Meat Lover’s Guide to a Diabetes Diet. Is the aroma of a sizzling steak too good to resist? If you’re smart about how you choose red meat, it can have a place among other healthy protein sources in your diabetes diet.
Having diabetes means making some specific dietary changes, but you don’t have to give up all of your favorite foods. You just need to make better choices. If you’re a meat lover, knowing how to select quality red meat and avoiding processed types, like certain cold cuts, is key.
Cutting back on red meat and processed meats is beneficial even if you don’t have diabetes because it’s a heart-healthy strategy for any diet. And cutting back when you do have diabetes is even more important because all the fat and salt that comes along with processed meat can make diabetes control more difficult. On the other hand, your diabetes diet should include healthy protein, and the right lean red meat can fit the bill, but within limits.
About Diabetes and Red Meat
When researchers in Japan looked at the dietary habits and diabetes risk of 27,425 men and 36,424 women between 45 and 75 years old, they found that for men, but not women, red meat or processed meat consumption correlated with diabetes risk. The more of those meats the men ate, the greater their risk of developing type 2 diabetes, the authors concluded. A large study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found similar results in a large group of U.S. adults, although without a gender split.
And when yet another team of researchers reviewed studies on this link, they found similar results across the board. The conclusion? Eating a lot of red meat and processed meat appears to increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes. According to these findings published in Current Atherosclerosis Reports, processed meat in particular, with its high levels of sodium and additives, poses a serious health risk.
A Place for Red Meat in Your Diabetes Diet
There’s no clear-cut guideline for how much red meat is safe to eat when you have diabetes or pre-diabetes, says researcher Lu Qi, MD, PhD, assistant professor in the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. Dr. Qi’s research focuses on the interaction between the environment, which includes food choices, and diabetes risk. “My suggestion is to reduce intake of red meat as much as possible, and make the switch to white meat, such as chicken, poultry, fish, and other seafood,” he says.
To include red meat in a healthy diabetes diet, you have to be strategic — that means small portions and only occasionally. “You want to eat no more than 18 ounces of cooked red meat a week,” advises registered dietitian Meredith Nguyen, RD, of the Methodist Charlton Medical Center Diabetes Self-Management Program in Dallas. If you stick to serving sizes of approximately four ounces — about the size of a deck of cards or a bar of soap — that translates to between four and five servings of red meat per week.
Adopting that portion size will go a long way in bringing your red meat consumption within safe limits, says Ann Walker, RD, LD, a registered dietitian at the Cray Diabetes Self-Management Center at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City. That’s because we’re used to average American serving sizes that are two or three times as large. Meat, even fatty steaks, won’t raise your blood sugar, but the extra calories of supersized portions can hamper weight loss, and being overweight makes diabetes harder to control.
Red Meat: What to Choose
Balance in the protein sources you choose is also key to diabetes diet success, Nguyen says.
“It’s not that you can never have your steak. But if you do have red meat, pick the leaner cuts to reduce the saturated fat you eat,” she advises.
The healthiest red meat choices are those with “round” or “loin” in their name — they’re the leanest. If you want ground beef, look for labeling that states 95 percent lean or leaner. And, of course, always trim any visible fat off of your beef.
If your budget allows, shop for grass-fed beef when possible. Animals raised this way often produce meat with a healthier fat profile, including more omega-3 fatty acids (a “good” type of fat for a healthy diet).
For sandwiches, it’s important to replace processed meats with meat you prepare at home, or to buy meat prepared fresh by a butcher. Thinly slice a roast or steak for a whole-wheat pita wrap or to top a fresh salad.
So go ahead and order that steak the next time you’re dining out. Just remember to box up half of it and focus on leaner protein sources at other meals.