Brits advised to curb red meat consumption

By Lynda Searby

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Red meat, Nutrition

The UK Government is expected to release a report this week which advises Britons to limit their red meat consumption to no more than 2.5 oz (70g) a day or 500g (1.1lb) a week to reduce their risk of contracting cancer.

A Whitehall source leaked details of the report to a Sunday newspaper at the weekend, resulting in coverage in the UK press.

As the official report is not yet out, the Department of Health declined to comment on its contents, though a spokesperson told FoodNavigator “the media reports were largely accurate,” ​and confirmed that the full report will be published on Friday.

Current UK guidelines state that 3.2 oz (90g) is a healthy daily portion of red meat, and that only those who eat more than 5oz (140g) need to cut back.

However, since then, several studies have linked consumption of red and processed meats with higher risk of cancer.

A 2005 European study claimed that those who regularly eat more than 5.6oz (160g) of red meat daily increase their risk of contracting bowel cancer by a third. Then in 2007, the World Cancer Research Fund report in 2007 concluded that there was link between red meat consumption and an increased risk of bowel cancer.

Following these concerns, the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) was asked by the Department of Health to review dietary advice on meat consumption as a source of iron.

Its draft report, published in June 2009, claimed that lower consumption of red and processed meat could reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.

This week the committee will publish its final report on “iron and health”​, which is expected to echo the draft report.

Objections to threatened livelihoods

The British Meat Processors Association is refusing to speculate on the implications for the British meat industry until the official report is published, but it is anticipated that the farming and meat processing industries will object strongly to anything that threatens their livelihoods.

The SACN report comes hot on the heels of research from the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) which contradicts these recommendations.

The BNF review, published in the March issue of the Nutrition Bulletin, looked at data on current red meat consumption in the UK and the contribution this makes to nutrient intakes. It also reviewed evidence on the effect of red meat in the diet on risk of diseases including cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer and obesity.

“The review concluded that moderate intakes of lean red meat can play an important part in a healthy balanced diet. Meat contributes protein, unsaturated fatty acids including omega 3s and micronutrients such as iron, zinc, selenium, vitamin D and vitamins B3 and B12. Some of these are already in short supply in the diets of some sections of the population,” ​Dr Laura Wyness, senior nutrition scientist with the BNF, told FoodNavigator.

With respect to colorectal cancer risk, the BNF concluded that the current UK guidelines are still appropriate.

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