red meatIn response to the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s (IARC) evaluation on red and processed meats, the British Dietetic Association (BDA) provides their viewpoint.

The British Dietetic Association, founded in 1936, is the professional association for dietitians in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is the nation’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals with more than 8000 members. The BDA is also an active trade union.

The IARC report summarizes what has already been published and produces an assessment of whether red and processed meat causes cancer.

The IARC report states that there is sufficient evidence to conclude that high intakes of processed meat (such as sausages, cured meats such as salami and bacon) cause cancers (such as bowel cancer) and high intakes of red meat (beef, lamb and pork) probably cause cancers. This sounds alarming, but when compared with smoking, a well-known cause of cancer, the eating of red and processed meats causes 3% of all cancers compared with smoking, which causes 19% of cancers; that is, the risk of developing cancer as a result of red and processed meat intake is much less than the risk posed by smoking.

In the UK, the average daily intake of red meat is around 70 g per day and the average intake of processed meats is less than 50 g per day — the equivalent of two rashers of bacon or two sausages. If you think you are eating more than this amount daily, then the advice is to cut down by reducing portion sizes, substituting cured meats and red meats for chicken and fish and adding more vegetables, beans and salad to add bulk and flavour.

The complete removal of red meats and processed meats is not a necessary reaction to this latest report. For particular groups of the population (teenage girls and women), it is not advisable to cut out red meats altogether without specific dietary advice as this could adversely affect health. Eating moderate amounts of varied and red meat as part of a balanced diet can be healthy, but choose lean cuts and avoid cooking at very high temperatures — grilling and barbequing.

The top priorities for cancer prevention remain a smoke free lifestyle, maintaining a normal body weight and lowering alcohol intake.