Nitrites in food additives are associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, especially when people eat a lot of red meat and processed meat.

Nitrites are added to processed meats to enhance flavor and extend shelf life. Need another reason to cut down on your red and processed meat intake? A new study suggests that a common additive called nitrites in these foods is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

For this study, researchers looked at the eating habits of more than 104,000 adults with an average age of 43 and no history of type 2 diabetes. Based on detailed dietary records, scientists calculated the how much people are exposed to nitrates and nitrites, chemicals naturally found in whole foods like green leafy vegetables and in additives used to improve the flavor and shelf life of processed meats and other food products en masse.

Participants were followed for about seven years, and nearly 1,000 of them developed type 2 diabetes. People whose diets contained the most nitrites from food additives were 53% more likely to receive diagnosed with type 2 diabetes than participants whose diets contained the smallest amounts of meat and processed foods, researchers reported Jan. 17 in PLoS Medicine. Exposure to naturally occurring nitrites in leafy green vegetables and other whole foods was also associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, but the effect was much weaker.

Processed meats are the most common source of added nitrites

Looking closely at participants’ diets, the scientists found that processed meats like ham and sausages were by far the top source of nitrite-containing food additives, followed by ready meals containing processed meats. Together, these food types accounted for 76% of nitrites from food additives.

To reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, people should eat a variety of unprocessed or minimally processed foods, especially fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains, and avoid foods that may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, such as processed meats, soft drinks and ultra-processed foods in general.

Type 2 diabetes develops when the pancreas is no longer able to produce or effectively use the hormone insulin to convert the sugars in our food into energy. The study was not designed to prove if or how nitrites can directly cause type 2 diabetes, but scientists do know that nitrites consumed in food can damage pancreatic cells responsible for insulin production.

Leafy green vegetables are always part of a healthy diet

It is possible that the study found a lower risk associated with nitrites in healthy foods such as leafy green vegetables because people who eat this way have an overall healthier diet than those who eat a lot of meat. red and processed meat. Vegetables also contain many nutrients, such as antioxidants, which protect against diabetes.

Plant-based diets can reduce the risk of chronic diseases like diabetes.

These findings add to a growing body of research, described in a January 2020 article in Diabetes Care, that links red meat and processed meat to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. less for people on a more plant-based diet. Getting plenty of exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, abstaining from smoking, and limiting alcohol consumption can also help minimize the risk.

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