Consuming red meat or meat from poultry may be linked with higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to a population study from Singapore. The study also says that higher levels of consumption is tied to higher risk of developing the disease.
This is one of the largest trials to investigate the link between meat consumption and risk of diabetes in Asian populations.
Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition which arises when the body doesn’t use insulin properly or it doesn’t produce enough insulin. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that lets our body to use sugar for energy or store it for future use. Insulin controls our blood sugar levels and keeps it from getting too high.
Common risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes are obesity, lack of exercise, family history and sedentary lifestyle.
In recent years, many studies revealed that plant-based diets, rather than diets consisting of high amount of meat, are healthier.
Several existing studies have associated meat consumption with an increased risk of developing diabetes.
This new study from the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore backs previous findings and tries to explain why consuming too much meat increases an individual’s chances of developing diabetes.
The study was led by Prof. Woon-Puay Koh, a professor of clinical sciences at the Duke-NUS.
Prof. Koh and her team assessed the connection between meat, poultry, fish, shellfish consumption and developing type 2 diabetes, taking into account the effect of heme iron. Heme iron is iron content absorbed from meat intake.
The team analysed data of 63,257 adults aged 45-74, who were recruited between 1993 and 1998. The participants were part of the Singapore Chinese Health Study. They were followed-up through two interviews: one in 1999 to 2004, and the other in 2006 to 2010.
The researchers found that people who consumed higher amount of red meat or poultry had an increased risk of developing diabetes. However, fish and shellfish consumption did not pose any risk.
Adults who ate the highest amount of red meat had a 23% higher risk of diabetes compared to those who ate less red meat. In the case of poultry consumption, researchers found that higher amount of poultry consumption was associated with a 15% increase in diabetes risk.
The increased risk, however, was lowered when meat was replaced with fish or shellfish.
In this setting, the team also examined the effect of heme iron on the link between meat consumption and diabetes. They discovered that a higher amount of heme iron intake was linked with an increased risk of developing diabetes.
Next, the team tested whether or not adjusting for the content of heme iron intake in the individuals’ diets would impact the risk in any way. They found that the link between red meat intake and diabetes risk remained statistically significant, while the link between poultry intake disappeared.
“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,” Prof. Koh says.
While her study was targeted at the dietary habits of Singaporeans, the results are relevant on a global level; they back previous research on the health impact of high meat consumption.
The research was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.