(Bloomberg) -- Eating more red meat over time raises the risk of getting Type 2 diabetes, while cutting back reduces the danger, research shows.

Consuming an additional half-serving a day of red meat during a four-year period increased a person’s chance of developing diabetes by 48% in the subsequent four years, according to a study this month in JAMA Internal Medicine. Reducing red meat consumption lowered diabetes risk long term, says lead study author An Pan.

The study is the first to look at changes in red meat consumption over time and how that affects diabetes risk, Pan says. The results confirm previous research that had linked red meat intake to diabetes risk and suggests that limiting the amount of beef, pork and lamb people eat is beneficial, he says.

“If possible, try to reduce red meat and replace with other healthy choices like beans and legumes, nuts, fish, poultry, whole grains, etc.,” says Pan, an assistant professor at the National University of Singapore.

The meat contains high amounts of an iron that can cause insulin resistance, which may raise the risk of diabetes, he says. The food is also high in saturated fat and cholesterol and processed forms have nitrates and high levels of sodium that may also increase the danger of developing the disease, he says.

Researchers analyzed data and followed up with 26,357 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, 48,709 women in the Nurses’ Health Study and 74,077 women in the Nurses’ Health Study 2. They assessed their diets through questionnaires every four years.

There were 7,540 cases of type 2 diabetes over the study.

The research showed that reducing red meat consumption by more than a half a serving per day from the start of the trial through the first four years of follow up resulted in a 14% lower risk of diabetes over the entire time period.

In an accompanying editorial, William Evans, vice president and head of the Muscle Metabolism Discovery Performance Unit at London-based GlaxoSmithKline Plc and an adjunct professor of geriatrics at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., writes that it may not be the type of meat but the fat that can raise diabetes risk.

“There’s no reason why the color of meat itself is the thing that results in an increased risk in diabetes,” he says. “The overwhelming data would tell us it’s the amount of saturated fat. A chunk of cheddar cheese has as much fat and saturated fat as a T-bone steak.”

He says another study looking to find similar links between dairy, which can be high in saturated fats, and diabetes is needed to determine if the fats are the culprits.

Saturated fats increase inflammation in the body, leading to heart disease and insulin resistance.

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