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  • Writer's pictureJulia Ryan

The True Cause of Type 2 Diabetes | Nutrition Mythbusters

Balanced is excited to bring to you our Nutrition Mythbusters series in which we debunk eight major myths about the links between diet and health! We believe that accurate, evidence-based nutrition information should be accessible to everyone. That’s why we created this educational series dispelling some of the most common and persistent misconceptions regarding healthy, balanced eating and diet-related disease. You can find the video episode of today's blog on our YouTube channel.


Education on Type 2 Diabetes is fraught with misinformation, particularly concerning carbohydrates. If you have been told that the main dietary causes of type 2 diabetes mellitus are excess carbohydrates and sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), you are not alone. This myth has been circulating for some time. This narrative has been propagated by food companies and industry-funded research for decades.

The truth is, however, that saturated fat is the dietary origin of type 2 diabetes, which in turn is further exacerbated by refined sugars. In 1935, researchers discovered the link between meat consumption and type 2 diabetes.

In 2005, the US Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended lowering consumption of red and processed meats for the first time. Just a daily serving of processed meat may result in a 19% increased risk for diabetes. Processed meats include, but are not limited to, bacon, hot dogs, sausages, deli meats, and ground beef.

So, how does meat intake cause diabetes?

After consuming a fatty meal, fat molecules circulating in the bloodstream move into muscle cells. Once fat collects in muscle cells, insulin communication is hindered. As a result, blood sugar remains in the bloodstream; glucose cannot effectively enter muscle cells and insulin resistance ensues.

In addition, heme iron, found in meat, damages the pancreatic cells responsible for insulin production. This is because heme iron advances oxidative stress.

Other empirical evidence points to red meat as a cause of type 2 diabetes. In the Women’s Health Study, high consumption of processed red meat was linked to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.

Plant-forward and plant-based dietary patterns greatly reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes and, in some cases, may reverse a diagnosis of Type 2 Diabetes.

A plant-based, high-carbohydrate diet is often prescribed to prevent and even treat type 2 diabetes. Evidence emerged back in the 1950s supporting the benefits of a high-carbohydrate diet to ameliorate high blood sugar. Among those consuming plant-rich diets, compared to other dietary patterns, type 2 diabetes prevalence is much lower. This evidence directly contradicts the myth that carbohydrates are the dietary origin of type 2 diabetes.

Foods that are particularly protective against type 2 diabetes include grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts. When choosing grains, it is important to focus on 100% whole grain breads, cereals, and rices, as these are most healthful and have been shown to reduce the risk of developing diabetes. Fruits and vegetables are always critical to a healthful diet, but certain varieties are especially helpful; these include root vegetables, leafy greens, grapes, apples, and blueberries. Finally, it is important to consume legumes and nuts, such as beans, lentils, and walnuts. Legumes and nuts in particular help stave off insulin resistance and prevent the occurrence of other diet-related diseases.

It is difficult to make immediate and substantial dietary changes. However, according to one study, replacing just 5% of energy intake from animal-source foods with vegetable-source proteins correlates with a 23% reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. Finally, while the cause of diabetes is meat consumption and saturated fat, it is important to largely avoid refined grains and SSBs, as they exacerbate type 2 diabetes and contribute to other diet-related diseases.

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