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Study supports limiting beef intake for type 2 diabetes prevention, highlights alternative protein sources

A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that consumption of total, processed, or unprocessed beef can significantly increase the danger of type 2 diabetes.

Study: Beef intake and risk of type 2 diabetes in a prospective cohort study of United States females and males. Image Credit: / Shutterstock


With rapidly increasing prevalence, type 2 diabetes has develop into an epidemic health condition worldwide. Diabetes is a chronic metabolic disease characterised by persistently high blood glucose levels, which might potentially damage the cardiovascular system, kidneys, eyes, and nerves.

About 422 million individuals are affected by diabetes worldwide. Nearly all of these cases are present in low- and middle-income countries. Globally, about 1.5 million deaths occur annually as a consequence of diabetes.

Many observational studies have shown that consumption of beef can increase the danger of type 2 diabetes. Nonetheless, short-term randomized controlled trials couldn’t find any significant effect of beef consumption on biomarkers of hyperglycemia (high blood glucose) and inflammation.

Previously, within the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS), Nurses’ Health Study II (NHS II), and Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS), a positive correlation was observed between beef intake and incident type 2 diabetes. This association was further investigated in the present study, with greater than 9,000 additional diabetes cases reported through the prolonged follow-up period of over 30 years.

Study design

The present study was conducted on 216,695 participants from the NHS, NHS II, and HPFS. The NHS (1976) and NHS II (1989) studies were conducted on registered female nurses from 11 and 14 US states, respectively. The HPFS study was conducted on various medical professionals from the US in 1986.

The participants’ dietary intakes were assessed every 2 to 4 years through food frequency questionnaires. The info on food and nutrient intakes obtained from the questionnaires was used to calculate the Alternative Health Eating Index (overall healthfulness of food plan) and glycemic index.

Incident type 2 diagnoses were reported by the participants through biennial questionnaires. Afterward, a supplementary questionnaire regarding symptoms, diagnostic tests, and hypoglycemic therapy was provided to the participants who reported diabetes diagnosis.      

Necessary observations

The study evaluation revealed a major positive correlation between beef intake and the danger of type 2 diabetes in all three study cohorts, either individually or combined. The participants with the very best intake of total beef, processed beef, and unprocessed beef had 62%, 51%, and 40% higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, respectively.

Each one serving per day induction in beef, processed meat, and unprocessed meat was related to 1.28-, 1.46-, and 1.24-times higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Overall, the evaluation indicated almost a linear increase in type 2 diabetes risk across all beef intake categories.

For an accurate dietary assessment, the dietary intake assessed by food frequency questionnaires was calibrated with 7-day weighed food plan records obtained from a subgroup of participants. After calibration, more robust associations between beef intake and diabetes risk were observed.

Before calibration, a 1-serving intake increment in red, processed, and unprocessed meat was found to extend the danger of type 2 diabetes by 28%, 50%, and 24%, respectively. After calibration, every 1-serving intake increment in beef, processed meat, and unprocessed meat was found to extend the danger of type 2 diabetes by 47%, 101%, and 51%, respectively.  

The positive correlations between all categories of beef intake and risk of diabetes remained consistent across subgroups defined by body mass index (BMI) and baseline hypertension. Nonetheless, a better risk of red meat-related diabetes was observed amongst participants with higher physical activity levels and amongst past smokers.

Substituting one serving per day of beef with one serving per day of nuts and legumes and total dairy reduced the diabetes risk by 30% and 22%, respectively.    

Study significance

The study finds that intake of beef within the types of total meat, processed meat, or unprocessed meat can significantly increase the danger of type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, the study reveals that the danger of type 2 diabetes will be reduced by replacing beef with nuts, legumes, and total dairy products.

The study findings support the present recommendations for limiting beef consumption and considering alternative protein sources for diabetes prevention.

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