4 Things to know about diabetes and red meat


Are you living with diabetes or cooking for a family member with diabetes? Red meats like beef can help us to manage diabetes and the latest research findings confirms red meat continues to be part of a healthy diet.

 1. Protein rich foods like beef help to manage weight and blood sugars

Protein helps us to feel full longer, curbing hunger which can help with weight control. An estimated 80% to 90% of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight1 and we know sustained weight loss of even 5% of initial body weight can improve both blood sugar control and risks for heart disease.2

Beef provides an excellent source of protein for a modest number of calories. Consider this: it takes 5.5 servings of almonds at over 900 calories to get the same amount of protein that’s in 1 portion of beef at 245 calories.3

Good to know: A low glycemic diet helps to decrease the risk for type 2 diabetes and its complications (heart disease and stroke) as well as maintain or lose weight. Beef contains no carbohydrate so it has no glycemic index and fits easily into a low glycemic diet.

2. A rigorous series of reviews of the evidence found little to no health benefits for reducing red or processed meat consumption.

When a recent rigorous worldwide review of the best studies on red meat and chronic diseases such as diabetes was undertaken (by a 14 member panel from 7 countries), they found that the average amount of red meat eaten (3-4 times a week), is not significantly associated with diabetes, (or cancer and heart disease for that matter).4That’s roughly the same amount of fresh red meat that Canadians currently eat, about 3 servings per week5 – that’s one lunch and two dinners for example, and this includes beef, pork or lamb. A serving is 100 grams – that’s a steak about the size of your palm.

Good to know: For personalized expert healthy eating advice to either reduce your risks for diabetes or to help you manage your diabetes and to help you find diabetes services in your area contact 1-800-BANTING (226-8486) or info@diabetes.ca.

3. Anti-inflammatory diets include red meat

Diabetes has been linked to chronic inflammation6 – and while there is still much to be learned about this connection, an anti-inflammatory diet is basically an overall healthy diet and that includes nutritious foods like beef.

An example of this is the Mediterranean diet. It is widely recognized as a healthy way of eating that is high in wholesome foods, (eg. vegetables, fruit, nuts, whole grains, fish, lean meat and legumes), and low in ultra-processed foods, (eg. sweet baked goods, white bread, fast food, hot dogs, sugary drinks, frozen pizza).

Good to know: On average Canadians eat a moderate amount of red meat, about the same as people in Mediterranean countries.

4. For heart health, it’s far better to focus on total diet, not any one food or nutrient

Living with diabetes can be worrisome because it increases your risk for heart disease and stroke. While eating a healthy diet can reduce our risks of complications, on average, our diets are not very healthy. Consider this: Canadians are the second largest buyers of ultra-processed foods and drinks in the world, accounting for on average 47% of calories eaten.8

Heart and Stroke research shows that Canadian adults who consume the highest amounts of ultra-processed foods have 31% higher odds of developing obesity, 37% higher odds of diabetes and 60% higher odds of high blood pressure.8

Good to know: Because our dietary patterns have fundamentally shifted over the decades, from a more nutrient-rich wholesome diet to a calorie-rich, nutrient-poor diet, cutting back on any single food or nutrient (even saturated fat) is unlikely to correct this significant imbalance.

  1. Wing RR. Weight loss in the management of type 2 diabetes. In: Gerstein HC, Hyanes B, eds. Evidence-based diabetes care. Hamilton: B.C. Decker Inc., 2000, pg. 252–76.
  2. Diabetes Canada – https://www.diabetes.ca/health-care-providers/clinical-practice-guidelines/chapter-17#panel-tab_References
  3. Health Canada, Canadian Nutrient File, 2015. Food codes: Almonds 2534, Beef 6172.
  4. Johnston BC et al. Unprocessed red meat and processed meat consumption: dietary guideline recommendations from the Nutritional Recommendations (NutriRECS) Consortium. Ann Intern Med 2019; [Epub ahead of print 1 October 2019]. doi: 10.7326/M19-1621
  5. Canadian Community Health Surveys (Nutrition) 2015, Statistics Canada
  6. Tsalamandris et al. The Role of Inflammation in Diabetes: Current Concepts and Future Perspectives. Eur Cardiol. 2019 Apr;14(1):50-59.
  7. Wyness L et al. Red Meat in the Diet: An Update. British Nutrition Foundation Nutrition Bulletin March 2011; 36:34–77.
  8. Heart and Stroke, How Ultra Processed Foods Affects Health in Canada 
 accessed March 27, 2020.


Carol Harrison is a registered dietitian in Toronto. Follow Carol on Twitter and Instagram


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