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August 11, 2011 | 3 minute read

Lower Diabetes (and Cancer?) Risk: Less Meat; More Nuts

Hot dogs have made headlines recently for increased cancer risk, now a large new study suggests consuming too many processed meats and red meat overall increases type 2 diabetes risk. But substituting a serving of nuts, whole grains, or low-fat dairy for a serving of red meat daily may lower that risk.

The study by Harvard researchers is one of the largest of its kind, strengthening earlier data on processed meat and increased type 2 diabetes risk. It was published online yesterday in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The study results on meat also mirror key findings related to colorectal cancer risk, adding to the evidence that many lifestyle habits for cancer prevention also prevent type 2 diabetes.

In the Harvard study, researchers pulled data from approximately 200,000 diabetes-free health professionals who were participants of three different studies. At the study entry and every two years, participants filled out questionnaires about their diet and other lifestyle practices. One group was tracked for 20 years; a second group for 28 years; and the third for 14 years.

After adjusting for BMI, smoking and other lifestyle factors, the study found that consuming one serving of red meat every day – 100 grams (3.5 ounces) about the size of one small burger – increased risk of type 2 diabetes 19 percent. One daily serving of half that amount of processed meat – 50 grams, one hot dog or two slices of bacon – increased risk by 51 percent.

Yet the study also found that daily meat eaters could lower their risk by substituting a serving of meat with one daily serving of whole grains, nuts, and low-fat dairy. Substituting whole grains was linked to a 23 percent lower risk; nuts was linked with a 21 percent lower risk; and low-fat dairy, a 17 percent lower risk.

AICR’s Continuous Update Project report on colorectal cancer, released in May, found that consuming 100 grams of red meat daily linked to a 17 percent higher risk of colorectal cancer when compared to someone who eats no red meat. Consuming half that amount of processed meat daily increased risk 18 percent.

The connection between type 2 diabetes and cancer risk goes beyond red meat. According to research released last year, people who have type 2 diabetes are at increased risk for cancers of the liver, pancreas and endometrium. Evidence was weaker but still clear for cancers of the colon/rectum, post-menopausal breast and bladder.

For strategies on healthy eating habits, visit Reduce Your Cancer Risk.

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