Will eating red and processed meat give me cancer?

There is evidence eating a lot of red or processed meat increases your risk of bowel cancer.

Red and processed meat

Red meat includes:

  • beef
  • lamb
  • pork
  • veal
  • venison
  • goat
  • mutton

Processed meat refers to meat that has been preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding preservatives. Processed meat includes:

  • sausages
  • bacon
  • ham and cured meat
  • pâté

Red meat is a good source of protein, B vitamins and minerals, such as iron and zinc. Red meat can be included as part of a healthy balanced diet. However, eating too much may put you at an increased risk of bowel cancer.

How much red and processed meat should I eat?

In February 2011, the Department of Health published guidelines on the amount of red and processed meat people should eat.

People who eat more than 90g (3.2 ounces, cooked weight) a day of red and processed meat should cut down to 70g (2.5 ounces) a day.

You can cut down by:

  • eating red and processed meats less often or in smaller amounts
  • having occasional meat-free days
  • sometimes swapping these meats for alternatives, such as chicken, fish or vegetarian options

See red meat and bowel cancer risk for more information, including examples of what makes up 90g and the weight of some cooked meat products.

A healthy diet and cancer

There is evidence eating a healthy diet that's high in fibre and includes lots of fruit and vegetables can reduce your risk of some cancers. Read more about having a balanced diet.

Read the answers to more questions about cancer

Further information:

Page last reviewed: 07/06/2015

Next review due: 03/07/2018