27/10/2015 11:24 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST

Don't Make Any Rasher Decisions With Your Bacon Habits

Caucasian boy looking at plate of eggs and bacon
KidStock via Getty Images
Caucasian boy looking at plate of eggs and bacon

The International Agency for Research into Cancer (IARC) released an evaluation on meat and cancer today. Suddenly, everyone is asking the question: "Should I become a vegetarian?"

In my view, the answer is 'no' -- unless of course you choose to do so for personal reasons, but not from a health perspective.

Let's analyse the findings of the study a bit more closely:

Red meat

The IARC stated that red meat consumption is probably carcinogenic based on limited evidence. The studies available were confounded by a range of other factors, including obesity, smoking, alcohol intake and a low intake of vegetables.

There are a lot of nutritional benefits for eating lean red meat, including helping us to meet our iron and zinc requirements. The Australian Dietary Guidelines, which were reviewed in 2013, also reviewed the evidence of red meat consumption on cancer risk versus the nutritional benefits of red meat.

As a result, the Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend 455g (equivalent to 650g raw weight) of cooked red meat per week to meet iron and zinc requirements. Since regular consumption of greater than 120g per day of cooked red meat was associated with increased risk of colorectal cancer, the recommended amount was limited to 455g per week of cooked red meat. Hence, 455g per week of cooked meat represents the ideal amount for good health.

According to the last National Nutrition Survey, red meat intakes in Australian children and women are already below the recommendations, contributing to iron and zinc deficiencies.

It is also important to note that Australian beef and lamb is predominantly grass-fed and sausages consumed in Australia are typically not fermented, cured or dried and do not contain nitrite, so our products tends to be less carcinogenic than others that were reviewed in this research.

Processed meat

The report concluded that processed meat is carcinogenic, with every 50g increase in processed meat consumed daily increasing cancer risk by 18 percent. However, what I would like to know is: who eats more than 50g of processed meat per day?

I've been working as a dietitian for 15 years and I personally can't think of many clients who'd consume this much processed meat. You'd have to be eating bacon for breakfast, ham for lunch and salami pizza for dinner! It is a good reminder, though, that processed meats have been shown to increase our cancer risk, and they're really poor nutritionally anyway, so choose a more nutritious option instead.

My top tips for minimising your cancer risk:

1) Replace processed meats such as ham or salami with tinned tuna or leftover meat from last night's dinner

2) Aim for approximately 100-200g of red meat, 3-4 times per week to meet your iron and zinc requirements

3) Bulk up meat dishes with legumes

4) Serve plenty of anti-oxidant-rich veggies with your meat

5) Think of processed meats such as bacon and frankfurts as a treat food instead of eating them on a daily basis