The Relationship Between Diabetes and Red Processed Meat

Christine Zalnieraite

2021 Feb 27

10 min read

For many people with chronic health conditions, a lot of thought needs to be put into lifestyle and diet to prevent, eliminate or ease particular symptoms. Type 2 diabetes, for example, is a chronic health condition requiring the patient to make considered choices regarding the foods and nutrients they ingest daily.

If you pay any kind of attention to the world of health and fitness, you will know that meat and protein, in general, is a topic of hot discussion among experts and ‘regulars’ alike. There are diets like the keto diet, which promote an almost entirely protein-based eating schedule to lose weight and be as healthy as possible, and then at the other end of the spectrum, there are those who argue that cutting out as many meat sources of protein as possible is the more sensible way to go. The argument has gained even more limelight in recent years with the environmental considerations of meat production and processed meat consumption.

No matter what the different dieticians think, the one certain thing is that special attention must be paid to this issue if you have diabetes. While non-diabetes people enjoy more freedom in their dietary choices, those with diabetes need to follow a strict and recommended set of guidelines in order for them to remain as healthy as they can within the constraints of their condition.

Over the course of this article, we will take a brief look at what exactly diabetes is and then further look into the relationship that diabetes has with processed meat and red meat in particular. Hopefully, learning about the relationship will help you make better future decisions regarding your thoughts and actions around eating processed meat and your general health.

What is Diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes, as opposed to type 1 diabetes, is a severe chronic health condition that arises when your pancreas cannot produce enough insulin to break down the sugar in your blood. 

Around 90% of the world’s diabetic population are type 2, and the leading factor in the diagnosis and onset of the condition across the globe is obesity. Knowing this fact, it becomes more apparent why a person’s eating habits and regular dietary choices are so heavily linked to their experience with diabetes.

A person who suffers from type 2 diabetes, if they are overweight or obese, will most likely be asked to change their lifestyle to start achieving a lower body weight and give themselves a better chance of reversing their diagnosis. The diet they will be recommended to undertake will remove the obvious sugar-loaded items, but it will also recommend removing processed meats, particularly red meats.

What is Processed Meat?

So, you know that studies suggest diabetes sufferers should cut back on their intake of things like canned meat and processed meats, but do you know what types of foods we are talking about when we say that?  What exactly is processed meat?

Simply put, processed meat is any kind of red meat that has been preserved through a process like salting, curing, canning, smoking, or drying.

Some of the most popular examples of processed meats that you will no doubt be familiar with include:

  • Ham
  • Cured bacon
  • Corned beef
  • Cured and salted meats.
  • Smoked meats.
  • Dried meats like beef jerky.
  • Canned meats.
  • Hot dogs
  • Sausages
  • Salami
  • Cold cuts
  • All other foods with/of red meat have gone through a curing process, smoking, canning process, etc.

Something important to note is that meat that has been frozen or undergone any kind of mechanical processing such as slicing or cutting isn’t considered processed and can therefore be classed as unprocessed. Just because you are encouraged to give up eating processed meat doesn’t mean you are required to give up eating meat entirely. There are other, better options.

Is Red Meat Bad for Diabetes?

When it comes to the relationship between red processed meat and diabetes, studies suggest that anyone wishing to change their eating habits to improve their health should avoid processed meat of any kind.

Alarmingly, the World Health Organization has recently broken the news that processed meat products have been classified as a ‘definite’ cancer risk, with red meat, in general, being thrown in as a ‘probable’ cancer risk all on its own.

When talking about red meat and red processed meat, processed meat refers to any kind of meat that is dark red in color before it is cooked. This relates to things like beef and lamb, but also, significantly, pork is still classed as red despite its lighter color. It’s good to be educated on the concept of processed meat. Take bacon, for example. It might look like a fresh meat product, but it is high in nitrates used as preservatives, so bacon is still processed meat by definition. We recommend always choosing nitrate-free bacon!

With such a stark warning from experts in their field, even people with absolutely no health problems are starting to think that lowering their processed meat consumption might be a good idea. As you can imagine, this is even more crucial and time-sensitive for anyone who is trying to fight against the issues that diabetes brings.

Without trying to cause too much immediate concern, the studies have suggested that eating processed meats at an excessive amount of can be a leading cause of the increased risk and development of the following:

  • Colorectal cancer
  • Bowel and stomach cancer
  • Skin cancer
  • Chronic diseases
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Heart disease
  • Colon cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • General risk of cancer increases for most parts of the body.

For things like bowel cancer and stomach cancer, the scientific evidence suggests that you are as much as 17% more likely to develop cancer risk if you eat too much red meat. 

