Design a site like this with
Get started

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 ( and the second by CRUK* ( 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. 



Join the Conversation


  1. Chris N.

    You may not understand the PAIN hat cancer can bring

    Bacon (pork bellies) was pushed into the breakfast market by Edward Bernays, same reptile who helped market fluoride into the public drinking water…


  2. Cardio Activist​​ No, genius. As numerous articles that debunk the original one have already suggested, one can eat bacon in moderation and be just fine.

    The rest of my father’s family were Pennsylvania Dutch farmers and ate bacon and other smoked meats on a regular basis and all of which lived in to their nineties. The direct reason that he was the exception is because he smoked ever since the Korean War.


  3. +Cardio Activist Are you simply trolling, or you don’t understand that actual facts are you’re completely fine to eat bacon every once in a while and be in no direct risk? That cigarettes and processed meats are not equivalent? That you can’t “smoke in moderation” but you can eat processed meats in moderation?

    Where’s your confusion?


  4. Ok this is getting out of hand fast. I think we can all tell by now that Cardio Activist is either very stubborn, or very dumb. 

    We understand that we simply need to practice moderation right? Right. Let’s move on now.


  5. Troy Green . The relative risk in vegetarians compared with nonvegetarians was 0.85

    So a minor difference.


    There was significant heterogeneity in cancer risk between groups for the following four cancer sites: stomach cancer, RRs (compared with meat eaters) of 0.29 (95% CI: 0.07–1.20) in fish eaters and 0.36 (0.16–0.78) in vegetarians, P for heterogeneity=0.007; ovarian cancer, RRs of 0.37 (0.18–0.77) in fish eaters and 0.69 (0.45–1.07) in vegetarians, P for heterogeneity=0.007; bladder cancer, RRs of 0.81 (0.36–1.81) in fish eaters and 0.47 (0.25–0.89) in vegetarians, P for heterogeneity=0.05; and cancers of the lymphatic and haematopoietic tissues, RRs of 0.85 (0.56–1.29) in fish eaters and 0.55 (0.39–0.78) in vegetarians, P for heterogeneity=0.002. The RRs for all malignant neoplasms were 0.82 (0.73–0.93) in fish eaters and 0.88 (0.81–0.96) in vegetarians (P for heterogeneity=0.001).

    conclusion: The incidence of some cancers may be lower in fish eaters and vegetarians than in meat eaters.


  6. Let’s say you totally stopped eating bacon, red meat and processed meat. Many years from now, in your dying bed, watching meat ads on TV. Part of you are going to start thinking “I’m going to die soon anyway, what more harm can a bacon do ?”. So you ordered a bacon burger. On the first chew, you suddenly felt an enormous uncontrollable sadness, a sadness from realizing that you missed how tasty bacon is. Upon chewing, you’ve also realized how you’ve been controlling your life so you can live the “safest” and “most predictable” life ever. Now, looking back from the end of your days, you regretted everything, regretted that you refused your friends’ invitation to go bungie jumping, regretted you didn’t take a vacation to exotic China, instead opting for closer to home vacation, regret, regret, regret.

    Avoiding meat at all cost is like trying to avoid death. I prefer to enjoy them while I can, in moderation as a matter of course.


  7. It’s so disappointing that even in a supposedly scientific community people continue to spread the same mediatic misconception. The word “caused” should no be in that infographic. “Correlated” is the correct term. Going from statistical correlation to cause-effect is a night and day change. 


  8. Eltjon Metko Strong statistical correlation can indicate causation. While “Correlation may not always equal causation but can if enough data that’s consistent presents itself” is not as catchy as “correlation does not equal causation”, the first statement is more accurate than the last.


  9. Greyghostvol1 strong statistical correlation CAN Indicate (keyphrase) Causation IF other independent variables are taken into consideration during the study. 

    However My beef (pun intended) is with the fact that the public is presented with misleading “no question asked this is a fact” type of information instead of “Careful this MAY be a factor (not cause)” 


  10. Eltjon Metko​ That’s applied to practically any statistic unless you’ve already shown a direct causal effect though.

    I understand what you’re getting at, I just fail to agree that certain leaps of word usage by the people covering it is irresponsible. The general public reacts differently when confronted with scientifically sound, and carefully worded phrases than actual scientists do. People want certainty, not vagueness. 


