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Cancer charity: 'Lives could be saved by avoiding meat'

Cancer prevention charity the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) recommends that people avoid processed meat completely and limit eating red meat to 500g per week.

Dr Rachel Thompson, the charity's deputy head of science, said:

This study strengthens the body of evidence which shows a link between red meat and chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. The research itself seems solid and is based on two largescale cohort studies monitored over a long period of time.The study calculates that lives would be saved if people replaced red meat with healthy protein sources such as fish, poultry, nuts and legumes and we would like to see more people replacing red meat with these type of foods

Red meat 'important' for essential nutrients

Dr Carrie Ruxton from the MAP pointed out that meat and meat products were significant sources of essential nutrients such as iron, zinc, selenium, B vitamins and vitamin D.

In the UK, red meat is "critically important" to zinc intake, contributing 32% of the total for men and 27% for women.Red meat also contributes around 17% of total dietary iron intake in the UK.

Advisory Panel: 'Study does not prove meat risk'

Red meat could be lethal Credit: ITV News

The findings have been disputed by Dr Carrie Ruxton from the Meat Advisory Panel (MAP), an expert body funded by the meat industry.

She said:

"This US study looked at associations between high intakes of red meat and risk of mortality, finding a positive association between the two. However, the study was observational, not controlled, and so cannot be used to determine cause and effect."

"The authors' conclusion that swapping a portion of red meat for poultry or fish each week may lower mortality risk was based only on a theoretical model. This conflicts with evidence from controlled trials."

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Replacing meat could extend life

The study found that cutting red meat out of the diet led to significant benefits.

Replacing one serving of red meat with an equivalent serving of:

  • fish reduced mortality risk by 7%
  • poultry produced risk reduction of 14%
  • Legumes and low-fat dairy products lowered the risk by 10%
  • whole grains by 14%
  • nuts by 19%

Halving red meat consumption could have prevented 9.3% of deaths of men and 7.6% of women taking part in the study.

Red meat risks

Each daily serving of red meat, equivalent to a helping of beef, lamb or pork about the size of a deck of cards, raised the risk of death 13%, while processed meat increased it by 20%.

When deaths were broken down into specific causes, eating any kind of red meat increased the chances of dying from:

  • heart disease by 16%
  • and of cancer by 10%

Processed red meat raised the risk of:

  • heart disease by 21%
  • cancer deaths by 16%