THURSDAY, Oct. 19, 2023 (HealthDay News) — Think twice about ordering that double cheeseburger, salami on rye or juicy T-bone.

Just two servings of red meat a week — processed or unprocessed — can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes by 62%, according to a new study.

“A modest but statistically significant increase in risk was seen with even two servings of red meat per week, and risk continued to increase with higher intakes,” said lead author Xiao Gu, a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston. “Our findings suggest that replacing red meat with healthy plant-based protein sources, such as nuts and legumes, or modest intakes of dairy foods, would reduce the risk of diabetes.”

The study can’t prove that eating red meat causes type 2 diabetes, but there appears to be a link.

And a serving of meat is likely smaller than you might suspect.

One serving of unprocessed red meat is about 3 ounces of pork, beef or lamb; a serving of processed red meat is about 1 ounce of bacon or 2 ounces of hot dog, sausage, salami, bologna or other processed red meats, Gu said.
Red meat is usually high in saturated fat and low in polyunsaturated fat, Gu said.

“Studies have shown that saturated fat can reduce beta cell function and insulin sensitivity, which results in type 2 diabetes,” he explained.

“Red meat also has a high content of heme iron, which increases oxidative stress and insulin resistance and impairs beta cell function through its by-product of nitric oxide compounds,” Gu said. “For processed red meats, there is also a high content of nitrates and their byproducts, which promote cell dysfunction and insulin resistance.”

For the study, Gu and his colleagues collected data on nearly 217,000 participants from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study.

Their diets were assessed with food questionnaires for up to 36 years. During this time, more than 22,000 participants developed type 2 diabetes.

People who ate the most red meat had a 62% higher risk for type 2 diabetes, compared with those who ate the least.