By now, it’s not really news that red meat is not the most healthful diet. But it may be surprising to learn that a recent Duke University study found that poultry also presents an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes. The findings come from the Singapore Chinese Health Study, which recruited 63,257 adults aged 45-74 years between 1993 and 1998, and then followed them up for an average of about 11 years.
The study found a that those who ate more red meat and poultry had a higher risk of developing diabetes. By contrast, there was no increased risk of diabetes for those who ate mostly fish and shellfish, as well as tofu and other plant-based foods.
Professor Koh Woon Puay, Professor of Clinical Sciences at Duke-NUS Medical School, said the risk is at least partly attributed to the higher content of heme iron in red meat and poultry. Heme iron — the form of iron found in animal meat — is typically absorbed at a higher rate than iron from fish and plant-based foods. The body cannot excrete iron so it tends to build up and can interfere with other bodily processes.
The study findings also suggested that not all poultry parts are equally healthful; the lower heme iron content of breast meat compared to leg and thigh meat makes it less likely to cause problems.
“We don’t need to remove meat from the diet entirely,” Professor Koh said. “[Consumers] 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.”
This is one of the largest Asian studies looking at meat consumption and diabetes risk. It was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in August 2017.