The Department of Health is advising people to consume less red meat in a new report.
For some time there have been indications that red meat consumption is linked to cancer. Now it is suggested that no more that 70g a day should be eaten – the equivalent of 3 rashers of bacon or 2 sausages. It is claimed that potentially thousands of deaths from bowel cancer could be prevented each year by staying within the advised limits.
In the UK about 36,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year, and 16,500 die from the disease, the third most common cancer in the UK.
The reasons for the link is unclear, though red meat is known to contain substances that have been linked to bowel cancer. In some studies one chemical in particular, haem, which gives red meat its colour, has been shown to damage the lining of the colon.
Some experts feel that the advice should distinguish between red meat and processed meat, the consumption of which is thought to carry a higher risk of contributing to bowel cancer due to the formation of carcinogens resulting from the process. The World Cancer Research Fund is advising that processed meat is avoided altogether. Dr Rachel Thompson - deputy head of science for the fund – said: “We would suggest that people following this new report’s guidelines should try and make sure as little as possible of their 70g per day is processed.”
The charity Beating Bowel Cancer has welcomed the report. Its chief executive, Mark Flannagan, said, “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.”
Last year, experts from the Harvard School of Public Health in the US found that eating processed meats can increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes
Opponents of this latest advice have queried whether a reduction in red meat consumption would put people at greater risk of iron deficiency, but the report from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition says such impact would be negligible.
Dr Carrie Ruxton, a member of the Meat Advisory Panel (MAP) on nutrition, which is funded by industry, said: “Given that current intakes, on average, are well within health targets, there is no reason to eat less red meat if you enjoy it.
“The British Nutrition Foundation recently published a review which highlighted that eating red meat in moderation is an important part of a healthy balanced diet.
“It also laid to rest many of the misconceptions about meat and health.
“Lean red meat is a good source of many vital nutrients and, thanks to modern farming methods, is lower than ever in saturated fat and calories, making it suitable for all the family.”
Many health experts would disagree. Obesity is also linked to cancer & even so called ‘healthy cuts’ of meat contain high levels of fat. One possibility for the harmful effect of red meat is the time it takes for it to pass through the body – approx 24 hours as opposed to 6 hours for a vegetarian diet. Fruit & vegetables are known to give protection against cancer & it is also possible that those who consume lots of meat may well be eating far less of these.