On this page:
Red meat and processed meat are associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer, and there is also suggested evidence for some other cancers, such as prostate cancer. Red meat refers to beef, pork, and lamb, although some studies have included all processed meats (such as bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and cold cuts) in their definition, regardless of animal origin. Some research has suggested that processed, but not fresh, meat may increase risk. More research is needed to understand how these meats influence cancer risk. The increased risk may be due to the iron and fat in red meat, and/or the salt and nitrates/nitrites in processed meat. Additionally, when meat is cooked at high temperatures, substances are formed that may be mutagenic or carcinogenic.
Average daily ounces of red meat for people aged 2 years and older. Red meat includes beef, lamb, and pork from all sources and does not include processed poultry.
We used the My Pyramid Equivalents Database to estimate food group intake (available at http://www.ars.usda.gov/Services/docs.htm?docid=8498). Please note that these data are currently available only through 2003-04 NHANES. We will update as new data become available.
In 2003 to 2004, people aged 2 years and older had, on average, 2.5 ounces of red meat per day.
There is no Healthy People 2010 target for red meat consumption.
The World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research Expert Report “Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective” recommends limiting consumption of red meat and avoiding processed meat. The recommendation is to limit intake to no more than 18 ounces a week, very little if any of which is to be processed. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans also recommend that choices be lean, portions be small, and meat be prepared by baking, broiling, or poaching, rather than by frying or charbroiling.
One area of active research is examining how risk differs for processed meats, such as salami, compared to fresh or frozen unprocessed meats, such as roasts.