Eating meat: the fast track to Diabetes
Written by Robyn Chuter
Created Monday, 26 November 2012
With all those popular diet books and personal trainers out there pushing animal protein and vilifying 'carbs' as the cause of overweight and diabetes, the average person could be forgiven for assuming that there's some hard science behind this carbophobia and protein worship. Nothing could be further from the truth. Two recent studies resolutely point the finger at meat consumption as one of the primary causes of the tidal wave of overweight and diabetes (or 'diabesity' as some have dubbed it) washing over the entire world. The first study tracked the eating habits of 370 000 Europeans over 5 years, and found that those who ate the most meat gained the most weight - regardless of their overall calorie/kilojoule intake. The second pooled the data from 12 other studies, and found that meat (including poultry) consumption significantly raised the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Many of my clients come to me desperately confused about the best way to lose weight. They have read many diet books, participated in a variety of weight loss programs; consulted dietitians and personal trainers, and have been given different dietary programs by all of these sources (although these days, most of these programs are just riffs on the same theme - animal protein with every meal). Then they come to me, and find that I have a totally different approach to everything they've encountered before. So I don't ask them to take what I say on faith; I point to the science. And the message from properly-conducted scientific studies, that involve long-term follow-up of participants (not just for 3-6 months, as is customary in weight loss studies) is crystal clear: high-protein, meat-based diets are abject failures when it comes to sustainable weight loss.
In the first study mentioned in the introduction, the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition-Physical Activity, Nutrition, Alcohol, Cessation of Smoking, Eating Out of Home and Obesity (EPIC-PANACEA) project recruited 103,455 men and 270,348 women aged 25-70, from 10 European countries. The researchers assessed the participants' diets, then tracked their annual weight change for 5 years (1). They found that higher meat consumption (including red meat, processed meat and poultry) was associated with weight gain in both men and women, in both normal-weight and overweight subjects, and in both smokers and nonsmokers - in other words, in everyone! The conclusion of the researchers could not be more clear: "our results do not support that a high-protein diet prevents obesity or promotes long-term weight loss, contrary to what has been advocated."
Since meat is an energy-dense food (i.e. a small amount of it contains a lot of calories), the researchers speculated that diets low in meat might simply be lower in energy (calories/kilojoules), and this might explain why people who ate a plant-based diet had less weight gain. However, even when they made statistical adjustments to account for energy intake, they still found that high meat consumption caused weight gain. The researchers also adjusted for energy expenditure through physical activity - and the results still held. In other words, if two people of exactly the same sex, body size and activity level ate exactly the same number of calories per day, but one person drew most or all of their calories from plant foods, and the other got a substantial proportion of their calories from meat, the second person would gain more weight over time than the first!
To be precise, "an increase in meat intake of 250 g/day (eg, one steak at approximately 450 kcal) would lead to a 2 kg higher weight gain after 5 years." Now think of what that creeping weight gain means over the course of the human life-span. Gaining any more than 5 kg from early adulthood to middle age can bring on type 2 diabetes (2).
That's just what the authors of the second dietary study mentioned above found (3). Specifically, high intake of meat of any kind increased the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 17% compared to low meat intake; high intake of red meat by 21%; and high intake of processed meat by 41%.
Consumption of whole fruit (not juice) and leafy vegetables protects against the development of type 2 diabetes, as do whole grains and legumes (4). Brown rice consumption lowers diabetes risk while white rice raises it (5). Well, golly gee! This is exactly the kind of diet I've been prescribing for years, and which has allowed people with the most stubborn weight problems to shed their extra kilos; hypertensives to lower their blood pressure and get off medication; sufferers of autoimmune disease to make full recoveries; and type 2 diabetics to get off their medications and become non-diabetic. A diet based on vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains is, quite simply, the optimal diet for your health and ideal weight.
For the many people who are genetically predisposed to type 2 diabetes (as I am - both branches of my family tree are festooned with diabetics), eating meat is just too dangerous a habit to continue.
This article was previously published on the Empower Total Health website
Robyn Chuter is a university-qualified naturopath, with a Bachelor of Health Science (and the Dean's Medal for Outstanding Academic Achievement) from the University of New England, and a Diploma of Naturopathy from the Australasian College of Natural Therapies. Robyn runs the website Empower Total Health; and she has a naturopathic practice in Sydney, Australia where she specialises in chronic, medically 'incurable' health problems such as IBS, CFS, migraine, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
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