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Does Red Meat Increase Diabetes Risk?

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Researchers say a new study indicates that eating meat over time is associated with a higher chance of developing diabetes. I say "bunk."

Does red meat increase your chances of getting Type 2 diabetes? A new study released on June 17 by JAMA Internal Medicine has come to that conclusion, recommending that folks consume less red meat to reduce the epidemic of Type 2 diabetes. CBS News first scooped the results of the study, and the conclusions are troubling. However, despite the research, I’m waving my B.S. flag on this one, and that doesn’t stand for bachelor of science.

But first, let’s address the usual counter-arguments that will come my way. No, I’m not a doctor, nor am I a nutritionist, so I wouldn’t be considered an expert in this field. Yes, I raise beef cattle, so some might say I have skin in the game. However, while I may not have the credentials to counter this study, there are others who do, and I will reference them in this post.

First, a little background. Beef (namely saturated fat) was demonized in the 1970s-80s when the new mantra of “counting calories, limiting your fat and burning off excess,” became the new-age advice from the medical establishment, a departure from how Grandma grew up eating, for sure. Forget that our bodies rely on fat to thrive; doctors were now telling us that fat makes you fat.

Start by reading “Jude Capper On Brain Food.”

Capper is an adjunct professort at Washington State University, affiliate at Montana State University and a sustainability consultant at Merck. She says, “We need to get over the perception that fat is bad, particularly that fats found in dairy and meat are worse than fats found in olive oil. Oleic acid, which is prevalent in olive oil, is also found in grain-fed beef. This offers us protection against heart disease and diabetes. Overall, it’s important to have a balanced, healthy diet that also tastes great, too.”

Meanwhile, Gary Taubes is the author of the best-selling books, “Good Calories, Bad Calories” and “Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It.” He explains how the obesity epidemic, which is linked to modern diseases like diabetes, was caused by our increased consumption of not animal fats but sweets.

Photo courtesy of South Dakota Beef Industry CouncilThe fact is that Americans consumed 75 lbs. of sugar/person/year in 1986. By the early 2000s, Americans consumed 90 lbs. of suger/person/year. It’s estimated that this number is even higher today.

Of these figures, Taubes explains, “That this increase happened to coincide with the current epidemics of obesity and diabetes is one reason that it’s tempting to blame sugars — sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup — for the problem. In 1980, roughly one in seven Americans was obese, and almost 6 million were diabetic, and the obesity rates, at least, hadn’t changed significantly in the 20 years previously.

“By the early 2000s, when sugar consumption peaked, one in every three Americans was obese, and 14 million were diabetic. This correlation between sugar consumption and diabetes is what defense attorneys call circumstantial evidence. It’s more compelling than it otherwise might be, though, because the last time sugar consumption jumped markedly in this country, it was also associated with a diabetes epidemic.”

Read Taubes’ entire article on this topic, “Is Sugar Toxic?”

I can already hear the next argument from readers, and that will be, “Amanda, everything in moderation.” Frankly, this is one of the silliest pieces of advice I have ever heard. It’s equating the 500 calories from a ribeye steak -- which is full of vitamins and healthy proteins and fats – with the 500 calories from a piece of cake.

So, how does diabetes work? It’s all about blood sugar levels and insulin.

Taubes describes how our bodies regulate blood sugar, “You secrete insulin in response to the foods you eat — particularly the carbohydrates — to keep blood sugar in control after a meal. When your cells are resistant to insulin, your body (your pancreas, to be precise) responds to rising blood sugar by pumping out more and more insulin. Eventually the pancreas can no longer keep up with the demand, or it gives in to what diabetologists call ‘pancreatic exhaustion.’ Now your blood sugar will rise out of control, and you’ve got diabetes.”

In his article, “What If It’s All A Big Fat Lie?” Taubes writes more on this topic.

“We are in the midst of an obesity epidemic that started around the early 1980s, and that this was coincident with the rise of the low-fat dogma. (Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease, also rose significantly through this period.) With these caveats, one of the few reasonably reliable facts about the obesity epidemic is that it started around the early 1980s. According to Katherine Flegal, an epidemiologist at the National Center for Health Statistics, the percentage of obese Americans stayed relatively constant through the 1960s and 1970s at 13-14%, and then shot up by 8 percentage points in the 1980s. By the end of that decade, nearly one in four Americans was obese.

“That steep rise, which is consistent through all segments of American society and which continued unabated through the 1990s, is the singular feature of the epidemic. Any theory that tries to explain obesity in America has to account for that. Meanwhile, overweight children nearly tripled in number. And for the first time, physicians began diagnosing Type 2 diabetes in adolescents. Type 2 diabetes often accompanies obesity.

“What's forgotten in the current controversy is that the low-fat dogma itself is only about 25 years old. Until the late ’70s, the accepted wisdom was that fat and protein protected against overeating by making you sated, and that carbohydrates made you fat. Foods considered more or less deadly under the low-fat dogma turn out to be comparatively benign if you actually look at their fat content.

