I’ve been mulling a new genre of studies related to red meat and diabetes, that claim that eating red meat – really any mammal meat – increases your risk of getting diabetes. The implication is that if we can convince people to toss the patty and eat just the bun, we could really turn this thing around.
The way these studies work is that they bundle a couple dozen individual studies of diet and diabetes into a meta-study, and comment on the combined direction of the aggregated studies.
If you’ve ever seen the movie The Big Short about the housing and financial crisis of 2007-2008, you might recall the financial instrument called a mortgage-backed security. Bankers took individual subprime loans that were largely worthless, and packaged them into a tradable asset on the theory that by aggregating garbage, you create something of value.
Something similar is happening here with these studies about meat and diabetes.
If you drill down to the individual studies about diet and diabetes, you see that the standalone studies set off to answer a question that no one is asking: If you take an individual who eats recklessly and without structure, and for 12 weeks feed them a portioned diet of rice and beans and vegetables, does his HbA1c decline modestly? Sure. Does adding meat to a high carb diet make things worse? Possibly, but there are so many confounding variables here (i.e., is the individual consuming adequate amounts of vitamin K2, found in the meat of animals that eat only grass? Is the problem an extreme amount of calories?).
Check out this website that shows the glycemic index of various foods. The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly a food causes our blood sugar levels to rise. The Glycemic Index scale is set from 0-100. Watermelon is 75, white rice is 70. Beef is: 0.0. Remember, type 2 diabetes is caused by your body losing its sensitivity to insulin because your body is reacting to too much sugar too often.
If you want to conduct a meaningful study about the potential harms of meat, do this: 1) Create a control group that eats, say, 2500 calories per day of grass-fed hamburger meat, pasture raised eggs, and a couple avocados vs. 2) the test group that eats 2500 calories per day of meat-free starch.
Now let’s draw some blood from the two groups before and after, and look at fasting insulin levels, glucose levels, and HbA1c, and make some bets. Any takers?