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Dietary guidelines are increasingly promoting mostly plant-based diets, limits on red meat consumption, and plant-based sources of protein for health and environmental reasons. It is unclear how the resulting food substitutions associate with insulin resistance, a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. We modelled the replacement of red and processed meat with plant-based alternatives and the estimated effect on insulin sensitivity. We included 783 participants (55 % female) from the Childhood Determinants of Adult Health study, a population-based cohort of Australians. In adulthood, diet was assessed at three time points using FFQ: 2004–2006, 2009–2011 and 2017–2019. We calculated the average daily intake of each food group in standard serves. Insulin sensitivity was estimated from fasting glucose and insulin concentrations in 2017–2019 (aged 39–49 years) using homoeostasis model assessment. Replacing red meat with a combination of plant-based alternatives was associated with higher insulin sensitivity (β = 10·5 percentage points, 95 % CI (4·1, 17·4)). Adjustment for waist circumference attenuated this association by 61·7 %. Replacing red meat with either legumes, nuts/seeds or wholegrains was likewise associated with higher insulin sensitivity. Point estimates were similar but less precise when replacing processed meat with plant-based alternatives. Our modelling suggests that regularly replacing red meat, and possibly processed meat, with plant-based alternatives may associate with higher insulin sensitivity. Further, abdominal adiposity may be an important mediator in this relationship. Our findings support advice to prioritise plant-based sources of protein at the expense of red meat consumption.
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