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Red meat link to bowel cancer

People who eat a lot of red and processed meat are being advised for the first time to consider cutting down to help reduce the risk of bowel cancer, the Department of Health announced today.

The advice follows the publication of a new report, from the independent expert Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), which reviewed the evidence on the links between red and processed meat and bowel cancer. It concludes that red and processed meat probably increases the risk of bowel cancer and people who eat around 90g or more should consider cutting down to reduce their risk.

The Department advises:

  • people who eat a lot of red or processed meat - around 90g or more of cooked weight per day - are at greater risk of getting bowel cancer; 
  • cutting down to the UK average of 70g a day can help reduce the risk; and
  • this can be achieved by eating smaller portions or by eating red and processed meat less often.

Examples of a 70g portion of meat are:

  • one medium portion shepherds pie and a rasher of bacon;
  • two standard beef burgers;
  • six slices of salami;
  • one lamb chop;
  • two slices of roast lamb, beef or pork; or
  • three slices of ham.

Every year, there are around 36,000 cases of bowel cancer in the UK and 16,500 deaths from the disease. Men are more likely to eat a lot of red and processed meat - 42 per cent of men compared to 12 per cent of women eat on average over 90g a day.

Interim Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies 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.”

Mark Flannagan, Chief Executive of Beating Bowel Cancer 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.”

Peter Baker, Chief Executive Men’s Health Forum said:

"Men who enjoy regular breakfast fry-ups or roast beef dinners will be
surprised to learn that eating too much red or processed meat might
increase their risk of bowel cancer.

“Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer and the second most common cause of cancer death in the UK. Many men could be putting themselves at increased risk as they tend to eat more red and processed meat than women.

“We're not saying men can't occasionally enjoy a bacon sandwich or some sausages for breakfast - but the evidence tells us we need to think about cutting down on how much red and processed meat we're eating. This is a health benefit surely worth giving up a few sausages for."

For more information on practical tips on cutting down on red and processed meat can be found via the links below.

Copy of SACN Iron Report can be found via the links below.

Notes to editors
1. Red meat includes beef, lamb and pork as well as minced meat and offal from these animals. Processed meat includes ham, bacon, luncheon meat, corned beef, salami, pâté, sausages and burgers.

2.COMA Review
In 1998, the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition Policy (COMA) report on Nutritional Aspects of the Development of Cancer highlighted possible links between red and processed meat consumption and colorectal/bowel cancer, and recommended that “higher consumers should consider a reduction” in meat intakes. However, as red meat is a rich source of iron, COMA was concerned that reducing red meat consumption may compromise other aspects of health, particularly iron status, and recommended that the effect of this should be reviewed.

3. Cooked meat weighs about 70% of its uncooked weight, mainly because it contains less water. So 90g of cooked meat is equivalent to about 130g of uncooked meat

4. SACN - The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) is an advisory committee of independent experts that provides advice to the Department of Health as well as other Government Agencies and Departments. Its remit includes matters concerning nutrient content of individual foods, advice on diet and the nutritional status of people.

Details of the Group’s meetings can be found via the links below.

SACN estimated that a reduction in intakes to the adult population average of 70g/day will not increase the proportion of the adult population with low iron intakes.

5. Guide to amount in grams in standard portions of red and processed meat  products can be found in the attached table.

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