AsianScientist (Sep. 13, 2017) – 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. In a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers have found that the higher heme content of red meat is linked to an increased risk of developing diabetes.
These findings come from the 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 percent and 15 percent increase in risk of diabetes, respectively, while the intake of fish/shellfish was not associated with risk of diabetes. The increase in risk associated with red meat/poultry was reduced by substituting them with fish/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.
The results also suggest 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.
“We don’t need to remove meat from the diet entirely,” said Professor Koh Woon Puay, Professor of Clinical Sciences at Duke-NUS Medical School (Duke-NUS). “Singaporeans just need to reduce the daily intake, especially for red meat, and choose chicken breast and fish/shellfish, or plant-based protein food and dairy products, to reduce the risk of diabetes. At the end of the day, we want to provide the public with information to make evidence-based choices in picking the healthier food to reduce disease risk.”
The article can be found at: Talaei et al. (2017) Meat, Dietary Heme Iron, and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: The Singapore Chinese Health Study.
Source: Duke-NUS Medical School; Photo: Pexels.
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