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The Truth About Red Meat and Diabetes

Hot Dogs
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Not all red meat is created equal – some isn’t even good enough to even be considered food.

Yet when a news article talks about red meat being bad for you, you can bet the author (or the study behind the news) failed to distinguish between processed meat and unprocessed meat, as well as overcooked meat and properly cooked meat. That’s not even considering grass-fed meat vs. industrial meat, which I’ve blogged about extensively.

“Red-meat-is-bad” articles don’t always deserve a rebuttal because *most* red meat actually is bad for you. However, it’s a major mistake to say all red meat is bad for you. This post serves to confront misleading headlines about red meat and diabetes risk. Let’s ask a few questions, see what the science actually says, and talk about the Bulletproof recommendations.

Processed meats like hot dogs, bologna, deli meats etc. contain high omega-6’s, often have mold toxins called mycotoxins, and nitrates that can combine with bad gut bacteria. All of these can be correlated with an increased risk of diabetes. Instead, insist on eating grass fed, low toxin meat to promote good health and optimize performance.

Research Doesn’t Distinguish Between Processed Red Meat and Unprocessed Red Meat

When articles suggest red meat causes chronic diseases like diabetes, you would expect a high degree of specificity and accuracy. Unfortunately all you get are alarming headlines and half-truths.

When you see blog posts like “Hot Dogs, Bacon and Red Meat Tied to Increased Diabetes Risk,” you should ask yourself how the authors justify lumping hot dogs (a blend of soy, wheat, MSG, and cast off animal parts) in with meat and what the study design looked like. Of course, the recent news about diabetes referenced a study that did not distinguish hot dogs, bologna and deli meats from unprocessed red meats. It also only used questionnaires vs actual tests, and failed to take into consideration how the meat was cooked.1 This study says that increasing red meat consumption over time is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM), but all conclusions were based off participants’ self-reported food frequency questionnaires (FFQ). FFQs are known to have accuracy issues that inhibit researchers from drawing honest correlations.2

Because many studies like this one have shown mixed results using unreliable measures,  researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) conducted a systematic review to distinguish between types of meat. This review found that eating processed meat was associated with a 19% higher risk of type 2 diabetes; however, the researchers did not find any higher risk of diabetes among individuals eating unprocessed red meat, such as beef, pork, or lamb.3

This study defined unprocessed red meat as any meat from beef, pork, or lamb that hasn’t been preserved by smoking, curing, salting, or with the addition of chemical preservatives. Examples of processed meats include salami, sausages, hot dogs, and lunch meats. HSPH researchers suggests that more research is needed into which factors in processed meats contribute to poor health and diabetes.

With the current efforts to update the United State government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, policy makers should focus on reducing intake of processed meats for multiple reasons.

How Processed Meats Harm Health and Increase Risk of Diabetes

A) Most processed meats throw off your omega-6:omega-3 ratio

Processed meats fed from soy and corn also have extra omega-6 oils. The correct balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fats is essential to optimizing your health and reducing your risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, depression, Alzheimer’s, and rheumatoid arthritis. According to anti-aging researchers, the minimum ideal ratio of omega-6 oil to omega-3 is 4:1, but the typical Western diet is between 20:1 and 50:1 because people consume far too many processed and fried foods like vegetable oils and industrial meat. After I started eating totally Bulletproof, my omega-6: omega-3 ratio dropped to 1.28:1.4

Although all meat, even grass-fed, contains some omega-6’s, processed, cured, and overcooked meats contain higher levels of oxidized toxins in omega-6’s called 4-Hydroxynonenal (HNE). These toxins are absorbed into your tissues and cause inflammation, which drastically increases fat oxidation in your cells.5

This is one reason the Bulletproof® Diet recommends grass fed meat that is carefully prepared at lower temperatures. It’s also one reason most studies on meat consumption and health are woefully inadequate – they fail to consider how the meat is cooked.

B) Dry-cured meats are breeding grounds for mycotoxins

Mold toxins are common contaminants of all industrial meat, but there are even more in dry-cured meat products.6 Mold toxins, also known as mycotoxins, are damaging compounds produced by various molds and fungi. In addition to causing poor human performance, they can also cause cancer, brain damage, and heart, liver, and kidney disease. High performance people should minimize all routes of exposure.

