"There is substantial evidence that red and processed meat are linked to bowel cancer, and the World Health Organization classifies processed meat as carcinogenic and red meat as probably carcinogenic," Key added. "Most previous research looked at people in the 1990s or earlier, and diets have changed significantly since then, so our study gives a more up-to-date insight that is relevant to meat consumption today."
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Shoulder roasts, ham roasts, steaks and pork tenderloin - here's an example of the beef and pork cuts
Credit: C. W. Cameron
Credit: C. W. Cameron
Both men and women, ages 40-69, participated in the study.
One in 15 men and 1 in 18 women born after 1960 in the U.K. will be diagnosed with bowel cancer in their lifetime. Researchers found the cancer risk rose by 19 percent for every 25 grams of processed meat — a slice of ham or bacon — that people ate daily, and by 18 percent for each 50 grams of red meat — equivalent to a thick slice of roast beef or a lamb cutlet.
Key said the researchers are not suggesting the government change its guidelines on eating red or processed meat.
"Meat is important for iron," Key told the Guardian. "We would want to consider other aspects of health if we were going to change the recommendation. The main message for the public is that it reinforces the government advice that we shouldn't eat large amounts of red and processed meat."
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Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK’s head of health information, said: “The government guidelines on red and processed meat are general health advice, and this study is a reminder that the more you can cut down beyond this, the more you can lower your chances of developing bowel cancer.”
Cutting meat consumption is in line with a landmark study earlier this year.
Our current food production and consumption habits are doomed to "exacerbate risks to people and planet," the study published in January in The Lancet stated. But if we make a radical change — as in, cut our sugar and red meat by half and double our vegetable, fruit and nut consumption — we could potentially prevent up to 11.6 million avoidable deaths per year without hurting our home, the study said.
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Key's study was published in Wednesday in the International Journal of Epidemiology. You can read the full study here.