Red Meat Consumption Linked to Increased Risk of Colorectal Cancer. How Much is Too Much?



By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder


George Bernard Shaw, a famous Irish playwright, author and political activist born in 1856 once said, "The average age of a meat-eater is 63. I am on the verge of 85 and still at work as hard as ever. I have lived quite long enough and am trying to die; but I simply cannot do it. A single beef-steak; would finish me; but I cannot bring myself to swallow it. I am oppressed with a dread of living forever. That is the only disadvantage of vegetarianism."

He died in 1950 at the age of 94 (cause of death was kidney failure).

So maybe there is something to be said about meat-free living and longevity. Obviously, Shaw was being sarcastic and extreme when he said a single beef-steak would kill him, but there is significant evidence and medical advice suggesting that if you eat red meat you really need to do so in moderation.

We’ve previously discussed aspects of this issue and highlighted the fact that the way in which our gut bacteria digests red meat may increase our risk of developing heart disease.

And now, new findings from a study done by researchers in the United Kingdom suggest that eating a moderate amount of red meat or processed meat has been tied to an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer.

So what’s a moderate amount?

According to the report discussing the findings, authors of the study came to the conclusion that “eating an average of 76 grams of red meat or processed meat a day, which is in line with current government recommendations from the United Kingdom, was associated with a 20% higher chance of developing colorectal cancer as compared to consuming only about 21 grams a day.”

To put all this into perspective, a four ounce steak (which is not very big) is about 113 grams.

"Our results strongly suggest that people who eat red and processed meat four or more times a week have a higher risk of developing bowel cancer than those who eat red and processed meat less than twice a week," said one of the authors of the study.

The study also found that processed meats, such as bacon, sausage and salami, pose an even greater threat. This CNN report discussing the study talks about how eating just one slice of bacon a day is linked to a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer.

The good news is that if you are not for giving up meat entirely, fish and poultry were not associated with colorectal cancer risk. Additional foods that were not linked to colorectal cancer risk included cheese, fruits and vegetables (no surprise there), tea and coffee.

Also know that fiber was found to help prevent colorectal cancer, and the consumption of alcohol was associated with an increased risk.

Colorectal cancer is a major health concern.

According to the American Cancer Society, excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States.

The American Cancer Society also predicts that in 2019 there will be:

  • 101,420 new cases of colon cancer
  • 44,180 new cases of rectal cancer

So it is up to each and every one of us to be proactive by educating ourselves about nutrition and diet and being mindful about what we put into our bodies. Eating red meat is a personal choice. And if you do choose to eat it, hopefully this blog will make you reconsider how much red meat you eat each day.

Making lifestyle changes, especially when it comes to diet, can be overwhelming, but a few simple swaps can get you on the right track.

Here are some tips and tricks:

  • Instead of bacon and eggs, have eggs and avocado. Avocados are full of cancer-fighting nutrients such as vitamin C, calcium, magnesium and more. They are also a great source of monounsaturated fatty acids which may help prevent inflammation (a major contributor to cancer) and aid in weight loss (being overweight or obese also increases your risk of developing colorectal cancer).
  • Switch up your burger. One of the best things about burgers is that they are so versatile! You don’t need red meat to make a delicious burger. Go for a turkey burger or try making a black bean burger. Top your burger with plenty of grilled veggies, like onion and bell pepper, for added flavor and cancer-fighting nutrients.
  • If you’re not vegan or vegetarian, be a part-time one. You don’t need to eat meat (especially red meat) or animal foods every day. Check out our Meatless Monday blogs for some plant-based eating inspiration.
  • Watch your portions, especially when dining out. A steak or serving of meat should really be no larger than a deck of cards or the palm of your hand. So if you’re dining out and having a steak, consider splitting one with your spouse or friend. Make sure your dinner includes a heaping plate of leafy greens, which are great for your overall health and may help prevent cancer.

And finally, get screened for this deadly cancer. This goes for younger people as well. This older pH Labs blog discusses how colorectal cancer rates are becoming higher in younger people due to the obesity epidemic in America. As mentioned, being overweight or obese is a major risk factor for developing colorectal cancer. So it is absolutely imperative to get your weight under control if you need to.

What are your thoughts on eating red meat? How much do you eat? Has this blog made you reconsider how much red meat you eat?


Join the conversation!


Enjoy your healthy life!


The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.


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