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Hot Dogs, Other Processed Meats May Raise Diabetes Risk


You may want to think twice before you throw those hot dogs and sausages on the grill this summer. A new study reports that processed meats such as hot dogs, bologna, and sausage can raise the risk of type 2 diabetes by more than 50 percent.

The hot dog study has good news, too

Several recent studies have warned about the health dangers of one of America’s favorite foods, and now researchers from Harvard are chiming in. After evaluating 20 years of data from men who participated in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, 28 years of data from women in the Nurses’ Health Study I, and 14 years of data from women in the Nurses’ Health Study II, hot dogs and other processed meats did not fare well.

The analysis showed that a 50-gram daily serving of processed meat (e.g., one hot dog or sausage or two slices of bacon) was associated with a 51 percent increased risk of diabetes. When it comes to unprocessed red meat, the researchers determined that a 100-gram daily serving (which is about the size of a deck of playing cards) was associated with a 19 percent increased risk for type 2 diabetes.

Now for the good news: by substituting other sources rich in protein, such as whole grains, low-fat dairy, and nuts, for the processed meat, you can actually reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. According to a Harvard news release, Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology, noted that “The good news is that such troubling risk factors can be offset by swapping red meat for a healthier protein.”

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The study also showed that people who consumed one serving daily of red meat could reduce their risk of diabetes by 23 percent if they substituted one serving of whole grains per day for the red meat. Substituting nuts for red meat resulted in a 21 percent lower risk, while choosing a low-fat dairy product instead of red meat resulted in a 17 percent lower risk.

The authors of the study would like to see the US food guidelines adjusted so it distinguishes red meat from healthier protein sources, such as nuts, beans, and legumes. Currently, the US food guidelines make no distinction among the items in the protein portion of the recommendations.

An increased risk of diabetes is not the only health hazard associated with processed meat. Many studies have pointed to a link between processed and red meat consumption and colorectal cancer. In a new review study from Imperial College London, for example, the results of 21 studies were evaluated, with the reviewers concluding that “high intake of red and processed meat is associated with significant increased risk of colorectal, colon and rectal cancers.”

Speaking about the Harvard study, Hu noted that “Clearly, the results from this study have huge public health implications given the rising type 2 diabetes epidemic and increasing consumption of red meats worldwide.” For better health, it may be time to switch from hot dogs and sausages to healthier choices.

Chan DSM et al. PLos One 2011; 6(6): e20456
Harvard School of Public Health/Pan A et al. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2011; doi: 10.3945/ajcn.111.018978

Picture credit: Wikimedia