Red meat and type 2 diabetes

Harvard School of Public Health released new research today suggesting that the consumption of processed red meat increases the risk of type II diabetes (10th August 2011)(1).

Dr Gill Jenkins, a General Practitioner and member of the Meat Advisory Panel (MAP) commented: "Harvard School of Public Health's research is an observational study and, as such, was not designed to test whether red meat, or any other food item, is a cause of type II diabetes. It simply relies on statistics to blame complex diseases on single food items.

The limitations of observational studies mean that they only reveal potential associations between disease risk and lifestyles which should then be tested by properly controlled trials before new advice can be given to the public.

The possibility that high meat consumers were also inactive, consumed high fat, high GI diets, were overweight and had low intakes of healthy, protective foods cannot be ignored. Furthermore, average meat intakes are higher in America compared with the UK, so the amount of red meat reported in the Harvard School of Public Health’s study (100g/day) has little relevance to the UK where the average intake is 76g per day(2).

It is surprising that this new research completely contradicts another recent study by Harvard School of Public Health – a large systematic review and meta-analysis of worldwide evidence on meat consumption and chronic diseases. This earlier study found no associations between fresh red meat and type II diabetes. Only high intakes of processed meat were associated with the risk of developing type II diabetes(3). These opposing findings from the same university raise serious questions about the validity of today's research.

Thanks to modern farming methods, lean cuts of meat are now low in fat and saturated fat, and high in protein. Red meat is also a valuable source of iron, zinc, B-vitamins and vitamin D - nutrients in which many groups are lacking, particularly young women and teenagers."

For more information and advice on the role of meat in your diet please click here.

(1)       Pan A, Harvard School of Public Health, 10 August 2011.
(2)       Bates B, Lennox A & Swan G (2010) National Diet and Nutrition Survey. Headline Results from Year 1 of the Rolling Programme (2008/09). Food Standards Agency/Department of Health: London.
(3)       Micha R, Wallace S, Mozaffarian D. Red and Processed Meat Consumption and Risk of Incident Coronary Heart Disease, Stroke, Diabetes Mellitus: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Harvard School of Public Health. June 2010.

The Meat Advisory Panel (MAP) is supported by an unrestricted educational grant from EBLEX and BPEX.