Time to bypass not only hot dogs and cold cuts but also unprocessed red meat. Why? Because researchers recently found a strong association between eating red meat of both types with a greater risk of type 2 diabetes, according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and reported by the Harvard Gazette.

Diabetes, a metabolic condition that affects insulin production in the body, has reached epidemic levels. The condition affects almost 350 million adults worldwide and more than 25 million in the United States alone. What’s more, researchers link diabetes to obesity, physical inactivity and poor diet. With these new findings, now they have an even clearer picture of the condition’s causes and effects.

For this study, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) analyzed data from the questionnaires of more than 37,000 men and more than 167,000 women followed in national health studies. Scientists also combined the results of other studies (called a meta-analysis) that included a total of 442,101 participants, including 28,228 people who developed type 2 diabetes during the research period.

Findings showed that a daily 100-gram serving of unprocessed meats (about the size of a deck of cards) was associated with a 19 percent increased risk of type 2 diabetes. And when participants had daily 50-gram servings of processed meats (one hot dog or sausage or two slices of bacon) that risk shot up to 51 percent. What’s more, the risks remained after adjusting for body mass index (height to weight ratio) and other lifestyle factors.

“Clearly, the results of this study have huge public health implications given the rising type 2 diabetes epidemic and increasing consumption of red meats worldwide,” said senior author Frank Hu, MD, MPH, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at HSPH.

Is there any good news? Well, researchers found that replacing red meat with healthier proteins could offset diabetes risk. Individuals who substituted one serving of red meat per day with one serving of nuts achieved an associated 21 percent lower risk; swapping in low-fat dairy equaled a 17 percent lower risk; and swapping in whole grains, a 23 percent lower risk.

Researchers hope that the clear association shown between red meat and diabetes will lead consumers to eat healthier proteins instead. In addition, scientists suggested the findings might push the government to develop new guidelines to differentiate between red meat and healthier protein sources.

Click here to learn what other dietary changes you can make to help lower your risk of diabetes.