Red meat and the risk of bowel cancer
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 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 a day cut down to 70g or less. This could help reduce your risk of bowel cancer.
Red meat and processed meat
Red meat includes:
- lamb and mutton
It does not include:
- game birds
Processed meat is meat that's been preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding preservatives. This includes:
- deli meats such as salami
- canned meat such as corned beef
- sliced luncheon meats, including those made from chicken and turkey
Recommendations for red and processed meat
If you eat more than 90g of red or processed meat a day, it's recommended that you reduce your intake to 70g or less 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.
Portion sizes and cutting down
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:
- portion of Sunday roast (3 thin-cut slices of roast lamb, beef or pork, each about the size of half a slice of sliced bread) – 90g
- grilled 8oz beef steak – 163g
- cooked breakfast (2 standard British sausages, around 9cm long, and 2 thin-cut rashers of bacon) – 130g
- large doner kebab – 130g
- 5oz rump steak – 102g
- quarter-pound beef burger – 78g
- thin slice of corned beef – 38g
- a slice of black pudding – 30g
- a slice of ham – 23g
You can cut down on red and processed meat by eating smaller portions, and by eating them less often. The following swaps could help:
- Breakfast: if it's a full English, swap either the bacon or sausages for extra mushrooms, tomatoes or toast.
- Sandwiches: swap one of your ham or beef sandwiches for a non-red meat filling, such as chicken or fish.
- Pie and chips: swap your steak pie for chicken pie.
- Burger: swap your quarter-pound burger for a standard hamburger. Or you could choose a chicken, fish or vegetable burger for a change.
- Sausages: have 2 pork sausages rather than 3, and add a portion of vegetables. Opt for reduced-fat sausages.
- Sunday roast: swap your roast beef, pork or lamb for roast chicken, turkey or fish.
- Steak: swap an 8oz steak (163g) for a 5oz steak (102g).
- Casseroles, stews and curries: include more vegetables, beans and pulses, and use less red meat.
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.
Page last reviewed: 15 March 2021
Next review due: 15 March 2024