If you’ve been thinking about making #MeatlessMonday a permanent part of your meal-planning schedule (hello, spicy vegan tacos!), there’s no better time than now. While the age-old solution for avoiding and managing diabetes is to focus on cutting back on sugar (and many folks go on the Paleo diet in their efforts), a new study shows eating meat is also associated with an increased risk of developing the disease.
Those who ate the most red meat had a 23 percent higher risk of developing diabetes, and those who ate the most poultry had a 15 percent higher risk.
When researchers analyzed data taken from 63,257 participants over the the course of 11 years in the Singapore Chinese Health Study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, they found those who ate the most red meat had a 23 percent higher risk of developing diabetes, and those who ate the most poultry had a 15 percent higher risk than those with the lowest intake.
But what’s so bad about red meat and poultry? Researchers think the higher risk of developing diabetes is partly due to the high content of heme iron in these foods. Since the body can’t control the absorption rate of heme iron, excess amounts remain in your body rather than get disposed—which can cause a slew of health concerns, according to Growing Naturals.
Some parts of the chicken with lower heme-iron levels (like the breast and thighs) “could be healthier,” says the study, but cutting back in general—in favor of plant-based non-heme iron sources—is recommended. If you’re not ready to go full-on vegetarian, though, replacing red meat and poultry with fish actually helped reduce the participants’ risk (along with other diet staples).
“We don’t need to remove meat from the diet entirely,” said lead study author Koh Woon Puay, PhD, in a press release. “[We] just need to reduce the daily intake, especially for red meat, and choose chicken breast and fish/shellfish, or plant-based protein food and dairy products, to reduce the risk of diabetes. At the end of the day, we want to provide the public with information to make evidence-based choices in picking the healthier food to reduce disease risk.”
Luckily, it’s super easy (not to mention totally delicious) to add more meat-free dishes into your rotation: Start your day with some chia pudding, whip up some protein-packed sweet potato pad Thai for lunch, and savor some squash blossom pizza for dinner. You might end up forgetting your intent to amp up your veggie intake.