C) Bad gut bacteria mixed with processed meats may decrease insulin sensitivity

Your gut bacteria help to maintain your health, partly by maintaining the intestinal barrier that prevents toxins from entering your bloodstream. Bad gut bacteria actually form new toxins from processed meats, and increase their ability to enter your body.

Poor quality processed meats tend to be pumped with antibiotics that are harmful to gut flora. Studies show that antibiotics cause a profound and rapid loss of diversity and a shift in the composition of the gut flora that can not be recovered without dietary interventions.7

Nitrates in processed meat, especially bacon, get a lot of attention. Although processed meat contains up to 50% more nitrate than unprocessed meat, nitrates themselves are only a problem when you have bad gut bacteria. With an imbalanced gut flora, diabetes experts say that nitrates lessen the release of insulin, which reduces glucose tolerance and increases risk of diabetes. This negative effect on glucose levels helps explain why Harvard researchers found that eating just one serving a day of processed meats (i.e. two slices of salami or a hot dog) was linked to a 20% increase in risk for diabetes.3

Bad gut bacteria will also make nitrosamines from dietary nitrate. See below for more…

D) Nitrosamines in processed meats are linked to increased risk of stomach cancer

Swedish researchers found a higher risk of stomach cancer among those who ate processed meat.8 In Hawaii, researchers followed participants for seven years and concluded that those who ate the most processed meat showed a 67% greater risk of pancreatic cancer over those who did not eat processed meat.

The best way to avoid nitrosamines is to avoid overcooking processed meats, or insist on eating grass fed meat cooked on low heat. If you do choose to eat processed meats on occasion, you can help prevent nitrosamine formation in the body by taking at least 250 mg of vitamin C with your meal, or a lot more. (I do at least 1 gram.)  Vitamin C with red meat can increase iron absorption. Increased iron levels (ferritin levels) are correlated with diabetes. Elevated iron levels are not normally an issue for menstruating females, but men should get their iron levels tested regularly, or just donate blood every 3-6 months.9

Bulletproof Solutions to Reduce Risk of Diabetes

  1. Avoid processed meats, unless they are cured with ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and nitrates at the same time, which prevents nitrosamine formation. I cure my own bacon this way – video to come! Most often, insist on grass fed meat, wild-caught fish, or other low toxin unprocessed meats. Celery powder is simply organic nitrite; don’t be fooled.
  2. Eat a doctor-recommended diet like the Bulletproof® Diet to better balance your omega-6:omega-3 ratio and reduce intake of mycotoxins.
  3. Follow the macronutrient guidelines from the Bulletproof® Diet and aim for around 50-70% of your calories from high quality fats and oils to prevent eating too much protein and promote a healthy omega-6:omega-3 ratio.
  4. Cook your food correctly. Cook your foods on moderate to low heat for shorter periods of time, erring on the side of less rather than more. However, the right cooking methods vary for each type of meat. This is why I wrote Upgraded™ Chef, a recipe book that teaches you exactly how to prepare the least inflammatory food for optimal performance and health. Including antioxidant spices is a great idea too.
  5. If you do eat processed meat, take at least 250 mg of vitamin C with it to help block nitrosamine formation in the gut. Men should give blood on occasion too to prevent excess iron buildup.
  6. Work on improving your gut flora– stay tuned for an upcoming series on biohacking your gut biome.

Click to read the complete list of references.


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  • Alex Vigano

    These studies often don’t factor in lifestyle choices… I. E. People who eat more red meat tend to be more likely to be smokers and live sedentary lifestyles. Other factors include that health conscience people have avoided red meat due to it being demonized.

  • Paige Cargioli

    I want that bacon video ASAP.

    • Dagda


    • Brandon Richerson

      +10 Bacon Vid me !

  • Hyde Tittlebutter

    It’s really unfortunate that the media easily and so willingly manipulates the public; or worse yet: those that are hired to collect data, do the research, and present it are either as uneducated as a freshman in high school or purposely pushing their own agenda.

