Pooled data from 12 different studies: High meat intake increases diabetes risk

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 fruit and whole grains, are protective.1 On the other hand, several studies have now confirmed that high intake of meat, which contains no carbohydrate, increases the risk of diabetes.

A meta-analysis of 12 prospective cohort studies has revealed that high total meat intake increased type 2 diabetes risk 17% above low intake, high red meat intake increased risk 21%, and high processed meat intake increased risk 41%.2

All the reasons behind these associations are not yet clear. One possibility is the pro-oxidant properties of heme iron (found only in animal products), the primary source of which 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 studies3,4, whereas dietary nonheme iron (found only in plant foods) was protective. Heme iron from fish and poultry was also associated with diabetes risk.4 Oxidative stress, which may be brought on by excessive iron, plays an important role in the production of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which contribute to both insulin resistance and diabetes complications.5 Also meat is a concentrated source of calories, it has a high caloric density and people can get a good blast of fat and protein, easily exceeding the body’s requirements for macronutrients.  Meat eating is also associated with weight gain and of course, excess body weight is the most important risk factor for diabetes. Like most other chronic diseases that plague Americans, diabetes is a consequence of a high-calorie, low-nutrient diet-style that is deficient in protective unrefined plant foods. 



1. Bazzano LA et al. Intake of fruit, vegetables, and fruit juices and risk of diabetes in women. Diabetes Care. 2008 Jul;31(7):1311-7.

Kastorini CM, Panagiotakos DB. Dietary patterns and prevention of type 2 diabetes: from research to clinical practice; a systematic review. Curr Diabetes Rev. 2009 Nov;5(4):221-7.

2. Aune D, Ursin G, Veierød MB. Meat consumption and the risk of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies. Diabetologia. 2009 Nov;52(11):2277-87.

3. Rajpathak SN, Crandall JP, Wylie-Rosett J, et al. The role of iron in type 2 diabetes in humans. Biochim Biophys Acta. 2009 Jul;1790(7):671-81.

Luan de C, Li H, Li SJ, et al. Body iron stores and dietary iron intake in relation to diabetes in adults in North China. Diabetes Care. 2008 Feb;31(2):285-6.

4. Rajpathak S, Ma J, Manson J, Willett WC, Hu FB. Iron intake and the risk of type 2 diabetes in women: a prospective cohort study. Diabetes Care. 2006

5. Reddy VP, Zhu X, Perry G, Smith MA. Oxidative stress in diabetes and Alzheimer's disease. J Alzheimers Dis. 2009 Apr;16(4):763-74.

Schalkwijk CG, Brouwers O, Stehouwer CD. Modulation of insulin action by advanced glycation end products: a new player in the field. Horm Metab Res. 2008 Sep;40(9):614-9.

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Comments (9) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Thomas Matt - July 22, 2010 11:50 AM

Dr Fuhrman,
I read your article in Bottom Line, the Can't keep the weght off article, great piece, the toxic hunger, I just love that term, I am now going to recieve your email notes. Looking forward to reading,


Matt Stone - July 22, 2010 1:22 PM

I too feel like years of meat overconsumption didn't do my body justice, even if meat is nutritious. I kind of suspect that just displacing carbohydrate with more fat and protein is likely to lower metabolic rate, cause a rise in free fatty acids, and trigger insulin resistance in anyone with any kind of susceptibility to it whatsoever - which is most people in industrialized nations as refined sugar constitutes 25% of dietary calories.

Jeane - July 23, 2010 10:16 AM

A picture is worth a thousand words?? Like the web site vegsource that has all of these articles about not eating meat and then show an ad or a picture of a fabulous hamburger. You write about why we shouldn't eat meat and then post a delicious looking picture of a steak cooked to perfection.

Amino - July 23, 2010 1:55 PM

How accurate is this meta-analysis compared to a randomized controlled study? Does the meta-analysis only demonstrate a relationship to something rather than a causal connection?

Deana Ferreri, Ph.D. - July 23, 2010 2:09 PM

A meta-analysis pools the results of several studies on the same subject, which statistically, gives the result more weight. These studies were prospective cohort studies, which means that subjects were recruited when healthy and their dietary habits were recorded, and over time incidence of diabetes was recorded.

StephenMarkTurner - July 24, 2010 6:11 AM

Jeane - I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I still eat some meat, but that picture of a bloody, rare steak is not at all appetizing to me.

Regards, Steve

BjörnA - July 29, 2010 6:58 AM

Studies made here in Sweden low carb high fat "diets" have shown huge improvements primarily for type II diabetes patients and in some degree also for type I.

The only possibility for any foundation of this article is if we look at increaded meat consumption IN COMBINATION WITH CARBS. The culprit isn't the meat, it's the carbs.

Been eating much red herring lately perhaps? ,-)

Deana Ferreri, Ph.D. - July 29, 2010 9:34 AM

It is not a simple matter of "high-carb vs. high-fat". It is the nutrient density of the whole foods. Healthful carbohydrate sources like fruits and whole grains are associated with decreased risk of diabetes, whereas refined carbohydrates increase risk.

bag raiders - October 21, 2010 2:59 PM

is consuming a kg of n lean red meat a week too much?? I find that my period stops if I don't eat enough red meat

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