plant-based diet is generally considered healthier than a meat-based diet in preventing the risk of diabetes, not all meats affect the risk equally. Researchers from Duke-NUS Medical School (Duke-NUS) recently learned that a higher intake of red meat and poultry is associated with significantly increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, which is partially attributed to the higher content of heme iron in these meats.
These findings come from the Singapore Chinese Health Study, which recruited 63,257 adults aged 45-74 years between 1993 and 1998, and then followed them up for an average of about 11 years.
The study found a positive association between intakes of red meat and poultry and risk of developing diabetes. Specifically, compared to those who consumed the least, those who ate the most red meat and poultry had a 23 per cent and 15 per cent increase in risk of diabetes, respectively.
The intake of fish/shellfish was not associated with risk of diabetes. The increase in risk associated with red meat/poultry was reduced by substituting them with fish/shellfish.
Heme iron in red meat may play a role
In trying to understand why red meat and poultry may increase diabetes risk, the study also investigated the association between heme-iron from all meats and the risk of diabetes. It revealed a dose-dependent positive association.
After controlling for the amount of heme-iron in the diet, the red-meat and diabetes association was still present, suggesting that other chemicals present in red meat could be accountable for the increase in risk of diabetes. Conversely, the association between poultry intake and diabetes risk went away, suggesting that the risk was due to the heme-iron content in poultry.
While the findings are consistent with other Western studies that have shown that the increased intake of red meat and increase in heme-iron content of diet could increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, this study demonstrated the additional risk of red meat that may be due to other possible chemicals, besides heme-iron. The study also demonstrated the benefit of replacing red meat or poultry with fish/shellfish.
The key take home message, the senior research said, "We don't need to remove meat from the diet entirely. Singaporeans just need to reduce the daily intake, especially for red meat, and choose chicken breast and fish/shellfish, or plant-based protein food and dairy products, to reduce the risk of diabetes”.
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