The Case for Reducing Even Moderate Red Meat Consumption

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Eating 76 grams of red meat—or about the size of a 2.6-ounce steak—a day could increase your colorectal cancer risk, a new study in the International Journal of Epidemiology shows.

What's more, the study also analyzed processed meat (meat that has been salted, cured, smoked, or in some way preserved) and came to the same conclusion: Even moderate amounts of sausage or deli meat intake can increase a person's cancer risk, it shows.

Previous research has shown that the average American eats about 99 pounds of red and processed meat each year—much more than what is considered a "moderate" amount.

For the study, researchers looked at data collected by the U.K. Biobank, in which 40- to 69-year-old men and women reported their diets over several years. Researchers found that men and women who reported eating 76 grams (or about 2.6 ounces) of red meat a day had a 20 percent higher risk of colorectal cancer than those who ate 21 grams—or less than an ounce—of red meat each day. Current U.K. nutrition guidelines recommend eating less than 90 grams of red meat per day, leading the researchers to conclude that, "consumption of red and processed meat at an average level of 76 g per day, [which] meets the current U.K. government recommendation, was associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer."

This isn't the first time red meat has been linked with cancer, either. In 2015, the World Health Organization classified red meat as a Group 2 carcinogen, due to, as they wrote, "limited evidence from epidemiological studies showing positive associations between eating red meat and developing colorectal cancer as well as strong mechanistic evidence." The WHO also classifies processed meat as a Group 1 carcinogen, based on even stronger evidence—"convincing evidence that the agent causes cancer," according to its website (emphasis ours).

And it's not just cancer: Recent research found that eating increased amounts of animal protein is linked to higher rates of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and can even increase your overall mortality rate. And that's just red meat: What makes many processed meats, like cold cuts, even worse is that they include nitrates, which produce carcinogenic compounds.

But there is good news: Reducing (or eliminated) red and processed meat from your diet can reduce cancer risk, as well as reduce their other negative effects. And we promise, eating less red meat doesn't have to be difficult or less tasty.

To start, you may want to check out these plant-based recipes for beginners, a collection of easy-to-make recipes that can help you go meat-free without fuss. Even going meat-free one day a week can have huge health benefits.

And if you just can't leave off the animal protein, try to incorporate more chicken and turkey into your diet. (Check out these easy 20-minute healthy chicken recipes to start.)

But if you really want to dive in and embrace a completely vegetarian diet, this 30-day meatless challenge can help you plan out meatless meals for a whole month.

Related: 6 Cancer-Fighting Foods to Add to Your Diet

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