Higher intake of red meat and poultry is associated with a significantly increased risk of type 2 diabetes, according to new research.
The Singapore study attributed this raised risk to a higher content of heme iron in these meats, which is predominantly found in blood and muscle. The scientists from Duke-NUS Medical School (Duke-NUS) stated that not all meats affect the risk of type 2 diabetes equally.
Earlier this week Cambridge University reported that processed red meat may not raise the risk of type 2 diabetes. That study suggested that the increased risks between red meat and type 2 diabetes may be due to overall diet as the researchers found that those who consumed processed red meat tended have poorer diets overall.
This was one of the largest Asian studies looking at meat consumption and diabetes risk, which recruited 63,257 adults aged 45-74 between 1993-1998, with researchers evaluating their dietary choices for an average of 11 years.
The researchers identified a dose-dependent association dietary heme iron content from all meats and the risk of type 2 diabetes. After adjustment for heme iron a link between red meat and diabetes risk remained, suggesting other chemicals could be accountable. But this association was nullified between poultry intake and diabetes risk, indicating the risk may be due to heme iron content.
Senior author Professor Koh Woon Puay explained: “We don’t need to remove meat from the diet entirely. Singaporeans just need to reduce the daily intake, especially for red meat, and choose chicken breast and fish/shellfish, or plant-based protein food and dairy products, to reduce the risk of diabetes.
“At the end of the day, we want to provide the public with information to make evidence-based choices in picking the healthier food to reduce disease risk.”
Whilst the researchers suggest cutting down on red meat, it is important to note that this was an observational study. The study found an association between red meat and poultry, but it did not review the overall quality of diet and cannot demonstrate that these types of meat are worse than other sources of protein.
The findings appear online in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

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