Evidence from several large studies suggests that vegetarians may be more than 50% less likely to develop type-2 diabetes compared to those who consume meat on a regular basis.
One of the largest studies on the link between a vegetarian diet and diabetes came from a study of 25,698 seventh day adventists in 1960 over a 21 year study period. The study was published in the American Journal of Public Health in 1985.
Seventh day adventists are discouraged from consuming meat, eggs, drinking alcohol, and smoking cigarettes and as a result the number of vegetarians in the study was quite high with slightly over half the group considered to be vegetarians.
When compared to vegetarians, the risk of diabetes for meat eaters was found to be 70% higher for men and 40% higher for women. In particular, those men who consumed large amounts of meat (6 or more servings a week) were 2.7 times more likely to develop diabetes. Women who consumed 6 or more servings of meat a week were 2.3 times more likely to develop diabetes compared to vegetarians.
The study also found that the incidence of heart disease was much lower in the vegetarian group than for meat eaters.
It is thought that red meat is the type of meat most strongly linked to diabetes due to the large amounts of saturated fat contained in it. Poultry and fish on the other hand are not thought to increase diabetes risk. Saturated fat is known to stimulate the secretion of insulin and may eventually lead to insulin insensitivity. Certain compounds such as nitrosamide which are particularly prevalent in processed and cured meats have also been shown to induce diabetes in animal studies.
Vegetarian diets also tend to be higher in fiber than non-vegetarian diets. A high fiber intake is associated with a reduction in diabetes risk. Vegetarian diets are also generally lower in calories and studies suggest that BMI levels, another diabetes risk fator, are lower for vegetarians compared to the general population.
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