Eating high amounts of red meat and poultry products may significantly raise the risk of diabetes, according to one of the largest Asian studies.
While a plant-based diet is generally considered healthier than a meat-based diet in preventing the risk of diabetes, not all meats affect the risk equally. Red meat and poultry have higher content of heme iron, which leads to diabetes risk.
The study by researchers from Duke–NUS Medical School in Singapore provides the basis for evidence-based dietary recommendations to the Singapore population in mitigating diabetes risk and reducing the healthcare burden of this chronic condition.
The findings come from Singapore Chinese Health Study, which recruited 63,257 adults aged 45–74 years between 1993 and 1998, and then followed them up for an average of about 11 years.
The study found a positive association between intakes of red meat and poultry and risk of developing diabetes.
Specifically, compared to those in the lowest quartile intake, those in the highest quartile intake of red meat and poultry had a 23 per cent and 15 per cent increase in risk of diabetes, respectively, while the intake of fish and shellfish was not associated with risk of diabetes.
The increase in risk associated with red meat and poultry was reduced by substituting them with fish and shellfish.
In trying to understand the underlying mechanism for the role of red meat and poultry in the development of diabetes, the study also investigated the association between dietary heme iron content from all meats and the risk of diabetes, and found a dose-dependent positive association.
After adjusting for heme iron content in the diet, the red-meat and diabetes association was still present, suggesting that other chemicals present in red meat could be accountable for the increase in risk of diabetes.
Conversely, the association between poultry intake and diabetes risk became null, suggesting that this risk was attributable to the heme-iron content in poultry.
This is one of the largest Asian studies looking at meat consumption and diabetes risk.
While the findings are consistent with other Western studies that have shown that the increased intake of red meat and increase in heme iron content of diet could increase the risk of diabetes, this study demonstrated the additional risk of red meat attributable to other possible chemicals, other than its heme iron content.
It also suggested that chicken parts with lower heme iron contents such as breast meat, compared to thighs, could be healthier. Finally, the study also demonstrated the benefit of replacing red meat or poultry with fish or shellfish.