Study Offers Further Proof That Meat is Linked to Type 2 Diabetes

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20 Apr 2017 --- Plant protein is associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, while people with a diet high in meat had a higher risk of developing the disease, a study by researchers from the University of Eastern Finland has found. The results of the study support the idea that the source of dietary protein may play an important role in the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Although a high overall intake of protein and animal protein – particularly protein derived from processed red meats – had already been linked to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes in earlier studies, the significance of the source of proteins for the risk of diabetes is an understudied topic. This prompted the researchers to analyze the associations of dietary protein with the risk of type 2 diabetes. 

At the baseline of the study in 1984–1989, the researchers analyzed the diets of 2,332 men between the ages of 42 and 60 who did not have type 2 diabetes at baseline. During the following 19 years, 432 men were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Although the study participants who consumed a diet high in plant protein also had healthy lifestyle habits, these lifestyle habits alone did not fully explain their lower risk of diabetes. The risk of developing type 2 diabetes was 35 percent lower among study participants with the highest intake of plant protein than the risk of those with the lowest intake of plant protein. In this study, the main source of plant protein were grain products, with other sources being potatoes and other vegetables. The researchers estimate that replacing approximately 5 grams of animal protein with plant protein daily would reduce the risk of diabetes by 18 percent. 

The consumption of plant protein was also associated with lower blood glucose levels at the beginning of the study, which may explain the linkage of plant protein with reduced diabetes risk. 

A high intake of meat was also associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, with the strongest association seen in the consumption of meat in general, including processed and unprocessed red meat, white meat and variety meats. The link between eating meat and an increased risk of diabetes is likely caused by other compounds found in meat than protein, as meat protein was not associated with the risk of diabetes. The intake of overall protein, animal protein, fish protein or dairy protein were not associated with the risk of type 2 diabetes. The association of egg protein was found to be similar to the research group’s earlier findings relating to the consumption of eggs: a higher intake was associated with a lower risk.

The findings were published in the British Journal of Nutrition on 11 April.

The research was conducted as part of the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study (KIHD), which is an “ongoing prospective population-based cohort study designed to investigate risk factors for CVD, atherosclerosis and related outcomes in middle-aged men from eastern Finland."

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