Strange Science: Meat consumption increases risk of Type 2 diabetes

Thursday, October 29, 2009 17:01
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A new meta-analysis concludes that a diet high in meat increases your risk of Type 2 diabetes by 17%.  Eating a lot of so-called "red" meat was associated with a slightly higher increase (21%), and a high intake of processed meats increases your risk by a whopping 41%.

Media reports are quick to point out that this is just the latest in "an ever increasing list of bad news for red and processed meat."

In all of these studies, the division of meat into "red" and "white" seems totally arbitrary, as I discussed at length in this post: Meat and mortality: What does color have to do with it? 

In this particular case, the authors concede that the apparent association between meat consumption and diabetes risk could be explained by other factors. (So why exactly are we going to press with this result?)

A false association seems even more likely in this case than in the recent associations between meat intake and cancer risk or all-cause mortality.  At least there are plausible mechanisms to explain why high meat intake might increase cancer risk. For example, charred meat contains known carcinogens–although I hasten to point out that this has nothing to do with the "color" of the meat.

Diabetes is a disease of disordered carbohydrate metabolism. Meat is made up of protein and fat. How could eating more protein and fat increase the risk of diabetes?  Doesn't it seem more likely that there is something else about the lifestyle or dietary habits of people who eat large quantities of meat (especially processed meat) that might increase their diabetes risk? Are they also over-weight? Are they sedentary? What's their consumption of alcohol? Of high-glycemic foods? 

I'm keeping an open mind but pending more convincing data, I'm not sure I'm buying it.

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