Is red meat really that bad for you?

With conflicting arguments and advice on both sides, it’s time to untangle the truth of how red meat affects your health.

Eating a healthy, balanced diet is the cornerstone of keeping your body well and avoiding controllable risk factors for disease. But in practice, following a healthy diet isn’t easy, especially when there seems to be so much conflicting advice around a major food group – like there is with red meat. The reality is that it’s best to eat red meat in moderation – just like everything else. Here is a more detailed look at the health impacts of eating red meat.

What counts as red meat?

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For much of the evidence, red meat and processed meat are lumped together into one category. But what exactly is classified as red meat and processed meat, and are they both equally as bad for you?

Red meat includes beef, lamb, pork, veal, venison and goat. It does not include turkey, duck, goose, chicken, rabbit or game birds such as pheasant1.

Processed meat simply refers to any meat products which have been preserved by curing, smoking, salting or adding preservatives. Processed meats include things such as sausage, bacon, ham, salami and pate. Foods such as beef burgers only count as processed meat if they have been treated using chemical additives1.

What are the risks?

The main risk associated with eating red and processed meat is the increased risk of developing bowel cancer, which is one of the most common forms of cancer in the UK. Evidence shows that people who eat a lot of red and processed meat are more at risk of developing bowel cancer.

Saturated fat is another issue of a high meat diet. Many meats, particularly processed meats such as sausages and bacon, are high in saturated fat which can raise cholesterol levels in the blood. Having high cholesterol levels increases your risk of heart disease2.

A large study conducted in 2012 found that eating red and processed meat regularly is associated with a higher risk of dying prematurely from any cause, and processed meat is worse. This study cannot conclusively prove that eating red and processed meat increases the risk of dying prematurely, but it added to a growing pile of evidence that points to a link.

How much red meat should I eat?


Meat is a good source of vitamins, minerals and protein in your diet. Although it is perfectly possible to get all the sustenance you need from a vegetarian or vegan diet, red meat can be integrated into a healthy balanced diet. It’s important to pay attention to how much meat you eat, and make healthy choices when deciding which meats to have.

The Department of Health advises that if you currently eat more than 90g (cooked weight) of red and processed meat per day, you should try and reduce this to 70g. This is the average amount of red and processed that people eat in the UK, and should help to lower your risk of developing bowel cancer. 90g of meat is roughly equivalent to three thinly cut slices of beef, lamb or pork2.

Making healthy meat choices

It’s not just about how much red and processed meat you eat, it’s about the type and cut of the meat you choose. For example, to reduce the amount of fat you consume, try to go for the leanest cuts. A butcher will be able to tell you which cuts are the leanest, or you can check the nutrition label to compare the fat content. As a rule, the more white bits you can see, the more fat the meat contains – back bacon contains less fat than streaky bacon, for example2.

To avoid consuming too much fat, salt and additives, opt for unprocessed meat and cook it from scratch. Processed foods such as sausages, salami and pate are often high in fat and salt, as are meat products in pastry such as pork pies and sausage rolls2.

When it comes to the cooking, you can make any meat dish healthier by cutting off all of the visible skin and fat before cooking. It’s best to grill meat rather than fry it, and don’t add any extra fat or oil. Top tip for roasting: place the meat on a wire rack above a roasting tin to allow the fat to can run off2.

Want to know more?

You can find out more about how your diet is affecting your health, and get personalised lifestyle recommendations, by booking in for a dietary consultation.

To find out more call us on 0808 101 0337
or make an online enquiry.


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