Red Meat and Processed Meats Cause Diabetes

November 26, 2023

Red Meat and Processed Meat and the Risk of Diabetes

It's been a hunch for years but has never been properly studied. Immigrant studies back in the seventies first gave a clue. Japanese immigrants to Hawaii had the rate of diabetes and heart disease as other Hawaiians in the 1950s, only to have rates increase to 160% of the Hawaiian caucasian population in the 1970s. The same trends were observed in PIMA Indians and Canadian Indigenous peoples, an increase in diabetes and heart disease.

In a similar fashion, the Seventh Day Adventist Study in 1985, showed a dramatic difference between the predominantly vegetarian Adventists and the rest of the American population.

There have many smaller studies but none has been as authoritative as the Women's Health Study released in 2004. In this very large study, 39,876 female health care professionals were randomized who were free of diabetes, cancer, stroke or heart disease. They had to complete a 131-question food frequency questionnaire. They were free of diabetes at the start and were then assessed to see if they developed it over the next 6 years. Samples of the total population were then contacted by phone and had confirming blood samples. The methods were rigorous and met statistical thresholds for validity.

Red meat intake was considered the sum of hamburger, beef, or lamb as a main dish, pork as a main dish, beef, pork, or lamb as a sandwich or mixed dish, and all processed meat. Total processed meat was calculated as the sum of hot dogs, bacon, and other processed meat (sausage, salami, and bologna). The semiquantitative food frequency questionnaire was validated against a subset of women who had a two-week detailed dietary analysis and then projected on the whole group.

Meat consumption was categorized by aggregating nine possible responses into four categories for red meat and total processed meat (<1/week, 1/week, 2–4/week, ≥5/week). The subtype of red meat and processed meat were categorized into three categories (<1/week, 1/week, ≥2/week). At the beginning of the study the variability of meat intake was almost 10 fold from least to most. During the 8.8 years of follow-up (326,876 person-years), the researchers documented 1,558 cases of type 2 diabetes. Across the spectrum of consumption, risk for diabetes with red meat consumption was 29% higher, processed meat 43% higher.

That's a lot of numbers but 43% is pretty awful. Processed meat stands out as particularly awful. What gives? How can one be safe on the Carnivore Diet if red meat does this to you? Recent evaluation of gut microbiome suggest that all that meat/saturated fat changes the microbiome of the gut producing substances like TMAO, found to be strongly linked to vascular disease. That premise has been rigorously argued and several well-done studies suggest it's not true. What to believe? I think there is more to be understood by the saturated fat in our red meat created by feeding our animals corn and beans. High, refined carbohydrates make inflammatory fat in our visceral fat and marbling in our muscles. So to in the animals we eat. That's what has changed since the 1950s, a massive shift of animals from pastures to feedlots. The food they eat gets reflected in us. It's their inflammatory meat we are eating and being harmed by. Processed meats are particularly concentrated with their saturate fat (think bacon).

www.What will Work for me? I accept the premise that processed meat, bacon included, just isn't good for us. I love liverwurst and braunschweiger. Shucks. What sparked this inquiry was a recent review in BMC Medicine demonstrating a metanalysis of all the data on red meat consumption and heart disease. The more fish and nuts, the better off we are. Start making that shift for yourself. Unless you are a deer hunter, goose, duck or moose hunter.

References: Diabetes Care, Diabetes Care, Am Jr of Public Health, BMC Medicine,

Pop Quiz

1. Eating processed meat like bologna, bacon, and bratwurst more than three times a week does what to your risk of diabetes?                                  Answer: Some 43% higher risk.

2. How about just plain red meat like hamburger and steak?                         Answer: Well, a little better but still in the range of 25%.

3. What does red meat have to do with blood sugar?                            Answer: Just about every study notes that the more red meat eaten results in total more calories and resulting greater BMIs. The makes for more visceral fat. Bigger fat cells are all naturally insulin-resistant.

4. Is it the fat in red meat that causes the problem?                                   Answer: lots of smoke but not proven.

5. How much fat do you see in grass-raised animals?                             Answer: it's deer hunting season right now. Virtually none. The fat in our red meat is because those animals have been force fed large amounts of grains that are not in their normal food supply. Grass is their preferred, natural food. They develop inflammatory fats in their muscles and viscera (just like we do on a diet of refined carbs), and we then eat the meat and ingest all those inflammatory cytokines.