Recently I have heard more and more people use the phrase “I don’t eat red meat because it bad for my blood sugars.” As red meat- along with any other cuts of meat- is a food made up of only fat and protein, eating red meat will have no immediate effect on your blood sugar.
Crash course in macro-nutrients
Blood sugars increase when we consume Carbohydrate foods- fruits, rice, beans, pastas, breads, milk, and starchy vegetables such as corn, potatoes and winter squash. As these foods are digested into their basic components- glucose is released into the bloodstream. This glucose is what causes blood sugars to raise after eating a food containing Carbohydrates.
Protein foods however do not have glucose as part of their elemental structure, instead they break down into amino acids. Amino acids aid in building muscle and repairing cells in your body.
Foods are often a combination of these three macronutrients. Take red meat for example: Beef contains both protein and fat, but no carbohydrates. Where then does the misconception that red meat hurts blood sugars come from?
Red meat is typically high in fats, especially saturated fatty acids. Foods containing fat are higher in calories which may lead to poor weight control if eaten in excess. As mentioned before, fats are essential for brain and cell health, but the American Diabetes Association recommends limiting fats to less than 30% of total calorie consumption with saturated fats making up less than 10% calorie consumption. Saturated fatty acids are the types of fat that stay solid at room temperature like butter, lard, and other animal fats. Eating a high amount of saturated fats in your diet can lead to internal inflammation which contributes to insulin resistance. As weight control and insulin resistance both play a large role in the development of type 2 diabetes, it is no wonder people may think that red meat may poorly affect blood sugars.
If eaten in large amounts over an extended period of time, any food high in saturated fats may contribute to worsening symptoms of type 2 diabetes. Current dietary recommendations suggest to limit red meats to 1-2 times per week.
The key takeaway is red meat will not directly raise your blood sugars as it is a source of protein and fats. Including Carbohydrates, Fats and Protein are essential for our bodies to function properly. Limiting saturated fat intake to less than 10% of total calorie consumption will help overall health, weight control, and decrease inflammation in our bodies which plays a role in insulin resistance. If you do choose to include red meat into your diet, choose leaner cuts of meat such as reduced fat ground beef, or trim some of the fat off of cuts of steak before cooking.