Concern, Not Celebration, Over Rising Meat Consumption: The Connection to Diabetes

I was a bit shocked and quite pleased when I received an email recently from the Cleveland Clinic warning me that eating meat can increase my risk of diabetes. It was not that I do not believe that strong associations between eating meat and a myriad of serious health issues, like diabetes, exist. I know that to be true and have written about it before often provoking attacks on social media that I am a wild and crazy vegan. The timing of the Cleveland Clinic email was ironic as it arrived on the heels of a popular Twitter blogger who appeared to be celebrating a news report that meat consumption was on the rise. Hooray! How you can celebrate a choice that leads to more environmental stress, animal cruelty, and disease promotion is beyond me but Twitter is full jubilation by physicans and bloggers who glorify their lust for oversized grilled meats with pictures of their machismo. A review of some of the older and newer data on meat and diabetes is timely in terms of the Cleveland Clinic health letter.

1. In 1985, the Adventist Mortality Study analyzed the risk of diabetes in 25,000 vegetarians and meat eaters and found that women who ate red meat increased their risk of developing diabetes by 40% and men who ate red meat increased their risk by 80%.

2. In 2009, The Adventist Health Study-2 evaluated 61,000 people and found that meat-eaters were twice as likely to develop diabetes as those who were totally plant-based.

3. In a meta-analysis of meat consumption and diabetes, scientists found that for every 3.5 ounces of red meat consumed per day, diabetes risk increased 10%. And for every 1.75 ounces of processed red meat consumed per day (about the equivalent of one packaged hot dog), the risk increased 51%. On a positive note, researchers also found that the risk for developing Type 2 diabetes dropped significantly when people swapped a serving of meat for a serving of nuts.

4. In the Nurses’ Health Study II, eating processed red meat more than five times a week increased the risk of diabetes by 91% and by 59% for red meat.

5. The EPIC-Interact study found that every 10 grams of animal protein consumed daily increased the risk of diabetes by 6%. (Keep in mind that 100 grams is 3.5 oz, so this is a small amount).

6. In the Nurses’ Health Study I and II involving 195,000 participants, the risk for diabetes went up with the number of times fish was consumed weekly.

The email from the Cleveland Clinic added several newer and alarming studies to the list including:

7. A recent study of nearly 700,000 people found that nearly 50% of deaths were related to poor food choices. Specifically, the risk of death was increased if those with a diagnosis of diabetes ate processed meats.

8. Researchers in Finland analyzed diet in more than 2,300 men free of diabetes and followed their health for 19 years. They found that those who ate more animal protein and less plant foods had a 35% greater risk of developing diabetes. This included any kind of meat, both red and white, processed and unprocessed and also organ meats like liver.

9. Data from Harvard University found that those eating a single serving of red meat daily had a 19% higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Even one hot dog or 2 slices of bacon increased the risk by a whopping 51%.

It would seem that an increase in meat consumption, if true, should be a matter of grave concern, not praise. I could not agree more strongly with the Cleveland Clinic that recommending beans, peas, tofu, hummus or nut butters in place of meats was sensible and likely to reduce risk for type 2 diabetes. And, as they indicated, rather than just reducing the portion size and frequency of eating meat, an even better strategy is looking for plant-based protein options like tempeh or seitan in recipes or on the menu at restaurants.