Red Meat Consumption (Heme Iron Intake) and Risk for Diabetes and Comorbidities?


Purpose of Review

To examine the role of red meat consumption, especially heme iron intake, and risk for diabetes and its comorbidities.

Recent Findings

Studies consistently show that consumption of red meat has been contributory to a multitude of chronic conditions such as diabetes, CVD, and malignancies. There are various emerging reasons that strengthen this link—from the basic constituents of red meat like the heme iron component, the metabolic reactions that take place after consumption, and finally to the methods used to cook it. The causative links show that even occasional use raises the risk of T2DM.


Prior studies show how nitrites and nitrates in red meat can lead to increased insulin resistance, dysregulated blood glucose levels, and elevated oxidative stress all leading to chronic diseases. With the rise in these preventable chronic diseases, we examine how disease-causing links can be eliminated with appropriate lifestyle choices.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major Importance

  1. 1.

    •• Talaei M, Wang YL, Yuan JM, Pan A, Koh WP. Meat, dietary heme iron, and risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus: The Singapore Chinese Health Study. Am J Epidemiol. 2017;186(7):824–33. This study provides a thorough description of how red meat and heme iron intake were associated with higher risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Mari-Sanchis A, Gea A, Basterra-Gortari FJ, Martinez-Gonzalez MA, Beunza JJ, Bes-Rastrollo M. Meat consumption and risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the SUN project: a highly educated middle-class population. PLoS One. 2016;11(7):e0157990.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Pan A, Sun Q, Bernstein AM, Schulze MB, Manson JE, Stampfer MJ, et al. Red meat consumption and mortality: results from 2 prospective cohort studies. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(7):555–63.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Pan A, Sun Q, Bernstein AM, Schulze MB, Manson JE, Willett WC, et al. Red meat consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: 3 cohorts of US adults and an updated meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;94(4):1088–96.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Schulze MB, Manson JE, Willett WC, Hu FB. Processed meat intake and incidence of type 2 diabetes in younger and middle-aged women. Diabetologia. 2003;46(11):1465–73.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    van Dam RM, Willett WC, Rimm EB, Stampfer MJ, Hu FB. Dietary fat and meat intake in relation to risk of type 2 diabetes in men. Diabetes Care. 2002;25(3):417–24.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Wyness L. The role of red meat in the diet: nutrition and health benefits. Proc Nutr Soc. 2016;75(3):227–32.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Binnie MA, Barlow K, Johnson V, Harrison C. Red meats: time for a paradigm shift in dietary advice. Meat Sci. 2014;98(3):445–51.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Bouvard V, Loomis D, Guyton KZ, Grosse Y, Ghissassi FE, Benbrahim-Tallaa L, et al. International Agency for Research on Cancer Monograph Working G: carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat. Lancet Oncol. 2015;16(16):1599–600.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Tasevska N, Sinha R, Kipnis V, Subar AF, Leitzmann MF, Hollenbeck AR, et al. A prospective study of meat, cooking methods, meat mutagens, heme iron, and lung cancer risks. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;89(6):1884–94.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Santarelli RL, Pierre F, Corpet DE. Processed meat and colorectal cancer: a review of epidemiologic and experimental evidence. Nutr Cancer. 2008;60(2):131–44.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Zhou D, Xi B, Zhao M, Wang L, Veeranki SP. Uncontrolled hypertension increases risk of all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality in US adults: the NHANES III Linked Mortality Study. Sci Rep. 2018;8(1):9418.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Wolk A. Potential health hazards of eating red meat. J Intern Med. 2017;281(2):106–22.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    •• Swaminathan S, Fonseca VA, Alam MG, Shah SV. The role of iron in diabetes and its complications. Diabetes Care. 2007;30(7):1926–33. This review article provides an in-depth discussion on how elevated body iron stores play a role in the pathophysiology of type 2 diabetes and its complications, particularly diabetic nephropathy and cardiovascular disease (CVD).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    White DL, Collinson A. Red meat, dietary heme iron, and risk of type 2 diabetes: the involvement of advanced lipoxidation endproducts. Adv Nutr. 2013;4(4):403–11.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Fernandez-Real JM, Lopez-Bermejo A, Ricart W. Cross-talk between iron metabolism and diabetes. Diabetes. 2002;51(8):2348–54.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Battaglia Richi E, Baumer B, Conrad B, Darioli R, Schmid A, Keller U. Health risks associated with meat consumption: a review of epidemiological studies. Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 2015;85(1–2):70–8.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Pan A, Sun Q, Bernstein AM, Manson JE, Willett WC, Hu FB. Changes in red meat consumption and subsequent risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus: three cohorts of US men and women. JAMA Intern Med. 2013;173(14):1328–35.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    de la Monte SM, Tong M, Lawton M, Longato L. Nitrosamine exposure exacerbates high fat diet-mediated type 2 diabetes mellitus, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, and neurodegeneration with cognitive impairment. Mol Neurodegener. 2009;4:54.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Powell LW, Seckington RC, Deugnier Y. Haemochromatosis. Lancet. 2016;388(10045):706–16.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Egger G, Dixon J. Beyond obesity and lifestyle: a review of 21st century chronic disease determinants. Biomed Res Int. 2014;2014:731685.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    • Halliwell B, Gutteridge JM. Role of free radicals and catalytic metal ions in human disease: an overview. Methods Enzymol. 1990;186:1–85. This review article provides a detailed description of the role of free radicals and catalytic metal ions in human disease.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    El-Bab MF, Zaki NS, Mojaddidi MA, Al-Barry M, El-Beshbishy HA. Diabetic retinopathy is associated with oxidative stress and mitigation of gene expression of antioxidant enzymes. Int J Gen Med. 2013;6:799–806.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Gorin Y, Block K. Nox as a target for diabetic complications. Clin Sci (Lond). 2013;125(8):361–82.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Headland SE, Norling LV. The resolution of inflammation: principles and challenges. Semin Immunol. 2015;27(3):149–60.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Matzinger M, Fischhuber K, Heiss EH. Activation of Nrf2 signaling by natural products—can it alleviate diabetes? Biotechnol Adv. 2018;36(6):1738–67.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    • Schwingshackl L, Hoffmann G, Lampousi AM, Knuppel S, Iqbal K, Schwedhelm C, et al. Food groups and risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. Eur J Epidemiol. 2017;32(5):363–75. This systematic review and meta-analysis provided comprehensive knowledge regarding the association between whole grains, refined grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, eggs, dairy, fish, red meat, processed meat, and sugar-sweetened beverages intake and risk of type 2 diabetes.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Kataria Y, Wu Y, Horskjaer PH, Mandrup-Poulsen T, Ellervik C. Iron status and gestational diabetes—a meta-analysis. Nutrients. 2018;10(5)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Andrews NC. The iron transporter DMT1. Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 1999;31(10):991–4.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Miyajima H. Aceruloplasminemia, an iron metabolic disorder. Neuropathology. 2003;23(4):345–50.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Adams PC, Reboussin DM, Barton JC, McLaren CE, Eckfeldt JH, McLaren GD, et al. Hemochromatosis and iron-overload screening in a racially diverse population. N Engl J Med. 2005;352(17):1769–78.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Shah SV, Fonseca VA. Iron and diabetes revisited. Diabetes Care. 2011;34(7):1676–7.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Reif DW. Ferritin as a source of iron for oxidative damage. Free Radic Biol Med. 1992;12(5):417–27.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Tiedge M, Lortz S, Drinkgern J, Lenzen S. Relation between antioxidant enzyme gene expression and antioxidative defense status of insulin-producing cells. Diabetes. 1997;46(11):1733–42.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Masquio DC, de Piano A, Campos RM, Sanches PL, Corgosinho FC, Carnier J, et al. Saturated fatty acid intake can influence increase in plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 in obese adolescents. Horm Metab Res. 2014;46(4):245–51.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Lynch CJ, Adams SH. Branched-chain amino acids in metabolic signalling and insulin resistance. Nat Rev Endocrinol. 2014;10(12):723–36.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Yamagishi S, Nakamura N, Suematsu M, Kaseda K, Matsui T. Advanced glycation end products: a molecular target for vascular complications in diabetes. Mol Med. 2015;21(Suppl 1):S32–40.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Rhee SY, Kim YS. The role of advanced glycation end products in diabetic vascular complications. Diabetes Metab J. 2018;42(3):188–95.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Kim Y, Keogh J, Clifton P. A review of potential metabolic etiologies of the observed association between red meat consumption and development of type 2 diabetes mellitus. Metabolism. 2015;64(7):768–79.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    Kellow NJ, Savige GS. Dietary advanced glycation end-product restriction for the attenuation of insulin resistance, oxidative stress and endothelial dysfunction: a systematic review. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2013;67(3):239–48.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    Uribarri J, Cai W, Sandu O, Peppa M, Goldberg T, Vlassara H. Diet-derived advanced glycation end products are major contributors to the body’s AGE pool and induce inflammation in healthy subjects. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2005;1043:461–6.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  42. 42.

