Red and processed meats raise colorectal cancer risk

Research we're watching

Published: July, 2019

If your diet is heavy on red and processed meat, it might be time to make some adjustments. A study of nearly 500,000 people published in the April 17 International Journal of Epidemiology found that people who ate red or processed meat four or more times a week had a 20% higher risk of colorectal cancer than those who indulged less than twice a week. Risk of colorectal cancer rose 19% for every daily 25-gram serving of processed meat, which is equivalent to a slice of ham. And for every 50-gram-a-day serving of red meat — equal to a thick piece of roast beef — risk of colorectal cancer rose by 18%. Alcohol was also linked to a higher risk of colon cancer: just a half pint of beer per day increased colon cancer risk by 8%.

But the study wasn't all bad news. A number of foods were associated with a lower risk of colon cancer, including high-fiber selections such as bread and breakfast cereals. But higher fiber intake from vegetables and fruits did not appear to reduce risk.

In the United Kingdom, where the study was conducted, the government recommends people not eat more than 90 grams of red or processed meat a day. The results suggest that this threshold may be too high and should be revisited, say the study authors.

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