Even if you follow the dietary guidelines for red meat, you’re still at an increased risk of cancer, a new study concludes.
A five-year study followed half a million men and women who have signed up for the UK Biobank research project. They found that the risk of bowel cancer for people who eat 76g of processed red meat a day (the equivalent of 3 rashers of bacon) have a 20% increased risk of bowel cancer compared with those who averaged 21g a day. There’s an approximately 10% increase in risk per daily rasher of bacon.
Researchers also report that the risk increases by 19% with each thick slice of roast beef or the edible part of a lamb cutlet (about 50g).
In the UK, the dietary guidelines suggest a consumption lower than 70g per day — which is still enough to put people at risk. In the US, the Dietary Reference Intake is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound, which amounts to approximately 56 grams per day for the average sedentary man and 46 grams per day for the average sedentary woman.
There were a few factors affecting the increased risk. Alcohol drinkers had an 8% higher risk per for every 10 g per day. Meanwhile, people who ate more fibers enjoyed a protective effect.
It’s important to put this into perspective. The 10% increase in risk per rasher of bacon is relative, not absolute. It’s estimated that by 2035, the incidence rate for bowel cancer will be 74 cases per 100,000 people — so for the absolute average person, the risk is 0.074%. For every rasher of bacon a day, your bowel cancer risk increases relatively by 10%, and absolutely by 0.0074% — which doesn’t seem nearly as damning, although you should keep in mind that the risk is also exacerbated by other factors such as alcohol, sedentary lifestyle, and insufficient consumption of dietary fiber. In this particular study, the absolute risk was found to increase by 0.2%.
At the end of the day, the choice is yours. It’s not the be-all-end-all of good health, but it is significant. Bowel cancer is not the only risk associated with red meat, which has been found to also increase the risk of many other health conditions and to reduce overall lifespan. In addition, red meat is very taxing on the environment.
The study has been published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.