How red and processed meat increases cancer risk
Current research shows that there are certain chemicals in red and processed meats, whether added or naturally occurring, that can cause these foods to cause cancer. For example, when a chemical called heme in red meat breaks down in the gut, N-nitroso chemicals are formed, which have been found to damage cells in the gut, leading to bowel cancer. These same chemicals are also formed when processed meat is digested. Additionally, the nitrite and nitrate preservatives used to preserve processed meats produce these N-nitrite chemicals and may cause bowel cancer.
Cancer Council advice
Cut out processed meat entirely or keep it to an absolute minimum. Processed meats include bacon, ham and sausage.
Reducing your intake of red and processed meat can reduce your risk of cancer.
A vegetarian diet can also be healthy and balanced. However, if you don't eat meat or other animal foods, be sure to get enough protein, vitamin B12, iron, zinc, calcium, and omega 3 fatty acids.
Serving size examples:
One serving of red meat is equal to 90-100 grams of raw meat or 65 grams of cooked meat. Serving size examples:
- ½ cup minced pork
- 2 short ribs
- 2 slices of barbecue
Substitutes for a serving of red meat include:
- 80 g cooked chicken or 100 g raw chicken or turkey
- 100g cooked fish fillets or 115g sashimi or 1 small can of fish
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup cooked lentils, chickpeas, peas, dried or canned beans
- 30g nuts, such as peanuts or almonds
- 170g tofu or tempeh
Tips to reduce cancer risk:
- Cut out processed meat. Try swapping out the ham and pepperoni on your pizza or pasta for chicken, mushrooms, eggplant or peppers.
- Reduce your intake of red meat. Try marinating chicken or swapping out meat for fish a few times a week.
- Add eggs, beans, lentils, fish or chicken to your meals to increase protein content.
- Try a veggie patty burger, veggie lasagna, tofu scramble or a falafel wrap.
- Visit Healthy Lunchbox for healthy recipes and tips.
- If you have cancer, visit Life After Cancer Treatment to find out what support is available.