Here is where I share my thoughts, ideas and opinions about the world of nutrition, food and health. I hope you find good sense, helpful guidance and inspiration to eat great healthy food that makes you feel good.

I write regularly for GI News, an online newsletter for 60,000+ Australasian and International subscribers interested in the glycemic index (GI) and associated health topics such as diabetes, weight loss and a healthy heart. It’s a great read.


27 Oct 2015

What you need to know about meat and cancer

Posted by 2142 2142 on Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The headlines today are full of stories about meat and cancer. These have been triggered by the release of a comprehensive report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organisation (WHO). The report concludes that processed meat is carcinogenic to humans, and red meat is probably carcinogenic. Many media stories have made much of the idea that this places bacon, salami and ham on the same carcinogen list as arsenic, smoking and plutonium. Here’s what you need to know about meat and cancer.

This finding is not new

The evidence has been building for some time that eating too much meat, especially processed meat, increases cancer risk. Dietary Guidelines around the world already take this into account. For example, the Australian Dietary Guidelines do not place processed meat into the Meat food group but classify them as discretionary foods along with alcohol, sweet drinks, confectionary, cakes and donuts. Discretionary foods are foods to be limited because they are high in risky ingredients such as salt, sugar, saturated fat and kilojoules. These guidelines also suggest limiting lean red meat to no more than 450g per week.

Processed meat does not carry the same risk as smoking or arsenic

Although the IARC has now classified processed meat as a carcinogen, eating lots of it does not carry the same relative risk as smoking or taking arsenic. The relative risk of eating lots of processed meat is quite small by comparison, which is not to say we should ignore it but we need to keep things in perspective.

Enjoy processed meats occasionally and in small amounts

We’ve known for some time that processed meat is not an everyday choice. Processed meats are strongly flavoured and a little goes a long way in cooking. In practical terms, use them sparingly. Bacon is not a healthy choice for breakfast every day, but eating a rasher with an egg on wholegrain toast with a side of tomato and spinach is a better way to go. Pizza lovers, stick to once a week at most and try the less meat-heavy toppings such as seafood and vegetables rather than three or four different kind of processed meat such as ‘meat-lovers’ or ‘supreme’ all the time. Enjoy your pizza with a salad.

Don’t overdo red meat

Lean red meat is a nutrient dense food and a great source of iron and zinc. You don’t need to give it up altogether but simply ensure you’re eating less than 450g a week. Dietary surveys tell us that in Australia, its only men who need to cut back to meet this target. Women are not overdoing it, and some may benefit from eating a little more in order to meet their iron needs. While many steak restaurants, pubs and clubs haven’t yet caught on, we are in the midst of a culinary revolution where meat is not longer the main event on the plate and vegetables, grains, legumes and nuts are stepping up to take their rightful place in a balanced meal.

Enjoy plenty of protective plant foods

Why do people following the traditional Mediterranean diet seem to live longer and healthier lives? Because they eat a mostly plant based diet. They never eat a meal without vegetables, and never go a day without fruit. Meat is a tasty garnish rather than hanging off the edge of the plate. Meals have colour, texture and flavour.  Plant foods are loaded with beneficial nutrients, including phytochemicals with anti-cancer activity. Plant foods are protective so make sure you get enough. Eating some meat in this context is absolutely fine.

Enjoy an active lifestyle

When it comes to cancer, meat is only one of the many lifestyle factors that are important in influencing your risk. We know physical activity is protective, as is preventing obesity. The same old, well known messages about not smoking still stand; and the risks are significantly greater than those posed by eating too much meat or processed meat. Let’s face it, we know all this stuff but your challenge is making it happen in your own life. If you need help, please make an appointment to see an Accredited Practising Dietitian (or Registered Dietitian in the USA) to help you enjoy a healthy balanced diet that suits you.

Eating too much processed meat increases your risk of cancer so eat occasionally and in small amounts in a mostly plant based diet