full english breakfast on a plate with scrambled eggs

We’ve all seen the headlines stating that we should reduce the amount of red and processed meat we include in our diet, but why is this and how much should we actually be consuming?

To clarify which types of meat we’re talking about, red meat includes beef, pork and lamb; and processed meats are items such as ham, bacon and sausages, as well as cured meats like chorizo and salami.

The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) recommends limiting red meat intake to no more than 500g (cooked weight) per week, and completely avoiding processed and cured meats altogether. The current guidance set in 2011 by the UK’s Department of Health also states that we shouldn’t have more than around 500g per week or 70g per day, however this figure is for both red and processed meat.  The Department of Health states that cured meats can still be safe when eaten occasionally.  

A new report by The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently hit the headlines by stating that processed meat is as carcinogenic to humans as alcohol, cigarettes and asbestos. The report says that eating 50g of processed meat a day, the equivalent of one sausage or less than two slices of bacon, increases the chance of developing bowel cancer by 18%. From this, as ever, the key message to bear in mind is moderation and balance: if you’re a frequent red and processed meat eater, try having more meat-free days and swapping some of your meat intake for fish, including oily fish.

Elsewhere in the world, Nutrition Australia recommends that we shouldn’t have more than 455g (cooked weight) of red meat each week, which should be spread across three or four appropriate serving sizes. They also suggest that processed meats and sausages can be eaten and enjoyed occasionally, but that they are more of a ‘discretionary choice’ than an essential part of the diet.

In America, the dietary nutrition guidelines from 2010 say there is moderate evidence to suggest a link between increased intake of processed meat and increased risk of colorectal cancer and heart disease. So it’s recommended people limit their intake of these foods, which are typically high in saturated fat, and opt for leaner versions instead. The latest American dietary guidelines are due to be released before the end of the year, however, so do be aware that the advice may change.

Even though the guidelines differ between countries, it’s important to remember that if you are a meat eater, red meat can be eaten in moderation as part of a healthy, balanced diet, as it’s an important source of protein, iron, zinc and B vitamins.    

There are clever ways you can use small quantities of red or processed meat that still offer maximum flavour, though, and these recipes from Jamie’s new book for skinny carbonara and cheese and corn pancakes with smoky bacon demonstrate exactly that! 

About the author

Laura Matthews

Laura is head of nutrition at Jamie Oliver. Her passion for food comes from having cooking lessons at a local college from the age of 10, and the nutrition side from a fascination for how the right foods can fuel the body.

Laura Matthews