The US, along with other western nations, has experienced soaring rates of type-2 diabetes in recent years, with figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicating that numbers have doubled over 15 years across 18 states. All 50 states have diabetes prevalence rates of 6% or more, and in six states the disease now affects one in every ten adults.
Experts believe this diabetes epidemic is linked to rising rates of obesity and unhealthy diets, with the latest research from the UK suggesting that people’s love of junk food may be at least partly to blame. In particular, high levels of iron consumption – for instance from red and processed meat – could be the newest risk factor to be uncovered.
Study Links Processed Food to Type-2 Diabetes
Researchers at Plymouth University set out to investigate the links between dietary iron intake and type-2 diabetes, after observing growing evidence of an association between iron and both the risk of diabetes and the likelihood of complications among those with advanced disease. As meat and meat products are one of the largest dietary contributors of iron in countries such as Britain, the US and Canada, they reviewed previous research that had studied iron and red meat intakes and the risk of diabetes.
Overall, they found that studies “suggest that processed red meat is associated with increased risk, with high intakes of red meat possibly also associated with a small increased risk”. Processed meats are those that have been smoked, cured or salted, or that contain chemical preservatives. This means that eating products such as ham, salami, bacon, sausages and burgers could be raising people’s chances of developing diabetes.
This is slightly surprising, given the fact that people have eaten red meat for thousands of years. But the researchers believe that modified proteins in processed red meat may be to blame, possibly by influencing the output of insulin by islet cells in the pancreas.
Processed Meats Already Tied to Bowel Cancer
This is not the first time that the health credentials of processed meats have been questioned. For example, the World Cancer Research Fund – which funds studies into the relationship between nutrition, exercise and cancer risk – says there is “strong evidence” that red and processed meats are causes of bowel cancer and that no amount of processed meat is safe in this respect. It advises people to consume less than 500g (18oz) of red meat per week and to eat very little – if any – processed meat.
How Do You Reduce Your Risk Of Diabetes?
Type-2 diabetes is known as a lifestyle-related illness, because the main risk factors are linked to people’s diet and lifestyle. As well as the latest suggestion that processed meats may play a role, there are certain other factors that increase your risk of type-2 diabetes. It’s therefore important to:
- Maintain a healthy weight – the more fatty tissue you have, the more resistant your cells will become to insulin
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet – this should include plenty of fruit and vegetables, starchy foods, dairy foods, and non-dairy sources of protein such as fish and beans
- Exercise regularly – physical activity helps with weight management, as well as using up glucose and improving your cells’ sensitivity to insulin