Eating 30% Less of One Type of Meat Could Prevent Future Type 2 Diabetes : ScienceAlert

Hotdogs are iconic elements of American food culture, and while they bring joy to many, emerging evidence suggests processed meats are also linked to several of the nation’s leading diseases.

According to recent estimates, the average American should take extra care to limit their intake of processed meat, like bacon, sausage, or salami.

The advice might be hard for some to swallow, but if the loss can be accepted, great gains could be achieved.

Over the next decade, public health data suggests a 30 percent reduction in processed meat – cutting out around 61 grams (2.1 ounces) per week – could prevent 352,900 cases of type 2 diabetes, 92,500 cases of cardiovascular disease, 53,300 cases of colorectal cancer, and 16,700 deaths from any cause.

Even if, at a national baseline, processed meat intake was reduced by just 5 percent, models suggest there would still be public health benefits, albeit to a lesser extent.

More research is needed to substantiate the results, but scientists from the University of Edinburgh in the UK and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, argue that given the high doses of sodium and saturated fat in processed meat, “most intake of meats and poultry should be from fresh, frozen, or canned forms versus processed meats.”

Compared to unprocessed red meat, like ground beef or sirloin, processed meat is more clearly tied to increased risks of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers, like colorectal cancer.

Yet despite a scarcity of conclusive studies on unprocessed red meat, the authors of the current study did find tentative signs that eating processed meat or unprocessed red meat can lead to negative health outcomes in the long run.

Using public health and nutrition data from 8,665 individuals, the international team of researchers created a ‘microsimulation’ of more than 242 million adults in the US.

At baseline, researchers found the consumption of processed meat in the US was about 29 grams a day, whereas unprocessed red meat was consumed at around 46.7 grams a day.

Models suggest that a 30 percent cut to both measured types (totaling 8.7 grams of processed meat and 14 grams of unprocessed red meat a day) could lead to more than a million fewer cases of type 2 diabetes, 382,400 fewer cases of cardiovascular disease, 84,400 fewer occurrences of colorectal cancer, and 62,200 fewer all-cause deaths during a 10-year period.

Microsimulation models are sometimes considered “theoretically analogous to randomized controlled trials”, but the recent cohort was quite diverse in its consumption of unprocessed red meat which limits the sensitivity of the analysis.

The results for processed meat are more compelling.

In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially classified processed meat as “carcinogenic”. A 2021 meta-analysis found that eating 50 grams of processed meat each day increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent.

The American Heart Association recommends limiting processed meat to about 100 grams per week, or roughly 14 grams a day.

According to the recent microsimulation, those recommendations could be even stricter.

Despite more and more findings linking consumption to chronic health effects, the national intake of processed meat in the US has not fallen in the past two decades.

Given that diabetes impacts nearly 12 percent of the United States population today, and nearly 30 percent of those over the age of 65, this one dietary change could help millions live healthier lives.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are due to be updated in 2025, are foundational for US federal food policy, establishing food assistance programs, school lunches, and primary nutrition education.

Providing a specific recommendation to reduce the intake of processed meat could, therefore, “have widespread implications, especially for children and young people in the USA,” the authors of the study conclude.

The study was published in The Lancet Planetary Health.


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