Eating just two servings of red meat a week may increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, a study suggests.
US researchers, who examined the eating habits and diabetes rates for 200,000 people, advised limiting red meat to one serving per week to ‘optimise health’.
A typical 70g serving is equivalent to two thick rashers of bacon, one-and-a-half sausages or five slices of ham.
The findings suggest that eating just two bacon sandwiches, one burger or two-thirds of an 8oz steak per week raises the type 2 diabetes risk.
Results also revealed that swapping one serving of red meat for another protein source — such as nuts, chickpeas or kidney beans — slashes the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 30 per cent.
The findings suggest that eating just two bacon sandwiches, one burger or two-thirds of an 8oz steak raises the type 2 diabetes risk
Previous studies have indicated a link between red meat consumption and type 2 diabetes risk, and researchers say this study adds a greater level of certainty about the association.
The researchers, from Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health, examined the health records and dietary patterns of 216,695 people who were quizzed about what they ate every two to four years, for up to 36 years.
During this time, more than 22,000 participants developed type 2 diabetes.
Results, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, show that eating red meat — both processed and unprocessed — was strongly associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
Those who ate the most red meat had a 62 per cent higher risk of developing the condition compared with those who ate the least.
And every additional daily serving of processed red meat was associated with a 46 per cent greater chance of developing type 2 diabetes.
Each extra daily serving of unprocessed red meat was associated with a 24 per cent greater risk, the study found.
However, substituting a serving of red meat for nuts or legumes reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes by 30 per cent.
And substituting a serving of dairy products was linked to a 22 per cent lower risk.
Xiao Gu, lead author and postdoctoral research fellow in the department of nutrition, said: ‘Our findings strongly support dietary guidelines that recommend limiting the consumption of red meat, and this applies to both processed and unprocessed red meat.’
Professor Walter Willett, senior study author and an expert in epidemiology and nutrition, said: ‘Given our findings and previous work by others, a limit of about one serving per week of red meat would be reasonable for people wishing to optimise their health and wellbeing.’
According to the scientists, swapping red meat for healthy plant protein sources would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and tackle climate change, and provide other environmental benefits.
UK health chiefs recommend consuming no more than 70g of red meat — such as beef, lamb or pork — or processed meat — such as ham, bacon and salami — a day.
While red meat is packed with protein, vitamins and minerals, including iron, zinc and B vitamins, eating too much over time can increase cholesterol levels, which raises the risk of coronary heart disease.
And processed meat tends to be packed with salt, which raises the risk of high blood pressure. Studies also suggest that it raises the risk of cancer, especially bowel.
It is unclear how red and processed meat consumption raise the risk of type 2 diabetes.
But experts believe the nitrates — added to prevent the growth of bacteria, add a salty flavour and make meat appear pink — and preservatives in processed meat can damage cells in the pancreas, which are involved in insulin production.
Meanwhile, red meat contains high amounts of heme iron, which can trigger oxidative stress and inflammation.
Around 3.9million Britons have type 2 diabetes, with an additions 850,000 thought to be living with the condition but not yet diagnosed, according to Diabetes UK.
In the US, around 33million have type 2 diabetes.
The number of adults living with diabetes is expected to more than double by 2050 due to a surge in obesity levels, research suggests.