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High meat intake increases risk of developing diabetes

Posted: Tuesday, Jan 8th, 2013

Dr. Joel Furhman
Usually, when we think about foods that increase diabetes risk, we think of white flour-based processed foods, sugary sodas, and desserts, since these foods are known to produce dangerous increases in blood glucose. Also, many diabetics are under the impression that that they should avoid carbohydrate-containing foods, and eat higher levels of protein to keep their blood glucose levels in check. However, dietary factors associated with diabetes are not a simple question of carbohydrate vs. protein. Whole food sources of carbohydrate, like beans and whole grains, are protective. On the other hand, several studies have now confirmed that high intake of meat, which contains no carbohydrate, increases the risk of diabetes. In fact, a meta-analysis of 12 studies has revealed that high total meat intake increased type 2 diabetes risk 17 percent above low intake, high red meat intake increased risk 21 percent and high processed meat intake increased risk 41 percent.

All the reasons behind these associations are not yet clear. One possibility is that heme iron, the type of iron that is found only in animal products, is causing oxidative stress that contributes to the development of diabetes. The primary source of heme iron is red meat. High dietary intake of heme iron and also high body stores of iron have been previously associated with increased diabetes risk in multiple studies, whereas dietary nonheme iron, which is found only in plant foods, was found to be protective. Heme iron from fish and poultry (not just red meat) was also associated with diabetes risk. Oxidative stress, which may be brought on by excessive iron, plays an important role in the production of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) in the body, molecules that contribute to insulin resistance, which leads to type 2 diabetes, and also diabetes complications.

Excess body weight is the most important risk factor for diabetes. Meat is a concentrated source of calories, it has a high caloric density and people can get a large dose of fat and protein, easily exceeding the body’s requirements for macronutrients. Meat eating is also associated with weight gain - the connection between meat consumption and weight gain was recently supported by a large European study following over 300,000 people. Those that ate more total meat, red meat, processed meat, and poultry gained more weight over the 5-year course of the study than those with a lower intake of these foods. Like most other chronic diseases that plague Americans, diabetes is a consequence of an obesity-promoting, low-nutrient diet-style that is deficient in protective unrefined plant foods. Greens and beans are still the most beneficial foods for the diabetic.

Read more about preventing and reversing diabetes in my newest book The End of Diabetes.

Dr. Fuhrman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Eat to Live, and a board certified family physician specializing in lifestyle and nutritional medicine. His newest book The End of Diabetes (available now for pre-order on Amazon.com, release date Dec. 26) explains how to prevent and reverse type II diabetes, avoid its serious complications, and lose weight in the process. Visit his informative website at DrFuhrman.com. Submit your questions and comments about this column directly to


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