People who eat lots of processed and red meat are at increased risk of developing chronic liver disease and insulin resistance, a diabetes risk factor - especially if they like their steak well done, an Israeli study from the University of Haifa suggests.
Researchers focused on what’s known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is associated with obesity and certain eating habits. While red and processed meat has long been linked to an increased risk of diabetes, certain cancers and heart disease, evidence to date has been mixed about its connection to liver disease.
The study team examined data on 789 adults, average age 59 who were also overweight. They completed questionnaires about their eating and cooking habits and also underwent liver ultrasound scans as well as blood tests for insulin resistance.
Overall, 39 percent of the participants were found to have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and 31 percent had insulin resistance, which happens when the body is less effective at using the hormone insulin to clear sugar (glucose) in the bloodstream into cells where it’s used for energy.
Eating more red meat, especially cooked to well done, a risk factor
People who ate more processed and red meat than other participants were 47 percent more likely to have liver disease and 55 percent more likely to have insulin resistance.
The study also found that cooking meat at high temperatures for longer periods of time until well done was associated with a higher risk of liver disease and insulin resistance than eating meat more “rare” or cooked more briefly.
Preparing meat to well done forms compounds known as heterocyclic amines (HCAs) that are tied to both liver disease and insulin resistance.
The researchers said that to help prevent insulin resistance and NAFLD, people should consider choosing fish, turkey or chicken as an animal protein source. In addition, they noted, steaming or boiling food (is better than) grilling or frying meat at a high temperature until it is very well done.
Most people have a little bit of fat in their liver. Fatty liver disease can occur when more than 5 percent of the liver by weight is made up of fat. Excessive drinking can damage the liver and cause fat to accumulate, a condition known as alcoholic fatty liver, but even when people don’t drink much, they can still develop non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
High consumption of red and processed meat was associated independently with liver disease and insulin resistance regardless of saturated fat and cholesterol intake and other risk factors such as obesity, exercise, smoking and alcohol consumption.
The study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how red or processed meat might directly cause liver damage or insulin resistance.
Researchers also relied on participants to accurately recall and report how much meat they ate and how it was prepared, which might not always be an accurate picture of their eating habits.
Still, the results add to a large and growing body of evidence suggesting that people should limit how much red and processed meat they eat.
Experts suggest that based upon this and other studies, for those that do eat meat, it’s prudent to limit red meat to once a week and to limit processed meat to occasional use only.
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