Is A Little Meat OK?

Noodles are a staple food in Asia. Here, a woman from Lukang, Taiwan is making very thin wheat noodles known as misua. – Wikipedia: Noodle

Dr. Greger wrote on his blog recently:

What about eating a really healthy diet with just a little meat? Is it better to eat none at all? We have new insight last year from Taiwan. Asian diets in general tend to be lower in meat and higher in plant foods compared with Western diet, but whether a diet completely avoiding meat and fish would further extend the protective effect of a plant-based diet wasn’t known, until now.

Traditionally, Asian populations have had low rates of diabetes, but a diabetes epidemic has since emerged, and appears to coincide with increased meat, animal protein, and animal fat consumption, but the Westernization of Asian diets also brought along a lot of fast food and junk, and so these researchers at the national university didn’t want to just compare those eating vegetarian to typical meateaters. So, they compared Buddhist vegetarians to Buddhist non-vegetarians, eating traditional Asian diets. Even the omnivores were eating a predominantly plant-based diet, consuming little meat and fish, with the women eating the equivalent of about a single serving a week, and men eating a serving every few days. That’s just 8% of the meat intake in the U.S., 3% for the women. The question: is it better to eat 3% or 0%?

Again, both groups were eating healthy; zero soda consumption, for example, in any group. Despite the similarities in their diet, and after controlling for weight, family history, exercise, and smoking, the men eating vegetarian had just half the rates of diabetes, and the vegetarian women just a quarter of the rates. So even in a population consuming a really plant-based diet with little meat and fish, true vegetarians who completely avoided animal flesh, while eating more healthy plant foods, have lower odds for prediabetes and diabetes after accounting for other risk factors. They wanted to break it up into vegan versus ovo-lacto like in the Adventist-2 study, but they couldn’t because there were no cases at all of diabetes found within the vegan group.

The answer to his question, 3% or 0%, is 0%. It’s better to eat no meat at all, at least when it comes to diabetes. The men who ate 0% meat had half the rate of diabetes compared to the men who ate 3% (a serving every few days). Women who ate no meat had a quarter of the rate of diabetes compared to women who ate just one serving a week.

Here’s that Tiawanese study:
Taiwanese Vegetarians and Omnivores: Dietary Composition, Prevalence of Diabetes and IFG, PLOS ONE, February 2014

Conclusion: We found a strong protective association between Taiwanese vegetarian diet and diabetes/IFG, after controlling for various potential confounders and risk factors.

By the way, in this study…

Vegetarians [who had the lowest rates of diabetes] had higher intakes of carbohydrates.

… which kind of blows out of the water the claims that eating carbs causes diabetes.

2 thoughts on “Is A Little Meat OK?

  1. RB

    What were the rates compared to the generally population? No meat may be best, but does reducing meat consumption help or must it be cold turkey (forgive the pun)?


    1. Bix Post author

      Dr. Greger says that any reduction helps, that you don’t have to go “cold turkey.” He was talking about a blood pressure study here:

      “… there was the same incremental drop with fewer and fewer animal products. This suggests that it’s not black and white, not all or nothing, any steps we can make along this spectrum of eating healthier may accrue significant benefits.”



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