What's the difference between red and processed meat? What's the difference between red and processed meat?
To understand what you’re eating, it’s good to know exactly what’s classed as processed and what’s not. Processed meats include any meat that’s been salted, cured, smoked or had any preservatives added to it. Think bacon, sausages, ham, salami and pate. Red meats include cuts of beef, lamb, pork, veal, venison and offal.
Eating these foods in large amounts on a regular basis could be harmful to your health. Strong evidence suggests that eating lots of red meat and processed meat may cause bowel cancer.
How does red meat and processed meat cause cancer? How does red meat and processed meat cause cancer?
There are several theories about why these types of meat may lead to cancer. For example, researchers have suggested that haem, the naturally-occurring compound that gives meat its red colour, encourages carcinogens to form. A carcinogen is a substance that can cause cancer.
It’s also thought that some of the preservatives that are added to processed meat (called nitrites or nitrates) may cause carcinogens to form. Carcinogens may also form when meat is cooked at a high temperature, causing it to char.
Another theory suggests that the fat contained in red meat may increase bile acids which may cause bowel cancer to develop.
Furthermore, people who eat a lot of red and processed meat often eat fewer foods that may be protective against cancer, such as fruit and veg.
Direct Access to support
If you are experiencing the symptoms of suspected bowel cancer and have Bupa health insurance, there is usually no need for a GP referral. Call our team to speak to a specialist advisor or nurse.
Excludes some company schemes. Subject to member’s underwriting terms and any pre-existing conditions. Eligibility checks are required for pre-authorisation.
UK guidelines recommend that if you eat more than 90g of red or processed meat a day, then you should cut down to 70g. This is the average amount eaten by the population.
To put that into context, here are five examples of different meats and their cooked weight.
- A rasher of back bacon is 25g.
- A standard scotch egg is 31g.
- A large grilled sausage is 40g.
- A large donner kebab is 130g.
- A portion of Sunday roast that consists of three thin slices of beef, pork or lamb is 90g.
If you know you need to cut down, there are lots of ways that you can reduce your red meat intake without compromising on taste, protein and vitamins. Check out our tips below.
- Try keeping several meals red meat free throughout the week.
- Pulses such as chickpeas, beans and lentils can all be made into tasty burgers, spag bol and chilli con carne.
- Choose fish such as sardines or tuna, or poultry such as chicken and turkey as an alternative to red meat.
- Get your protein in other ways such as eating eggs, cottage cheese and hummous.
- You can buy soya mince to make some of your favourite meals such as lasagne.
- When you do have meat, choose lean cuts and eat smaller portions.
- Bake, grill or poach your meat, poultry or fish rather than frying or chargrilling it.
A healthy approach to your diet is your best bet, for general health as well as disease prevention. Adjusting some of your everyday choices will all help to minimise your risk of bowel cancer. Besides, you may even discover some tasty alternative foods to meat that you hadn’t considered before!
- Red meat and bowel cancer risk. Food Standards Agency. www.eatwellscotland.org, accessed 27 January 2014
- Iron and health. Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), 2010. www.sacn.gov.uk
- Kushi LH, Doyle C, McCullough M. American Cancer Society guidelines on nutrition and physical activity for cancer prevention. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, 2012; 62(1):30–67. doi:10.3322/caac.20140
- Red and processed meats and cancer prevention. World Cancer Research Fund. www.wcrf-uk.org, reviewed January 2013
We’d love to know what you think about what you’ve just been reading and looking at – we’ll use it to improve our information. If you’d like to give us some feedback, our short form below will take just a few minutes to complete. And if there's a question you want to ask that hasn't been answered here, please submit it to us. Although we can't respond to specific questions directly, we’ll aim to include the answer to it when we next review this topic.
Let us know what you think using our short feedback form Ask us a question
Reviewed by Natalie Heaton, Bupa Health Information Team, January 2014.
Let us know what you think using our short feedback form Ask us a question
About our health information
At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. We believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and care. Here are just a few of the ways in which our core editorial principles have been recognised.
Information StandardWe are certified by the Information Standard. This quality mark identifies reliable, trustworthy producers and sources of health information.
What our readers say about us
But don't just take our word for it; here's some feedback from our readers.
“Simple and easy to use website - not alarming, just helpful.”
“It’s informative but not too detailed. I like that it’s factual and realistic about the conditions and the procedures involved. It’s also easy to navigate to areas that you specifically want without having to read all the information.”
“Good information, easy to find, trustworthy.”
Meet the team
Head of health content and clinical engagement
- Dylan Merkett – Lead Editor – UK Customer
- Nick Ridgman – Lead Editor – UK Health and Care Services
- Natalie Heaton – Specialist Editor – User Experience
- Pippa Coulter – Specialist Editor – Content Library
- Alice Rossiter – Specialist Editor – Insights
- Laura Blanks – Specialist Editor – Quality
- Michelle Harrison – Editorial Assistant
Our core principles
All our health content is produced in line with our core editorial principles – readable, reliable, relevant – which are represented by our diagram.
In a nutshell, our information is jargon-free, concise and accessible. We know our audience and we meet their health information needs, helping them to take the next step in their health and wellbeing journey.
We use the best quality and most up-to-date evidence to produce our information. Our process is transparent and validated by experts – both our users and medical specialists.
We know that our users want the right information at the right time, in the way that suits them. So we review our content at least every three years to keep it fresh. And we’re embracing new technology and social media so they can get it whenever and wherever they choose.
Here are just a few of the ways in which the quality of our information has been recognised.
The Information Standard certification scheme
You will see the Information Standard quality mark on our content. This is a certification programme, supported by NHS England, that was developed to ensure that public-facing health and care information is created to a set of best practice principles.
It uses only recognised evidence sources and presents the information in a clear and balanced way. The Information Standard quality mark is a quick and easy way for you to identify reliable and trustworthy producers and sources of information.
Certified by the Information Standard as a quality provider of health and social care information. Bupa shall hold responsibility for the accuracy of the information they publish and neither the Scheme Operator nor the Scheme Owner shall have any responsibility whatsoever for costs, losses or direct or indirect damages or costs arising from inaccuracy of information or omissions in information published on the website on behalf of Bupa.
British Medical Association (BMA) patient information awards
We have received a number of BMA awards for different assets over the years. Most recently, in 2013, we received a 'commended' award for our online shared decision making hub.
If you have any feedback on our health information, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can write to us:
Health Content Team
15-19 Bloomsbury Way