Reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes by 20% with plant-based swaps

It’s been well known for quite a while that red meat isn’t particularly good for humans. But did you know it’s not just due to the risk of developing cancer? According to a 2023 analysis of 37 studies, swapping red meat in your diet with plant-based alternatives can cut the risk of type-2 diabetes by 20%

By red meat we refer to all mammalian muscle meat, including, beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse, and goat; and processed meat is when meat has been further processed for human consumption through salting, curing, fermentation, or smoking, etc. – generally to improve the taste or to increase its shelf life. The most common processed meats contain pork or beef, but often also contain other meats such as poultry, offal, or blood.

In 2014, the IARC (the International Agency for Research on Cancer set up by the World Health Organisation) classified red meat as Group 2A – probably carcinogenic to humans

Processed meat was classed as IARC group 1 – carcinogenic to humans. Group1 also includes smoking tobacco and asbestos. (The IARC classifications describe the strength of the scientific evidence about an agent being a cause of cancer, rather than assessing the level of risk.)

The types of cancers that have been linked with red meat include colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer; and processed meat was also linked to stomach cancer

However, it also now appears that consuming red meat – both processed and unprocessed – is strongly associated with a big increase in the risk of developing type-2 diabetes.

The study, “Substitution of animal-based with plant-based foods on cardiometabolic health and all-cause mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies“, was published on 16th November 2023:

Our findings suggest that a shift in diet from a high consumption of animal-based foods, especially red and processed meat, to plant-based foods (e.g., nuts, legumes, and whole grains) is associated with a lower risk of all-cause mortality, CVD, and T2D. Thus, a change in dietary habits towards an increment of plant-based products appears to be important for cardiometabolic health. However, more research is needed in order to strengthen the existing evidence and to investigate new associations, especially with a focus on meat and dairy replacement products.

BMC Medicine volume 21, Article number: 404

Similar finding were published in October on the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health website:

The researchers found that consumption of red meat, including processed and unprocessed red meat, was strongly associated with increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Participants who ate the most red meat had a 62% higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those who ate the least. Every additional daily serving of processed red meat was associated with a 46% greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes and every additional daily serving of unprocessed red meat was associated with a 24% greater risk.

Maya Brownstein, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 19th October 2023


If you want to avoid certain types of cancer, and would like to reduce your risk of developing type-2 diabetes, it seems pretty clear that swapping meat for vegetable alternatives will go a long way towards those aims.