“More than two-thirds of the fat in a porterhouse steak, for instance, will definitively improve your cholesterol profile (at least in comparison with the baked potato next to it); it's true that the remainder will raise your LDL, the bad stuff, but it will also boost your HDL.

“As a result, the major trends in American diets since the late ’70s, according to the USDA agricultural economist Judith Putnam, have been a decrease in the percentage of fat calories and a ‘greatly increased consumption of carbohydrates.’ To be precise, annual grain consumption has increased almost 60 lbs./person, and caloric sweeteners (primarily high-fructose corn syrup) by 30 lbs.”

In addition to our increased consumption of sugar, meat consumption (the so-called culprit of the diabetes epidemic) is at an all-time low.

According to the CME Group’s Daily Livestock Report, “Per-capita beef consumption in 2010 was at the lowest level in our data set that goes back to 1955. 2010’s 59.7 lbs. broke the old low of 59.8 lbs. set in 1958 and was 1.4 lbs. lower than the level of 2009.”

If you are following along with the numbers, Americans today eat 90+ lbs. of sugar annually and only 59.7 lbs. of beef. Even the new USDA MyPlate dietary guidelines urge us to limit our sweets intake. At 60 lbs./year, Americans are only eating 2.6 oz. of beef/day -- that’s not even reaching USDA dietary recommendations of 5-6 oz./day (total protein, not just beef). Meanwhile, at 90 lbs. of sugar/year, that equates to 3.9 oz, or approximately a 1/2 cup of sugar daily. Yowza!

I’m not here to demonize one food group over another, but we’ve got to use common sense when looking at and evaulating studies of this ilk. I think it’s irresponsible for news stations to perpetuate false notions from studies like this one. The fact of the matter is, Americans are already reducing their meat consumption while increasing their carbohydrate consumption significantly. Perhaps this study is backed by people who would prefer we didn’t eat beef at all. After all, it’s hard to reduce from 2.6 oz.

Bottom line: Feel free to eat beef without fear of getting diabetes from it. It’s not raising your blood sugar. It’s not causing insulin resistance. The heart-healthy fats keep you fuller longer, thus reducing your caloric intake. And, they also help you think better, too, resulting in better decisions and smarter choices in your daily life. Plus, beef tastes pretty good, too.

What do you think about this study? Is there any merit to the discussion? Feel free to tear apart my arguments with gusto, or eagerly shake your head in agreement. I’m always up for an open, intelligent debate. Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Discuss this Blog Entry 14

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 18, 2013

Great article! Blaming beef, as a cause of diabetes, is ridiculous! It also totally indicates a lack of understanding of how diabetes works and/or further worsening of the anti-beef conspiracy!
Gary Taubes is a great researcher to quote.
We are eating a low carb, high fat diet. Our blood tests indicate great improvements in all the markers for heart disease and diabetes. My LDL was greatly improved, too. We eat beef at least once a day.
I would love to see the fat analysis for beef. I understand that it contains a good amount of omega 3 fats.
In your research to promote beef, it would be good to study Ancel Keys and how he and then, McGovern came up with the current USDA nutritional pyramid. There is a good chance that it was not just a case of misrepresenting the research studies, but out and out fraud.
It appears that, even though the American Heart Association bought and promotes the whole lowfat, high carb way of eating, which severely limits cholesterol and saturated fats, cholesterol and saturated fats are actually essential for every cell in our body, especially for our brain and nervous system.
No wonder obesity, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer's, many autoimmune diseases and even many cancers are at an all time high!
Best wishes to you in your quest to promote beef!

Peter Franzky (not verified)
on Jun 19, 2013

Well said and laid out with the right facts. You did a great job pointing people in the right direction. Facts are the truth, and the truth may hurt when misinformed by the wrong attitute of the competition. let's always keep the facts straight.

Stephen (not verified)
on Jun 19, 2013

Great job putting that together, but... This needs to be left alone.

Discrediting the nutritional aspect of red meat is certainly debatable. That approach almost seems like an angle favored by those far removed from production agriculture to relate the "stinking beast" image to what's on a consumer's plate.

You did a good job of pointing out the erratic nature of attacks on red meat, to the point that the arguments come across as biased and objective. Still, arguing the conclusions published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal is a bad idea.

Reason? Because we (as beef producers) rely on science to substantiate progressive findings and help us move forward as an industry. If we bring attention to and dispute the topics that give us a little blemish, we take away that platform to support positive findings.

Let's please keep science credible. Let's take a small hit on stories like this and, rather than playing defense, hit a homerun with progressive action in the industry.

Kent Hanawalt (not verified)
on Jun 19, 2013

I do a lot of work in health care on the Crow reservation in Montana. Diabetes is rampant among Native Americans and the assumption is that it is the result of ENDING a diet of predominantly meat.

Karl (not verified)
on Jun 19, 2013

Geez Amanda, nobody taking you to task on this article. Must mean you did a great job of writing with great facts to back it up. Good job!!!

