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Should I stop eating meat? No need, say experts

The UN’s International Agency for Research on Cancer’s (IARC) warning on Monday that processed meats like sausages and ham cause bowel cancer – and red meat “probably” does too – begs an obvious question.

Does this mean we should all stop eating meat? By the IARC’s own account, meat has “known health benefits”.

And the agency says it does not know what a safe meat quota would be – or even if there is one.

Other specialists insist the report is no reason to drop steak from the menu, though it is probably wise for big eaters of it to cut back.

Meat is a good source of key nutrients like zinc, protein and vitamin B12, they point out, as well as iron, which humans absorb more easily from meat than from plants.

“This decision doesn’t mean you need to stop eating any red and processed meat,” said Tim Key, an epidemiologist at Cancer Research UK.

“But if you eat lots of it, you may want to think about cutting down. You could try having fish for your dinner rather than sausages, or choosing to have a bean salad for lunch over a BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich).”

Nutritionist Elizabeth Lund from Norfolk in England said obesity and lack of exercise were a far bigger cancer risks.

“Overall, I feel that eating meat once a day combined with plenty of fruit, vegetable and cereal fiber plus exercise and weight control, will allow for a low risk of CRC,” she said, referring to colo-rectal cancer.

“It should also be noted that some studies have shown that if meat is consumed with vegetables or a high-fiber diet, the risk of CRC is reduced.”

Ian Johnson of the UK-based Institute of Food Research, said meat consumption was “probably one of many” factors contributing to relatively high rates of bowel cancer in the United States, Western Europe and Australia – parts of the developed world where more meat has traditionally been eaten.

However, “there is little or no evidence that vegetarians in the UK have lower risk of bowel cancer than meat-eaters,” he said. (AFP)