Red meats such as lamb, beef and pork are considered harmful if consumed regularly, but even poultry may significantly increase the risk of developing diabetes, warns the new study.
"We don't need to remove meat from the diet entirely. Singaporeans just need to reduce the daily intake, especially for red meat, and choose chicken breast and fish/shellfish, or plant-based protein food and dairy products, to reduce the risk of diabetes," said senior author Koh Woon Puay.
The team analysed 63,257 adults aged 45-74 years between 1993 and 1998, and then followed them up for an average of about 11 years. They found a positive association between intakes of red meat and poultry, and risk of developing diabetes.
Specifically, compared to those in the lowest quartile intake, those in the highest quartile intake of red meat and poultry had a 23 percent and 15 per cent increase in risk of diabetes, respectively, while the intake of fish/shellfish was not associated with risk of diabetes. The increase in risk associated with red meat/poultry was reduced by substituting them with fish/shellfish.
The study also investigated the association between dietary heme-iron content from all meats and the risk of diabetes and found a dose-dependent positive association. After adjusting for heme-iron content in the diet, the red-meat and diabetes association was still present, suggesting that other chemicals present in red meat could be accountable for the increase in risk of diabetes.
"The findings affirm HPB's recommendation to consume red meat in moderation, and that a healthy and balanced diet should contain sufficient and varied protein sources, including healthier alternatives to red meat such as fish, tofu and legumes," said Dr Annie Ling, Director from Research and Surveillance Division.
The research appears in the American Journal of Epidemiology.