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All of this, of course, can have a massive impact on somebody who is already fighting type 2 diabetes. If you can start to lower your intake of processed meats like hot dogs, beef jerky, smoked meat, and the rest, then you are giving your body the best chance to be able to shift some of that extra weight and also reverse some of the damage that your diabetes has potentially been causing up to this point.

What Meat is Good for Diabetes?

So, if red meat and processed meat are to be avoided on the advice of the World Health Organization, then what exactly should a person with diabetes be adding to their healthy diet instead?

The main thing about meat consumption in a healthy diet is that fresh meat (unprocessed meat) is far better than any processed meat. 

Foods such as fish, seafood, chicken, turkey, and even turkey bacon are all better choices than red meat and processed meat. If you avoid canned meat and salted, cured, and smoked meat, you are doing your body a real favor.

Diets high in red meat consumption are never as healthy as diets that feature a higher amount of white meat and fish/seafood.

If you must eat red meat, eat it less often and in smaller portions. If you want to phase out red meat and eat processed meat in general, there are ways to achieve this with little effort.

For example:

  • Half your red meat portion will automatically half the risk factors of that particular plate of food.
  • Choose something like rotisserie chicken or fish instead.
  • Instead of a large portion of minced beef, use less beef and add vegetables or beans to the mix to bulk it up satisfactorily.
  • Avoid frozen meals that contain the most processed meat and choose fresh whole foods to make the meals yourself.
  • Explore the options of non-meat, vegetarian options, and meat substitutes. There has been a massive blossoming of plant-based foods on the market.
  • Reduce consumption or even avoid altogether processed meat products containing many chemical preservatives. It is the preservatives that are often cited as the leading causes of increasing cancer risk.

Plant-based and vegetarian diets are considered by many to be the best for a person with diabetes. Alongside the leaner, unprocessed meat-based preparations, you should pack your lunch and dinner plates with plenty of fiber, fruits, and vegetables. None of those food groups have been found to harm diabetes. Salt is another big thing to try to cut down on, and we don’t just mean the salt used in a curing process for things like beef jerky, salami, and other cold cuts.

A vegetarian diet completely eliminates any risk factors associated with red meat, processed meat, and other animal foods and is a much better lifestyle that can lead to a healthy weight. So, the healthier your weight, the less likely you will develop diabetes again.


So, what have we learned from reading this article? We have understood that eating processed meat puts yourself at a higher risk of not only worsening your diabetes but also of putting yourself into the severe category of being a multiple cancer risk.

Processed meat consumption around the world is higher today than ever, and there is no doubt that it is contributing massively to the global public health crisis that we find ourselves in related to both cancer and diabetes. In particular, type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition that can be treated with the right patient care, focus, and dedication.

If you can cut out processed meats, you are putting yourself in a much stronger position to live a healthier and happier life, with a healthy weight and feeling secure that you are not adding to any cancer risk. Staying away from all kinds of cancer-causing substances is a good idea!

At this point, there is more than enough evidence to suggest that those who eat processed meats are in high danger of various chronic diseases. If you don’t want to be in that category anymore, then make the sensible choice to eat meat that is much better for you. Chicken is great, fish is excellent, and vegetarian diets are great if you want to go all the way and cut out meat entirely.

Of course, achieving all of this is much easier said than done. It can be challenging to break a lifelong habit of eating red and processed meat products. A hot dog is delicious, as is beef jerky, but the trick is finding whole foods and alternatives that will make you healthier and happier with your diet. 

The best way to stay on track with a lifestyle change like this is to seek out as much help, and guidance as possible, and that guidance can be found on the Klinio app. On Klinio, you can plan your meals to the most detailed and strict degrees, ensuring that your schedule always works for you and that you always have a helpful guide to turn to when you aren’t feeling inspired.

Klinio is a valuable tool that can be the difference between a person with diabetes continuing in their bad habits and a person with diabetes who is committed to giving up eating processed meat products and can see the light at the end of the tunnel in terms of better health and a new life.

The bottom line is that you may have to give up your favorite hot dog, but you get a decreased risk of cancer and a lower level of type 2 diabetes that, hopefully, can turn into no risk at all.

Written by

Christine Zalnieraite

Christine is a registered and licensed dietitian (RD, LD) with more than eight years of professional experience. Christine is an expert in dietetics that includes human nutrition and the regulation of the proper individual diet. She alters patient's nutrition based on their medical condition and individual needs. Education: Master’s degree in Human Nutrition and Food Safety and two Bachelors of Science - Bachelor in Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics, and Human Nutrition and Food Safety. Also, she continues to deepen her knowledge in Ph.D. studies of Medical Science and Dietetics.

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