If you eat lots of red meat and processed meat you should seriously consider reducing your intake if you wish to minimize your risk of developing bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, the British public has been advised today by the Department of Health. An independent expert SACN (Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition) has issued a report linking a significant increased risk of bowel cancer among those who consume red meat and processed meats.

The report says that individuals who eat at least 90g of such meats per day should cut down to lower their risk.

What are Red Meats and White Meats? - red meat includes all meats which are red when uncooked and do not become white when cooked, such as beef, pork, and lamb (mutton). Nutritionists say the concentration of myoglobin determines whether a meat can be defined as red. Chicken meat, known as white meat, has under 0.05% myoglobin, while beef has between 1.5% and 2%.

What are processed meats? - these include salami, chorizo, sausages, burgers, pepperoni, luncheon meat, ham, bacon, corned beef, pate, beef jerky, and dried strips of meat.

Some people say that red meat means any mammal meat. Chicken and fish are defined as white meats.

Below are some recommendations and warnings made by the UK Department of Health:
  • Anybody who consumes at least 90g of cooked weight red or processed meat per day has a significantly higher risk of developing bower cancer compared to those who do not.
  • Reducing intake to the British average of 70g per day can reduce the risk
  • There are two ways of cutting down on red and processed meat intake: 1. Eat smaller servings. 2. Consume them less often.
  • A 70g portion of red meat is: two normal beef burgers, one lamb chop, two slices of roast pork (beef or lamb), three slices of ham, six slices of salami, a rasher of bacon plus one medium shepherd's pie.
36,000 new bowel cancer diagnoses are made in the UK each year. 16,500 patients die from bowel cancer annually in the UK. 42% of men consume at least 90g of red and processed meat per day compared to just 12% of females.

Dame Sally Davies, UK's Interim Chief Medical Officer, said:

"Following simple diet and lifestyle advice can help protect against cancer. Red meat can be part of a healthy balanced diet. It is a good source of protein and vitamins and minerals, such as iron, selenium, zinc and B vitamins. But people who eat a lot of red and processed meat should consider cutting down. The occasional steak or extra few slices of lamb is fine but regularly eating a lot could increase your risk of bowel cancer.

The impact of cancer on individuals and families can be devastating. Last month, we launched the first ever cancer awareness campaign about how to recognise the early signs and symptoms of bowel cancer. We're now going a step further and giving scientific advice on how to help prevent it."

Chief Executive of 'Beating Bowel Cancer', Mark Flannagan, said:

"We welcome this new advice from the Department of Health. The evidence suggests that a diet high in red and processed meat may increase your risk of developing bowel cancer, but the good news is that red meat can still be enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy balanced diet. This combined with an active lifestyle, and awareness of the symptoms and risk factors, could help protect you from the UK's second biggest cancer killer."

"Guide to amount in grams in standard portions of red and processed meat products" (Dept of Health, PDF)

Bowel cancer, or colorectal cancer is any cancer of the colon and the rectum. According to the NHS (National Health Service), UK, colorectal cancer is the most common cancer worldwide today. WHO (World Health Organization) says it is the second most common, after lung cancer. Of concern is the steadily growing rates of bowel cancer among people younger than 50 years in many countries.

Written by Christian Nordqvist