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Breast cancer
Red Meat Cancer Risk

Dietitian, Juliette Kellow comments on the latest study which shows there may be a link between eating red meat and breast cancer and highlights the importance of losing weight if necessary and eating a varied and balanced diet.

Seeing Red - Red Meat a Risk for Breast Cancer?

By Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD

Earlier this month, the papers were full of reports suggesting that red meat may increase the risk of breast cancer, following a study published in the British Journal of Cancer.

The study included more than 35,000 women aged between 35 and 69 years at the time of recruitment, who were followed for seven years.

The research showed that both pre-menopausal and post-menopausal women who consumed the most meat had the highest risk of breast cancer.

In pre-menopausal women, high intakes of red meat appeared to increase the risk of breast cancer by 32 percent, although this wasn’t statistically significant.

In post-menopausal women, high intakes of processed meat such as bacon, ham, sausages and salami, were found to increase the risk of breast cancer by 64 percent.

The researchers conclude that further studies should be carried out to confirm these findings.

Tara Beaumont, Clinical Nurse Specialist at Breast Cancer Care, helped to put the study into perspective by saying:

“This is a large-scale and informative study, which adds to our knowledge of how diet may play a role in the development of breast cancer. However it is difficult to isolate the effects of particular food groups from lifestyle and other factors on the risk of the disease. Whilst this study adds to earlier research into the possible effects of red meat, we are still a long way off from finding any definitive link. Age remains the biggest risk factor for breast cancer.

“The benefits of eating a healthy and varied diet are well established. All women should try to eat a balanced diet, keep within a healthy weight range, and remain breast aware throughout life.”

WLR says:

The results of this study are complicated and not that easy to interpret.

Links between eating red and processed meat and the risk of cancer have been under the spotlight for several years now.

It’s well established that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to pinpoint one specific food or group of foods that are solely responsible for causing cancer.

Furthermore, it’s difficult to separate out eating habits from other factors that may have the potential to increase the risk of breast cancer such as being overweight, inactive or having high intakes of alcohol.

This study showed it was women who regularly consumed large amounts of meat that were at the greatest risk – more than 103g meat a day.

According to the most recent National Diet and Nutrition Survey, most women eat, on average, no more than 80g meat a day.

The researchers speculate that one of the reasons for the link between high intakes of red meat and breast cancer may be due to high fat intakes, particularly saturates.

It’s worth pointing out that lean cuts of red meat are now really quite low in fat, with lean beef containing just 5 percent fat, lamb 8 percent fat and pork 4 percent fat. Plus at least half of the fat in lean meat is heart-healthy monounsaturates.

Processed meat products such as pies, burgers, sausages and bacon, together with fatty cuts of meat can be much higher in fat – and this means they are also often higher in calories.

Ultimately, whether you are trying to lose weight or simply want to eat healthily, it makes sense to eat fewer processed and fatty meats and swap them for lean cuts of meat.

This study confirms once again that it’s important to eat a healthy balanced diet that doesn’t contain a large amount of any one food.

If you are currently eating a lot of meat you should consider reducing your overall intake, opt for leaner cuts and have fewer processed meats.

Plus, you should aim to increase your consumption of fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, which are all low in fat, high in fibre, vitamins and minerals, and have been shown to reduce the risk of several cancers.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that being overweight is in itself a risk factor for breast cancer so one of the best things you can do to reduce your risk is to lose weight if necessary.

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