Matt Lambert, our nutritionist, takes a look at this new evidence and shares what we all need to know about how eating red and processed meat can affect our risk of getting cancer.
You may have seen stories today about controversial new research that claims we don’t need to limit how much red and processed meat we eat. Headlines such as ‘Beef back on the menu’, ‘Let them eat steak’ and ‘Bring home the bacon after all’ have left many people confused about what best to do for our health and our risk of cancer.
NutriRECS and what they say
NutriRECS, who are behind this misleading recommendation, have claimed that most people do not need to reduce or moderate how much red and processed meat they eat. The recommendation has grabbed the media’s attention and has further misled the public in thinking that they can eat as much red and processed meat as they like without increasing their risk of cancer – this is not the case.
The NutriRECS research results are not very different from what we at World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) found – that eating red and processed meat increases bowel cancer risk. However, the difference is that we believe that a reduced risk of bowel cancer, no matter how small, is worth limiting how much red and processed meat we eat, whereas this new group of researchers do not. Based on this, the NutriRECS researchers made a recommendation that there was no need for most people to reduce or moderate the amount they eat. The average American and European currently eats three or four portions a week, so this is confusing for anyone who is eating more than that, who may see this recommendation as any amount of red and processed meat is fine.
Furthermore, this new recommendation does not seperate out red meat from processed meat, this could suggest that three or four portions of just processed meat a week does not affect cancer risk, but the scientific evidence does not support this. At WCRF we recognise the difference between red and processed meat, but also that meat can be a valuable source of nutrients, in particular protein, iron, zinc and vitamin B12. So our recommendation provides a balance between the health advantages of red meat and the disadvantages.
What’s the bottom line?
We stand by our rigorous research over the last 30 years and urge people to follow the current recommendations on red and processed meat. We advise people to consume no more than three portions a week of red meat, which is about 350–500g of cooked meat, and to eat very little, if any, processed meat. Following these recommendations will help to reduce your risk of bowel cancer.
To most effectively reduce our overall cancer risk, we should follow a pattern of healthy living. This includes not smoking, being safe in the sun, minimising alcohol intake, being a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet and staying physically active.