In a new study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, scientists compared animal proteins to plant proteins and evaluated their impact on Type 2 diabetes (T2D) risk. While high-protein diets, high-animal protein diets, and a diet of processed red meats have been linked to increased diabetes risk in many studies, this was the first time an animal-based protein diet was compared to a plant-based protein diet.
In the study, the diets of 2,332 men between the ages of 42 and 60 who did not have T2D were followed from 1984 to 1989. After 19 years, a follow-up evaluation was conducted, and 432 men had been diagnosed with T2D.
After comparing the diets of the men, the researchers found that a diet of plant-based proteins was linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, and an animal-based protein diet was associated with a higher risk of getting T2D.
The men who ate the highest amount of plant-based protein had a 35 percent reduction in type 2 diabetes risk compared to the men who consumed the highest amount of animal protein.
One might assume that the men who ate plant-based proteins might, in general, have a healthier lifestyle compared to the meat-eating men, but lifestyle did not fully explain the results.
Using the numbers from this study, if you were to replace just five grams of animal protein with five grams of a plant-based protein, you would reduce your risk of T2D by 18 percent.
Plant-based proteins were also associated with lower fasting glucose levels during the study.
Note: One exception to the rule that animal proteins may increase the risk of T2D was eggs. Egg protein was actually associated with a lower risk of T2D.
While a higher animal protein diet was associated with an increased risk of T2D, the researchers discovered that it was not the animal protein that was raising blood sugar levels. They concluded that there were other compounds in the animal protein that were responsible for the increased T2D risk—not the animal protein itself.
These findings suggest that there may be additives in meat such as pesticides, hormones, or other preservatives that are responsible for the increased risk of T2D.
I always suggest eating a predominantly plant-based, whole food, minimally—or completely—non-processed diet, and, if needed, small amounts of meat.
Try to keep the meat in your diet to 10 percent of your calories, and the quality should be given special attention.
There is good science comparing red meat to processed red meat, and quality does make a difference.
Grass-fed beef is significantly healthier than grain-fed and processed meat, yet studies on grass-fed beef are only just beginning. Get your additional protein from nuts, seeds, cheeses, legumes, and protein-rich grains such as quinoa and amaranth.
If you are going to consume animal protein, source grass-fed, vegetarian-fed, pasture-raised, free-range, organically-raised meats whenever possible.