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Replace Red Meat with These 5 Foods to Cut Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

October 28, 2023

Red meat has gotten a lot of bad publicity over the years for it’s potential effects on heart health, but new research shows cutting back on this particular type of meat could help reduce your risk of type two diabetes as well.

The American Diabetes Association recommends the Diabetes Plate Method as an easy-to-follow guide on managing blood sugars at meal times. This method includes 50% non-starchy vegetables, such as broccoli, leafy greens, carrots, asparagus, mushrooms, peppers, or tomatoes, 25% carbohydrates, and 25% lean protein. While lean red meat options like sirloin, tenderloin, and round steak are found in these recommendations, new research suggests that limiting red meat could reduce your risk of developing diabetes by more than half.

In the October 2023 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that those who ate the most servings of red meat had a 62% greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those who ate the least. The most interesting part of the study was what researchers found you should be replacing that red meat with. Swapping a serving of red meat for nuts or legumes and low-fat dairy reduced the risk by 30% and 22%, respectively.

So while the occasional steak or burger is unlikely to increase your diabetes risk, swapping red meat for some of these diabetes-friendly foods in your weekly rotation may help prevent this chronic disease that already affects more than 33 million Americans.

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1. Yogurt

parfait with nuts blueberries granola and honey


Yogurt, especially Greek yogurt or other strained varieties, is a high-protein, nutrient-dense food that’s good for your gut and the rest of your body too. One serving of non-fat plain Greek yogurt (170 grams) has 17 grams of protein, 6 grams of carbohydrates, and is a good source of calcium, phosphorus, selenium, and vitamins B5 and B12.

A July 2017 review in the Journal of Nutrition found that people who ate 80-125 grams of yogurt each day reduced their risk of type 2 diabetes by 14% compared with those who didn’t enjoy the probiotic-rich snack. Two possible reasons researchers think yogurt reduces diabetes risk are its effect on satiety, leading to fewer calories eaten overall, or its potential to increase insulin sensitivity and the secretion of insulin from the pancreas.

Enjoy yogurt with fresh fruit, in a smoothie, as the base for a dip, to replace mayonnaise or sour cream in recipes.

2. Peanut butter

peanut butter toast with fruit on top


Peanuts are high in fat and protein, both of which can help you feel more full and satisfied while also helping to slow down the digestion of carbohydrates. Pairing peanut butter with a carbohydrate can help lower your blood sugar response, even when eating a food with a high glycemic index, like white bread, by up to 25%.

While peanuts and peanut butter will have essentially the same effect, be sure to choose unsweetened peanut butter or peanuts to avoid adding extra unnecessary sugars to your diet.

Related: 7 Savory Peanut Butter Recipes That Will Totally Surprise You

3. Black beans

black bean soup with diced avocado


Beans are an excellent substitute for red meat in dishes like tacos, nachos, soups, and more. They can even be added to brownies for an extra nutrient boost! One of the reasons black beans are so good for people with diabetes and for the prevention of developing type 2 diabetes is the high amount of fiber found in them.

Just one half-cup serving of black beans has 8 grams of fiber. While fiber is a type of carbohydrate, the macronutrient that increases blood sugar, it’s not digested the same way that sugars and starches are. Fiber is passed through the digestive system mostly undigested, feeding gut bacteria and keeping us full and satisfied without leading to a spike in blood sugar.

4. Tofu

bowl of quinoa broccoli and tofu


Tofu is a common plant-based protein with 22 grams of protein in each half-cup serving. While it’s an excellent source of protein and calcium and a good source of fiber, iron, and zinc, the fact that it’s made from soy is what makes tofu really special when it comes to preventing diabetes.

A March 2023 review in Nutrients analyzed 1,963 studies and found that people who ate the highest amount of soy had a 17% reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who ate the least. These protective effects are likely due to the combination of potent plant compounds, including soy isoflavones, lecithin, stigmasterol, and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Related: 7 Tasty & Healthy Tofu Recipes We Can’t Stop Making

5. Walnuts

bowl of walnuts


Like peanuts, walnuts are a great source of plant protein, fiber, and healthy fats. Walnuts are also a good source of magnesium, providing 11% of the daily value in just one ounce. An October 2017 review published in Diabetes Care found that people with the highest intake of magnesium had a 15% lower risk of developing diabetes than the people who ate the least amount of magnesium in their diets.

Walnuts can be added to salads and cereal, baked into bread, or enjoyed as a meat substitute to replace red meat in dishes like meatloaf, burgers, and tacos.

Read next: The 6 Best Plant-Based Protein Sources To Add to Your Diet

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