Processed Red Meat Intake Linked to Type 2 Diabetes Risk

Laurie Barclay, MD

August 11, 2011

August 11, 2011 — Red meat intake, particularly processed red meat, is linked to a risk for type 2 diabetes, according to the results of an updated meta-analysis of 3 large US cohorts reported online August 10 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

"The relation between consumption of different types of red meats and risk of type 2 diabetes (T2D) remains uncertain," write An Pan, from the Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, and colleagues. "We evaluated the association between unprocessed and processed red meat consumption and incident T2D in US adults."

The study cohorts consisted of 37,083 male participants in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study from 1986 to 2006, 79,570 female participants in the Nurses' Health Study I from 1980 to 2008, and 87,504 female participants in the Nurses' Health Study II from 1991 to 2005. Validated food frequency questionnaires were used to measure dietary intake, and data were updated every 4 years. A validated supplementary questionnaire was used to confirm incident type 2 diabetes.

There were 13,759 incident cases of type 2 diabetes documented during 4,033,322 person-years of follow-up. In each of the 3 cohorts, unprocessed as well as processed red meat intakes were positively associated with type 2 diabetes risk (P for trend < .001 for all), after adjustment for age, body mass index, and other lifestyle and dietary risk factors. For a 1-serving-per-day increase of unprocessed, processed, and total red meat intake, the pooled hazard ratios were 1.12 (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.08 - 1.16), 1.32 (95% CI, 1.25 - 1.40), and 1.14 (95% CI, 1.10 - 1.18), respectively.

In a meta-analysis to confirm these findings by use of data from 442,101 participants and 28,228 patients with diabetes, the relative risks were 1.19 for 100 g of unprocessed red meat (95% CI, 1.04 - 1.37) and 1.51 (95% CI, 1.25 - 1.83) for 50 g of unprocessed red meat.

"Our results suggest that red meat consumption, particularly processed red meat, is associated with an increased risk of T2D," the study authors write. "We estimated that substitutions of one serving of nuts, low-fat dairy, and whole grains per day for one serving of red meat per day were associated with a 16–35% lower risk of T2D."

Limitations of this study include study populations primarily consisting of working health professionals with European ancestry; limited generalizability to other populations; possible error in measurement of meat intake; and observational design, precluding determination of causation because of possible unmeasured and residual confounding.

"[F]rom a public health point of view, reduction of red meat consumption, particularly processed red meat, and replacement of it with other healthy dietary components, should be considered to decrease T2D risk," the study authors conclude.

The National Institutes of Health and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute supported this study. The study authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Am J Clin Nutr. Published online August 10, 2011.

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