Protein Source May Sway Diabetes Risk

Plant protein may decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes.

A diet high in plant proteins may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, while high meat intake may increase the risk, according to a new study published by the British Journal of Nutrition.

The results from the study add to growing evidence that dietary protein may play a role in the development of diabetes. It is well-understood that high consumption of red and processed meats may lead to health problems, including cancer, which is why current dietary guidelines recommend limiting their consumption.

Previous studies have linked a high intake of protein and animal proteins — particularly processed red meat – to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes. However, the differentiation of different sources of protein and diabetes risk has not been understood.

Included in the study were 2332 men aged 42 to 60 who did not have diabetes during baseline. The authors analyzed the diets of the participants from 1984 to 1989. A majority of plant protein in diets were from grain products, potatoes, and other vegetables.

During the follow-up, 432 patients were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

The authors found that patients with a high intake of plant protein were more likely to have a healthy lifestyle, but lifestyle alone did not account for lower diabetes risk, according to the study. Patients with a low intake of plant protein had a 35% increased risk of developing diabetes compared with those with a high intake of plant protein.

The authors then used a computational model to determine how alterations in diet would affect diabetes risk. Replacing only 5 grams of animal protein with plant protein would reduce diabetes risk by 18%, according to the study. This indicates that slightly changing diet would elicit great health effects.

Plant protein consumption was also linked to lower blood glucose levels at baseline, which may explain why intake of meat protein was observed to be associated with increased diabetes risk, according to the study.

The authors found a that high intake of meat resulted in a high risk of type 2 diabetes. With a high consumption of all meats — including processed and unprocessed red meat, white meat, and other meats –found to be strongly linked to increased diabetes risk.

The authors hypothesized that the link between meat and diabetes is likely the result of compounds found in meat other than the protein itself, since meat protein was not found to increase risk, according to the study.

They discovered that the intake of overall protein, including that found in animals, fish, and dairy, did not increase the risk of diabetes. Additionally, higher intake of egg protein was found to reduce diabetes risk, which suggests that other factors may be at involved.

These results indicate that increasing the intake of plant protein and reducing meat protien may protect against type 2 diabetes, the study concluded.