  • Steve

    I think Chirs Kresser’s take on
    nitrates makes more sense than yours. Your take on
    “less-than-impeccable” meat is extreme and elitist. You are drifting
    away from a palatable (and believable) message with this rhetoric. It’s one
    thing to have perfection as a goal, it is quite another to be critical of good
    efforts that come up a little short.

    • Aaron Lorch

      You’re sounding extreme and elitist yourself. Dave has always made it clear that he’s in this for the ultimate in performance boosts, palatable or not. If someone elses efforts come up short, then they’ve come up short. Move on. Try again.

    • lee chang

      I agree that Dave is slightly elitist. However, that doesn’t make the message less believable. On the contrary, it shows that he’s not pandering to what could be a larger, more everyman-like audience. He is no doubt alienating people, yourself included, but to me that speaks to the integrity of his findings.
      I worry when the “facts” are too comforting.

    • Tekshow

      Why do people feel the remote need to criticize someone’s work for positive change and information? If you’re not going to say anything constructive then don’t …….. Where s your blog and articles Steve so we can slam it for the sake of doing so? Sorry I forgot I was on the Internet :p

  • Dan M

    I’d be happy just with your brine recipe. I stuff and smoke my own sausage and plan to expand to bacon and ham not only because of the rising store prices, but because I’m uncomfortable with commerically cured products.

  • MC

    Generally processed meat is eaten with other foods that are probably more problematic than the meat itself. Hotdogs eaten on buns with not-so-good sauces. Pepperoni eaten on pizza crusts with cheese and dipping sauces. Deli meats eaten in bread featuring canola oil mayonnaise.

    Then the meals end with a can of coke, or a glass of orange juice.

    That’s far more important than the meat being grass fed and cooked properly.
    Grain fed steak, that’s somewhat overcooked with some processed bacon on the side isn’t going to give anyone diabetes.

  • Nichole

    GREAT article! This whole thing is interesting to me. My husband is Argentinian, and after having been there to experience the culture and learn about their food industry, they eat a TON of meat and virtually have no health side effects from it. Of course, most of their meats come straight off the farms, slaughtered humanely. So hard to watch things go on here in the US after knowing what else is out there, so thank you for providing this great information!

  • Peter Sargison

    Dave, what is your response to articles such as these?

  • Plate

    You cAn tell a grass fed diet works just by the sheer effects on your skin after eating for awhile. Wrinkles start to go away, skin gets smoother, color tone is better…problem is its just so friggin expensive to sustain this kind of diet. I do the best I can but I do eat the occasional McDs GMO burger

    • BulletproofTinMan

      I got lucky by having a butcher shop 5 minutes from my house that sells grass fed/grass finished beef for $4.50/pound of lean ground(wish it was full fat though!). But I do have to drive to the states to buy my butter though.. win some lose some

      • Blogging4Living

        Man Ill trade you that deal! Its easy to find grass fed butter, even some commercial markets are carrying it now (forgot the name, can get it, but its from Ireland..they also sell grass fed cheese…though I was it was raw for the added benefits)

        • Guest


        • UltimatePowa

          I live in Washington State on the eastern side and there are plenty of Yoke’s Fresh Markets around here.

          Plus the weed’s legal.

  • SteveRN

    Just curious, will you be mentioning potato starch/ resistant starch, as recently discussed on Free The Animal, in your gut biome post? Have you read the posts and comments? A veritable gold mine of info if you have not. Looking forward to your post.

  • Scott

    Dave- will you please address the new research showing that Omega 3 supplementation increases your risk of prostate cancer by 71%:

    I have stopped Krill Oil supplementation due to this study.

    • David Masterson

      Headline: “Link Between Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Increased Prostate Cancer Risk Confirmed” and the article’s content: “…scientists at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center has confirmed the link between high blood concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids and an increased risk of prostate cancer” are NOT CONGRUENT! ”
      “High blood concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids” isn’t the same as consuming an effective amount in your diet. Just how much omega-3 would you have to consume to get to “High blood concentrations”. Bet its a lot.

  • Pingback: #57 Becoming Alpha, Dispelling Myths & Making Changes, with Adam Bornstein – Podcast

  • DevourCatering

    fascinating post, really enjoyed it

  • GargleSnouch

    I eat pickles and razzles for breakfast, then smoked limes for lunch. Will I go to heaven?

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