So should you stop eating red and processed meat? The answer is all about the dreaded, boring M word – moderation.

So should you stop eating red and processed meat? The answer is all about the dreaded, boring M word – moderation.

Originally shared by Buddhini Samarasinghe

Red meat and cancer risk

The news is awash with stories about how red and processed meats have been classified as carcinogens in the same category as tobacco. But what exactly does this mean? Let’s unpick this a little bit before throwing out the bacon with the bathwater. 

There have been several excellent bits of writing that explain what this means – the first is by Ed Yong (http://goo.gl/br9OU7) and the second by CRUK* (http://goo.gl/ELDzCI). These are well-worth a read if you want to learn more. 

Basically, the key bit of information to remember is that this is not a risk assessment, it is a hazard identification. A great analogy (stolen from the CRUK article above) is to think of banana skins – they definitely can cause accidents, but in practice it doesn’t happen very often, and isn’t as severe as being in a car accident. But under the hazard identification approach, banana skins and cars would be in the same category because they both definitely cause accidents. The severity of the accident is not discussed, and that’s where we tend to get lost with the breathless press releases on this topic. 

So should you stop eating red and processed meat? The answer is all about the dreaded, boring M word – moderation. If you’re always eating red and processed meat, over years and years, then that’s probably not good for you. But meat in moderation (i.e. not too much and not too often) is still okay, and is definitely not as bad as smoking is. The thing with diet and disease is that reality is often rather boring; there are no miracle diets or magical juice cleansers that will give you eternal youth. There are no superfoods that offset the damage of binge-drinking every weekend. That’s just not how our bodies work. 

What you can do to prevent cancer is eat plenty of fruit and veg with lots of fibre while cutting back on things like alcohol, salt, red and processed meats. And definitely avoid sunburns and smoking. 

*In the interest of full disclosure, I work at the charity CRUK as a science communicator. 

#ScienceEveryday  

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59 Comments


  1.  something CRUCIAL  is ALWAYS MISSING in those  no-go debates ~ First and Foremost HUMAN  intestines are not “designed” by mighty Nature to consume meat.


    Compared to predators’  Human intestines are Too Long to digest meat  properly. Meat gets stuck in human bodies for a long time and rots.


    Moreover, unlike humans who have a deadly habit to devour meat (processed) everyday,  Predators, like big Wild cats,  commonly catch  their “meat” only once   a week or even once within a few weeks!!   Cheers! 

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  2. Meat does not rot. My shit smells sweet because I eat yogurt every day and plenty of oatmeal and veg.


    And I eat red meat only 2 or 3 times a week, mixed with chicken and fish.


    Once my 16 year old moves out I may eat more vegetarian meals but I’ll keep having red meat weekly. I’m much stronger and more vital with it

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  3. nothing in human biology is simple or absolute. yes young people get cancer. I’m sorry for your loss. childhood cancers are much rarer than older cancers.


    the INCREASE in frequency of cancer is entirely explained by demographics – by people living longer – except for a small increase in childhood cancers, the cause of which has yet to be pinned down.

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