    Stirban A, Gawlowski T, Roden M. Vascular effects of advanced glycation endproducts: clinical effects and molecular mechanisms. Mol Metab. 2014;3(2):94–108.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  43. 43.

    Minich DM, Bland JS. Personalized lifestyle medicine: relevance for nutrition and lifestyle recommendations. ScientificWorldJournal. 2013;2013:129841.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. 44.

    •• Grosso G, Micek A, Godos J, Pajak A, Sciacca S, Galvano F, et al. Health risk factors associated with meat, fruit and vegetable consumption in cohort studies: a comprehensive meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2017;12(8):e0183787. This systematic review provides a comprehensive description of factors associated with red, processed, and total meat consumption and selected health risk factors such as body weight status, smoking habit, physical activity level, level of education, and alcohol drinking among individuals.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. 45.

    Petersen KS, Flock MR, Richter CK, Mukherjea R, Slavin JL, Kris-Etherton PM. Healthy dietary patterns for preventing cardiometabolic disease: the role of plant-based foods and animal products. Curr Dev Nutr. 2017;1(12)

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ranjita Misra.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of Interest

Ranjita Misra, Padmini Balagopal, Sudha Raj, and Thakor G. Patel declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.

Additional information

This article is part of the Topical Collection on Lifestyle Management to Reduce Diabetes/Cardiovascular Risk

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Misra, R., Balagopal, P., Raj, S. et al. Red Meat Consumption (Heme Iron Intake) and Risk for Diabetes and Comorbidities?. Curr Diab Rep 18, 100 (2018).

Download citation


  • Red meat
  • Diabetes
  • Heme iron
  • Comorbidities
  • Chronic disease
  • Plant-based diet