Higher consumption of red meat is associated with an increased risk of gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM), according to research published online ahead of print in Diabetes Care.

To examine the association between dietary protein and GDM, Wei Bao, MD, PhD, from the National Institutes of Health in Rockville, Md., and colleagues analyzed data from 21,457 singleton pregnancies reported among 15,294 participants of the Nurses’ Health Study II cohort (1991 to 2001). Pregnancies included in the analysis were free of chronic diseases before pregnancy or previous GDM.

The researchers found that, comparing the highest with lowest quintiles, the relative risks for GDM were increased by a significant 49% for animal protein intake and decreased by a significant 31% vegetable protein intake, after adjusting for other variables, including age, parity, non-dietary and dietary factors, and body mass index. The risk of GDM was reduced by a significant 51%, with the substitution of 5% of energy from vegetable protein for animal protein. Comparing the highest with the lowest quintiles, the multivariable relative risk for GDM was 2.05 for total red meat and 0.73 for nuts. The risk of GDM was significantly lower with substitution of red meat with poultry, fish, nuts, or legumes.

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“Our findings indicate that pre-pregnancy intake of animal protein, in particular red meat, is significantly and positively associated with GDM risk, whereas consumption of vegetable protein, specifically nuts, is inversely associated with the risk,” the investigators wrote.