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Warning to Meat Eaters: Plant Protein May Protect Against Type 2 Diabetes

Mary Caffrey
The study from Finland evaluated the diets of men taking part in a larger study of heart disease risk.
Dietary protein may play a role in preventing type 2 diabetes (T2D), and those who eat meat may be at higher risk of developing the disease, according to a new study from Finland.

The findings, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, add to the evidence that diets high in animal protein—especially processed red meat—boost a person’s chances of developing T2D. What sets this study apart is the comparison of different kinds of protein, both plant and animal, in the same study.

Researchers found that plant-based protein can reduce T2D, which would suggest that a person eating several servings of bacon a week should swap in some lentils instead. In the study, grains were the main source of plant protein, with other sources being potatoes or other vegetables.

The team from the University of Eastern Finland studied the associations of dietary protein with the risk of T2D among those who took part in the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study, which took place from 1984 to 1989. Researchers studied the diets of 2332 men between the ages of 42 and 60 years of age who did not have T2D at baseline. Over a follow-up period of 19 years, 432 men were diagnosed with T2D.

According to the abstract, replacing 1% of calories from carbohydrates with protein was associated with a 5% increased risk of T2D, but this link weakened adjusting for fiber intake. By contrast, replacing 1% of calories from animal protein with plant protein was associated with an 18% decreased risk of T2D, and that link held up after adjusting for body mass index.


Virtanen HEK, Koskinen TT, Voutilainen S, et al. Intake of different dietary proteins and risk of type 2 diabetes in men: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study [published online April 11, 2017]. Br J Nutr. 2017;  DOI: 10.1017/S0007114517000745

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