L. Hill (not verified)
on Jun 19, 2013

I join the bunk and BS crowd! Where did common sense go in this country. I have no doubt that this study(lead author was An Pan University of Singapore's school of public health) will be refuted in this future just as so many other studies(caffeine for one) have been.

The article also noted that reducing red meat consumption by the same amount during the same period DIDN'T cut the risk of diabetes during the next four years.
Also worth mentioning is; the changes noted in the article were independant of other factors such as body weight and overall diet quality.....say whaaat.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 19, 2013

I'am a 15 yr cow calf producers and a 2'yr veterinarian student (I am going too school to defend the cattle industry ) in my fisiology and bio chem classes we learned about Insulin, and the way the body digest food. We don't need added sugar we can get the adequate sugar we need from fruits and vegetables white sugar is the cause for diabetes. Insulin is a hormone that tells the organs to absorb sugar. I' am not a doctor but if you overload the body with too much sugar eventually I think it will stop producing the insulin.

LWB (not verified)
on Jun 19, 2013

I enjoyed your article on several levels. But I think there is far more to diet (what we eat) and health than you were able to cover. I've been reading about diet in The China Study, (Campbell, T. Colin. The China Study. 1st Ed. BenBella Books, 2005) and recommend it to anyone with an interest in the relationship of health and diet. I suggest going to this Wikipedia site for starters: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_China_Study

Bill Hoffman (not verified)
on Jun 19, 2013

Your analysis is right on target. I am a beef producer who has improved my own health dramatically just by switching to a controlled carb diet (Atkins). A couple of doctors who saw the weight loss (I was not obese but getting there, cholesterol and triglycerides were through the roof) and dramatic improvement in blood profile were dumbfounded when I told them what I was eating.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 19, 2013

Great article but as a born and bred beef eater I do wonder about one of the statistics you mention. You compare the average amount of beef consumed on a daily basis, 2.6 oz., and the USDA daily recommendation of 5-6 oz. of protein (not just beef, as you did mention). For a more accurate argument, shouldn't you give the average amount of animal protein consumed per day? You could have broken that data down to beef and non-beef and then pointed out why beef is superior to the other animal proteins. Nothing beats a great steak hot off of the grill!

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 19, 2013

Great article. The Paleo community is calling the same verdict as you. It seems that now, maybe Doctors and Nutritionist are saying it's not meat but WHEAT that causes this disease and many others. too much Consumption of Bread is causing Diabetes and other diseases. Eating Meat, veggies and exercising seems to be a better journey.

on Jun 20, 2013

Anybody who does any study of "valid science" can figure out that the food pyramid recommended by the US government in the 1980s is a recipe for a heart attack. In fact anyone who spent any time in the kitchen with their grandmother knows that the food pyramid is a poor excuse for a healthy diet.

Those of us in the beef industry need to remember that most anti-beef media coverage or studies pre-concluded to the result are about ideology and not science.

The study cited in Amanda's article that concludes beef promotes diabetes flies in the face of any scientific facts. It's totally about ideology and is a perfect example of how difficult it is to combat ideology with science. Ideologues will use pseudoscience at every opportunity to promote their ideological agenda. It's a sad comment on society when supposedly reputable organizations will out and out lie using pseudoscience to promote an ideological agenda

Ron (not verified)
on Jul 5, 2013

“Bottom line: Feel free to eat beef without fear of getting diabetes from it.”

That sounds like you are dispensing medical advice, although you are, as you admit, neither a doctor nor a nutritionist. Nor are you a scientist or a health professional of any kind, so you are certainly no expert in this field. But you support a premise that has been disproved in basic research, applied research, clinical trials, epidemiological studies, meta studies and systematic reviews. The only proven methods of reversing diabetes rely on removing saturated fat from the diet.

Your arguments are chock full of logical fallacies and you cherry pick articles by others (two non-experts who also have “skin in the game”), while ignoring the wealth of evidence that clearly demonstrate the opposite.

For example, Capper picks one type of fatty acid found in both olive oil and beef, but ignores the rest. Your paraphrasing of Taubes’ writing creates a false dichotomy: it is either fat or sweets, so it must be sweets. Taubes also wrote that “Dietary fat, whether saturated or not, is not a cause of obesity, heart disease, or any other chronic disease of civilization” – which is provably false. If he were to write the truth about fat, he would be just another of thousands of authors writing those words. Instead, he is famous because he wrote produced something that was wrong, but believable, and—most critically—controversial, so he became an overnight sensation as vested interests (read: beef industry) supported his message.

Instead of picking supporting statements from two people with vested interests to push your point, why don’t you at least try to offer an unbiased look at the topic, before sending people to the diabetes clinic?

Kim Valerio (not verified)
on Oct 21, 2013

According to the reports published by JAMA Internal Medicine, eating too much red meat can cause diabetes mellitus type 2 or the T2DM.
Source: http://newshealthtoday.com/excessive-red-meat-consumption-increases-risk...

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A fifth-generation rancher from Mitchell, SD, Amanda grew up on a purebred Limousin cattle operation in which she and husband Tyler are active. She graduated with a degree in agriculture journalism...

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