Ask the experts: Risk of bowel cancer from eating red meat
Q. I’ve heard the risk of bowel cancer from eating red meat has been downgraded. Does this mean I can eat red meat as often as I like now?
A. Healthy Food Guide senior nutritionist Rose Carr responds:
Red meat is a great source of many nutrients, including iron, which is especially important for women until they reach menopause. But we still need to ensure we don’t overdo how much we have.
The World Cancer Research Fund updated its analysis of research from around the world, in September 2017. While the evidence for a link between eating red meat and colorectal cancer is still strong, it has been changed from ‘convincing’ (in the 2010 report) to ‘probable’. So red meat is not entirely off the hook. And for processed meat, the evidence for the link is still rated as ‘convincing’.
The important thing to remember is the links between processed and red meats and colorectal cancer are related to the amounts we eat, so the more we eat the greater risk. For processed meat, the amounts showing a higher risk are small, so the recommendation is not to eat it, and if you do, to have very little (say less than 50g) and only occasionally.
For red meat, it’s suggested we have no more than 500g (cooked) each week. That’s around 700-750g uncooked, and this recommendation hasn’t changed. To put that in context, most of the recipes in Healthy Food Guide have 125-150g meat per person, so to eat 700-750g red meat, you would be having it 4-6 times in a week.
Remember, too, there are other things we can do to reduce our risk of developing colorectal cancer, such as not smoking, being active and eating a high-fibre diet.
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- Red meat refers to beef, pork and lamb
- Processed meat refers to any meat preserved by smoking, curing, salting or the addition of chemical preservatives.