DEAR DOCTOR K:
My wife has read that eating red meat increases the risk of diabetes. Is this true?
You’ve heard for a long time that limiting the amount of red meat — especially processed foods with red meat, such as salami — reduces your risk of heart disease. The evidence for that is very strong.
A new study finds that cutting down on red meats such as beef, pork and lamb may have an additional benefit: reducing the risk of diabetes.
In this study, researchers followed 149,000 people who answered questions about their diet every four years, for 12 to 16 years. They found that people who increased their intake of red meat — by as little as half a serving, or 1.5 ounces, per day — had a 48 percent greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes (the most common type of diabetes) than people who did not eat more red meat. People who decreased their red meat consumption also decreased their risk of diabetes by 14 percent. People who ate more red meat also tended to gain more weight.
Fortunately, you can make many changes to decrease your risk of diabetes:
- Take this study to heart: Eat less red meat.
- Talk to your doctor about your risk of developing diabetes.
- Increase your activity. Try to exercise 30 minutes per day, most days of the week.
- Eat more vegetables and lean proteins.
- Decrease your consumption of saturated fats (found in cheese, whole milk and butter, as well as red meat) and overall calories.
- If you are a woman who had diabetes during pregnancy, you are at higher risk of developing diabetes later in life. Discuss this with your doctor.
If you already have diabetes, the above suggestions will also help you. Make sure you take your medicines and learn as much as you can about living with diabetes. People who take charge of their diabetes are much more successful at living with it than those who ignore it.
Left untreated, diabetes can lead to long-term complications, including damage to the eyes, kidneys and nerves, and an increased risk of heart disease.
Recent research has revealed a completely unexpected way in which red meat may increase the risk of heart disease. A certain substance that is present in large amounts in red meat (L-carnitine) is digested by bacteria that live in our intestines. The bacteria then produce a substance that damages the lining of arteries.
Whenever I talk about the health effects of food, I worry that I may be misunderstood. When I recommend avoiding certain foods, I’m not saying to never eat them. And when I recommend having a lot of certain foods, I’m not saying eat nothing but them. I eat red meat, but not as often as I used to. And I eat lots of fruits and vegetables, but I don’t have them with absolutely every meal.
All things in moderation!