Red meat – such as beef, lamb and pork – is a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals, and can form part of a balanced diet. But eating a lot of red and processed meat probably increases your risk of bowel (colorectal) cancer.
That's why it's recommended that people who eat more than 90g (cooked weight) of red and processed meat per day cut down to 70g, as this could help reduce your risk of bowel cancer.
Red meat includes:
It does not include:
Processed meat refers to meat that has been preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding preservatives. This includes:
The guidelines are for adults. To read advice for children, see below.
If you eat more than 90g of red or processed meat a day, it's recommended that you reduce your intake to 70g a day.
You can do this by eating smaller portions of red and processed meat, eating these meats less often or swapping them for alternatives.
If you eat more than 90g of red and processed meat on a certain day, you can eat less on the following days or have meat-free days so that the average amount you eat each day is no more than 70g.
Children over 5 should eat a balanced diet, as shown in the proportions on the Eatwell Guide. This should include meat or other sources of protein. Children do not need as much food as adults, and the amount they need depends on their age and size.
For babies and children under 5, get advice on introducing them to white and red meat, and other solid foods.
These average examples of the weight of various cooked meat products can help you find out how much red and processed meat you eat.
The amount in grams represents the cooked weight:
You can cut down on red and processed meat by eating smaller portions, and by eating them less often. The following swaps could help:
You could also swap lamb or beef mince for turkey or vegetarian mince in your spaghetti bolognese, lasagne and chilli con carne.
Try to have a meat-free day each week. Swap red or processed meat for fish or shellfish, or have a vegetarian meal.
The current advice, issued by the government, says adults who eat more than 90g of red and processed meat a day should reduce their intake to 70g a day, which is the average daily consumption in the UK. This is because there is probably a link between eating a lot of red and processed meat, and bowel (colorectal) cancer.
You can do this by eating these meats less often, eating smaller amounts or exchanging them for alternatives.
The advice is based on a 2011 report called Iron and Health from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN). SACN is a committee of independent nutrition experts that advises the government on diet and nutrition.
In its report, SACN looked at studies that assessed the link between iron and bowel cancer. Since red meat is a source of iron in the UK, the report also examined the evidence on red and processed meat, and bowel cancer.
SACN concluded that eating a lot of red and processed meat probably increases the risk of bowel cancer, and advised accordingly.
SACN used data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) to estimate adult consumption of red and processed meat in the UK.
Based on data from the NDNS (2000/01), the average total red meat consumption for men is around 88g a day. For women, it's around 52g a day. This gives an average of 70g a day for all adults.
SACN examined evidence from scientific studies, and concluded that eating red and processed meat probably increases the risk of bowel cancer. But it could not identify the amount of red and processed meat that may increase the risk of bowel cancer because of inconsistencies in the data.
The average daily adult consumption of red and processed meat in the UK is 70g, so those who eat more than 90g are said to have a relatively high intake. It's recommended that these people cut down on red and processed meat so that their consumption is in line with the average.
Yes, providing you're eating a balanced diet that includes other good sources of iron, such as lentils, beans, eggs, fish, chicken, turkey, nuts and breakfast cereals.
SACN looked at the impact of eating less red and processed meat on iron intake, using data from the 2000/01 National Diet and Nutrition Survey.
SACN estimates that if people who eat more than 90g a day of red and processed meat reduce their consumption to 70g a day, this will not increase the number of people who do not get enough iron in their diet.
If you do not get enough iron in your diet, you may be at risk of developing iron deficiency anaemia. Learn more about anaemia.
The World Cancer Research Fund report Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: A Global Perspective provided advice on red and processed meat in 2018.
The organisation said the evidence that red and processed meats are causes of bowel cancer is convincing. It advises that people eat no more than 500g of red meat a week (around 70g a day) and avoid processed meats.
SACN found no clear basis in the scientific evidence for separating unprocessed red meat and processed meat when it comes to their link to bowel cancer. Additionally, many of the scientific studies reviewed by SACN did not separate red and processed meat.
SACN therefore considered the impact of a reduction in total red meat intake, and advised accordingly.
Yes, some meat or meat products, or other sources of protein, are recommended as part of a balanced diet.
Meat is a good source of protein, B vitamins, and minerals such as iron, selenium and zinc. It is also one of the main sources of vitamin B12, which is only found naturally in foods from animals, such as meat and milk.
Choose healthier meat and meat products, such as lean cuts of meat and leaner mince, where possible. You can learn more about healthy eating basics in 8 tips for healthy eating.
Find out more about the symptoms of bowel cancer. If bowel cancer is detected early, it's more treatable.
Early symptoms include changes in your bowel habits. If you've noticed blood in your poos or they've been looser for 3 weeks, see your doctor.
The NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme offers screening every 2 years to all men and women aged between 60 and 74. People in this age range who are registered with a GP will automatically be sent an invitation for screening through the post every 2 years. Learn more about bowel cancer screening.
If you're still concerned about bowel cancer, talk to your GP.
You can learn more about reducing your risk of bowel cancer in causes of bowel cancer.
People who smoke cigarettes are at greater risk of developing bowel cancer. Stopping smoking will reduce your risk.
In general, people who have a balanced diet are less likely to get certain types of cancer. Learn more about a balanced diet.
Page last reviewed: Thu Feb 2018 Next review due: Mon Feb 2021