One of our Cancer Prevention Recommendations is to eat no more than moderate amounts of red meat, such as beef, pork and lamb, and eat little, if any, processed meat.

There is strong evidence that consumption of either red or processed meat are both causes of colorectal cancer

This Recommendation is not to completely avoid eating meat. Meat can be a valuable source of nutrients, in particular protein, iron, zinc and vitamin B12

What is red meat?

All types of muscle meat from a mammal, including beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse and goat.

What is processed meat?

Meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking or other processes to enhance flavour or improve preservation. Processed meat can include ham, salami, bacon and some sausages such as frankfurters and chorizo. Minced meats such as fresh sausages may sometimes, though not always, count as processed meat.

Dietary goal

  • If you eat red meat, limit consumption to no more than about three portions per week. Three portions is equivalent to about 350–500g (about 12–18oz) cooked weight. Consume very little, if any, processed meat.

The amount of red meat specified was chosen to provide a balance between the advantages of eating red meat (as a source of essential macro- and micronutrients) and the disadvantages (an increased risk of colorectal cancer and other non-communicable diseases).

Martin Wiseman, World Cancer Research Fund International“The evidence on processed meat and cancer is clear-cut. The data show that no level of intake can confidently be associated with a lack of risk. Processed meats are often high in salt, which can also increase the risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease”
– Professor Martin Wiseman, World Cancer Research Fund International’s Medical and Scientific Adviser

Should I give up red meat?

Red meat is a good source of protein, iron and other micronutrients. For those who consume it, lean rather than fatty cuts are preferred. Poultry and fish are valuable substitutes for red meat. Eggs and dairy are also valuable sources of protein and micronutrients.

This Recommendation is not to completely avoid eating meat. Meat can be a valuable source of nutrients, in particular protein, iron, zinc and vitamin B12. However, eating meat is not an essential part of a healthy diet. People who choose to eat meat-free diets can obtain adequate amounts of these nutrients through careful food selection.

People can obtain adequate protein from a mixture of pulses (legumes) and cereals (grains). Iron is present in many plant foods, though it is less bioavailable than that in meat.

  • Three portions is equivalent to about 350 to 500 grams (about 12 to 18 ounces), cooked weight, of red meat.
  • 500 grams of cooked red meat is about equivalent to 700 to 750 grams of raw meat.

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Public health and policy implications

A whole-of-government, whole-of-society approach is necessary to create environments for people and communities that are conducive to limiting consumption of red meat and processed meat.

A comprehensive package of policies is needed to support people to consume diversified diets including limited red meat and little, if any, processed meat, including policies that influence the food environment, the food system and behaviour change communication across the life course. Globally, food systems that are directed towards foods of plant rather than animal origin are more likely to contribute to a sustainable ecological environment. Policymakers are encouraged to frame specific goals and actions according to their national context. Find out more on policy action for cancer prevention.

Our Recommendations work together as an overall way of living healthily to prevent cancer. Download the full chapter PDF below