Previous connections between red meat consumption and an increased chance of developing diabetes could be accounted for by unhealthy lifestyle choices in general. Could there be a link beyond these?
Beyond Usual Suspects
In the past we were safe to assume that those who eat tons of meat also tend to be overweight, smoke and practice less sports. After all, these largely explained why people in that bracket have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, where cells fail to use insulin properly.
But now a team of scientists at Harvard University looked at data from almost 180.000 people who took part in three large lifestyle studies that lasted for 14 – 28 years, took out the above risk factors, and examined if there was still was a link between red meat and type 2 diabetes.
And indeed there apparently is. Even when all other contributing factors were accounted for, the connection was still there: A daily 100 g of unprocessed red meat was connected with a 19% increased risk, while 50 g of hot dogs, bacon, sausages and other processed meats were associated with a 51% increase.
Iron, Nitrite And Nitrate
In their paper, Dr. Pan and his colleagues offer an explanation: red meat contains a lot of iron and, in addition, processed meat is usually preserved with nitrite and nitrate. High levels of these have been connected with diabetes mellitus, as they are able to damage the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas.
But the study also had to offer something positive: replacing the daily red meat serving with a portion of nuts, whole grains, low-fat dairy products or legumes decreased the risk by 17 – 23%.
Too Much Iron?
What really astounds me here is not the connection of type 2 diabetes with nitrite and nitrate, but with iron. A daily 100 g of red meat equals a monthly amount of app. 3 kg (7 lbs), or about 2 – 3 meals containing meat per week. That is quite a bit, but not that much.
It seems to me we also have to look at total consumption of iron. A single multivitamin tablet often contains the recommended daily amount of iron, some cereals are fortified with it as well and if these two come together with regularly consuming meat, that makes for a lot of iron per day – which is why I’m so critical about broadsiding your vitamin and trace element needs with one-size-fits-all multivitamin tablets.
Pictures courtesy of Ernesto Andrade.