Let’s talk about red meat… and cancer prevention

by Celeste Buckingham 09 Sep 2020

Red meat has been classified as a Group 2A carcinogen - which means it probably causes cancer but the evidence is limited. While red meat is a good source of zinc, B12, iron and protein, you can get the same amounts — and in some cases even more — from poultry, fish, eggs, and nuts, or by following a plant-based diet.

Here’s what we know:

  1. When a chemical in red and processed meat called haem is broken down in the gut, N-nitroso chemicals are formed which damage the cells that line the bowel. The nitrate preservatives in processed meat exacerbate this effect.
  2. 17% of new bowel cancer cases in Australia are associated with overconsumption of red meat and processed meat.
  3. There is not enough evidence to draw any conclusions on eating chicken, or other white meats and cancer risk. Eating fish is thought to be protective against cancer and has been linked to a reduced risk of bowel, breast, prostate and liver cancer.
  4. Some research suggests that burnt or charred meat may increase the risk of cancer. While the evidence in human studies is not clear it is recommended that they be avoided.


  • Experts recommend eating no more than 1 serve of lean red meat per day or 2 serves 3-4 times per week.
  • A serve of red meat is 65g of cooked meat or the equivalent of ½ cup of cooked mince.
  • A meat free day each week will help reduce your red meat intake and your risk of bowel cancer.
  • You can add eggs, beans, lentils, fish or chicken to your meals for a protein boost.

Read more about Can Too’s investment in bowel cancer research. 

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