  11. I prefer to operate at full capacity and function as a human being….and red meat clogs up the digestive tract, so the body has to focus more energy on cleaning the system. Instead, that energy can keep you alert during the day, fight disease, and experience the present moment 


  12. I was a vegetarian for over a decade. It felt good: light, relaxed.

    But meat gives me vigour and strength. And it tastes great. You just have to

    A) not eat too much

    B) never go for more than a week without eating it, so you keep the enzymes up.


  13. You should stop eating all forms of meats, foul, and fish (processed or not) along with artificial sugars if you have cancer, but once the cancer is completely gone, not in remission but gone, then eat them all again to your heart’s content with the exception of any type of pork or pork products.  It’s not likely that the cancer can ever come back.  I learned this after my wife was given 2 1/2 years to live in April 1998 when we lost our only son to it.  He was a still born who lived only a few minutes.  My wife was rid of the cancer called adenocarcinoma of the endometrium by September 1998, and continued getting checkups every six months to make sure it didn’t come back.  Everyone who has heeded this advice who has had cancer has always had the same results except when waiting until the end to do something about it.


  14. Rob England If it works, why stop?  You may not consider it empirical science, but if results can be empirically replicated, it’s the best science you can ask for because it’s saving lives.  Meanwhile, people like you promote all this garbage when you should be using your intelligence on real science, science that proves something, like saving lives.  Making money off of cancer patients, now that is what people like you should stop doing because people are dying when they do not have to.


  15. How many of you actually read the links above?

    Casey S., it’s not click bait. Quite the opposite. The point of the post is to point out how churnalism is getting the message wrong. You’d probably agree with Ed Yong and Buddhini Samarasinghe.


  16. Science on Google+ Why do I need peer reviews?  This is old stuff that is empirically proven and has been known for decades.  The problem is that cancer is just a money making industry, which is why I won’t contribute anymore to organizations like ACS.  Just ask anyone who has survived any type of cancer the way my wife got rid of hers.  The story is the same for everyone.  No chemo, no radiation.  Just stop feeding the cancer.  I have read a lot of medical reviews with regard to cancer in order to save my wife’s life.  We even contacted many organizations like the American Cancer Society, and all their information is unreliable and unadulterated garbage.  It’s not like a theory where you “believe” something based on what the mathematics or schematics suggest.  There are thousands of people around the world who know that cancer is completely curable and even more who know how to get rid of it like the common cold.  The proof is the individuals who have had cancer and stopped feeding it and then were able to get rid of it without chemo or radiation.  That ought to support my claim more than your phony, venal medical reviews.  Also if you wish to have a practical medical support to my claim, contact Dr. Leo Lagasse who is an internationally proclaimed gynecologist who also treated my wife at Cedar Sinai while she and I worked together on learning as much about cancer as possible.  He also confirmed the first diagnosis by the doctor who initially discovered it and who like Dr. Lagasse gave her 2 1/2 years to live… initially… until they could no longer find a single trace of the cancer in her.

    Maybe your medical professionals should start taking a look at the facts like I had to do after trying to save my wife’s life, just to find out how incompetent your medical reviews actually are.  Maybe we would be saving more lives if people accepted proof more than the fear of how much money they are going to lose if people stop requiring all the meds, chemo, radiation, and so forth from which the medical community is just soaking so much money out of the government and patients.  That’s immoral, and to present proof that you have access to as well is not sufficient for you?  Well, I don’t think anything would satisfy you or be acceptable to you because your perspective is pure venality, not saving lives.  My intent was to save lives, and I have as a result of what I have been sharing for almost two decades now.  How many lives are you trying to “prevent” from being saved in the name of saving your investments?


  17. Uncle Ñoño Kingston the “cancer is caused and cured by diet” trope is unproven and dangerous. I assume you are unsympathetic to those with cancer and tell them it is their own stupid fault. And of course you abuse parents when they cause their children to get cancer.


  18. Rob England I  don’t know how you come up with that conclusion, but if a person knows how to rid the cancer and does not get rid of it, then, of course, that becomes a choice.  As for the cure for cancer being unproven, what more do you want than empirical results?  I think you’re being obnoxiously stupid now.


Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: