26th November, 20193 min read

Red meat: Should you eat or avoid it?

Red meat: Should you eat or avoid it?
Medically reviewed

Is red meat good or bad for you?

If you’re not sure, you’re not alone.

Health experts have tried to answer this question for years, and the results are mixed. Red meat is high in protein, vitamins and iron, but studies show that eating red meat, especially processed red meat, may increase your risk of bowel cancer.

However, research published recently in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggests that eating red meat is fine as it failed to find a link between red meat and conditions like heart disease and cancer.

So what should you do, eat red meat or avoid it altogether? Here’s what research and official dietary guidelines suggest is best.

Should you cut down on red meat?

Red meat plays an important role in a healthy diet. As a source of iron and vitamin B12, it’s a good addition to your diet if you have iron-deficiency anaemia. Red meat is also high in protein.

Despite these benefits, red meat appears to have a crucial disadvantage: eating a lot of it may increase your risk of bowel cancer. Research indicates that every 100g of red meat you eat daily may raise your risk of bowel cancer by 17%. However, there is no conclusive proof that red meat itself causes an increased risk of bowel cancer - other health and lifestyle factors may play a role.

Some cuts of red meat are also high in saturated fat, which is another reason why it’s worth reviewing how much pork, beef, lamb and other red meats you eat every day.

How much red meat should you eat?

According to the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care, you don’t need to completely remove red meat from your diet but you can minimise any potential health risks by limiting how much you eat.

If you eat more than 90g of red and processed meat a day, cut down to 70g instead. That’s equal to 3 slices of ham (23g each) or a quarter pounder beef burger (78g). Don’t worry if you eat more than this amount occasionally, just eat less the next day to make sure that over the course of a week you eat less than an average of 70g per day.

If you think you consistently eat too much red meat, cut down slowly. Begin by having smaller portions of red meat or swap red and processed meats for alternatives like chicken.

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What is the best way to cut down on red meat?

There are many ways to gradually reduce how much red meat you eat. These include:

  • swapping red meat for other meats, such as ground turkey instead of ground beef
  • eating less red meat in a meal - you could eat a smaller portion or if a recipe calls for 500g of red meat you could reduce this to 250g and use other ingredients in its place
  • having a meat-free day each week - you can reduce your overall consumption of meat while still enjoying red meat in moderation for the rest of the week
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Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.

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