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Red meat, processed meat and cancer

Did you know that eating more than 700 grams (raw weight) of red meat a week increases your risk of bowel cancer? Or that the risk of developing bowel cancer goes up 1.18 times for every 50 grams of processed meat eaten per day?

The World Health Organization has classified processed meats including ham, bacon, salami and frankfurts as a Group 1 carcinogen (known to cause cancer) which means that there’s strong evidence that processed meats cause cancer. Eating processed meat increases your risk of bowel and stomach cancer. Red meat, such as beef, lamb and pork, has been classified as a Group 2A carcinogen which means it probably causes cancer.

Did you know if you’ve had cancer, maintaining a healthy diet can help prevent it from coming back?


How red and processed meat increase cancer risk

Current research shows that there are certain chemicals in red and processed meats – both added and naturally occurring – that cause these foods to be carcinogenic. For example, when a chemical in red meat called haem is broken down in the gut, N-nitroso chemicals are formed and these have been found to damage the cells that line the bowel, which can lead to bowel cancer. These same chemicals also form when processed meat is digested. In addition, the nitrite and nitrate preservatives used to preserve processed meat produce these N-nitroso chemicals and can lead to bowel cancer.

To find out your cancer risk, take the Cancer Risk Quiz.


Cancer Council recommendations

To reduce your risk of cancer, Cancer Council recommends eating no more than 1 serve of lean red meat per day or 2 serves 3-4 times per week. Red meat includes beef, lamb and pork.

Cut out processed meats altogether or keep them to an absolute minimum. Processed meats include bacon, ham, devon, frankfurts, chorizo, cabanossi and kransky.

Cutting down on red and processed meats will reduce your cancer risk.

Find out more about red meat, processed meat and cancer prevention.

Vegetarian diets can be healthy and balanced too. However, if you don’t eat meat or other animal foods, it is important to ensure you are getting enough protein, Vitamin B12, iron, zinc, calcium and omega 3 fatty acids.

Examples of serve sizes:

A serve of red meat is equal to 90-100g raw or 65g cooked. Examples of serve sizes:

  • ½ cup mince
  • 2 small chops
  • 2 slices roast meat

Substitutes for 1 serve of red meat include:

  • 80g cooked or 100g raw chicken or turkey
  • 100g cooked or 115g raw fish fillet or 1 small can of fish
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup cooked lentils, chick peas, split peas, dried or canned beans
  • 30g nuts e.g. peanuts or almonds
  • 170g tofu or tempeh

Tips to reduce your cancer risk:

  • Cut out processed meat. Try swapping the prosciutto and pepperoni out of your pizza or pasta for chicken, mushrooms, eggplant, or capsicum.
  • Reduce your red meat portions. Try marinated chicken or swap meat for fish a couple of times each week.
  • Add eggs, beans, lentils, fish or chicken to your meals for a protein boost.
  • Try a vegie pattie burger, vegetable lasagne, tofu stir fry or a falafel wrap.
  • Visit Healthy Lunch Box for healthy recipes and tips.
  • If you’ve had cancer, visit Life after cancer treatment to find out what support is available.

Cancer risk quiz

Cancer risk quiz

Find out how you can reduce your cancer risk by answering 10 quick questions and download our FREE cookbook: