How much meat is safe to eat?

Has new research left you concerned about the health implications of eating red and processed meat? Read on to find out what the latest findings mean and whether you need to banish the bacon sarnie for good...

How much meat is safe to eat?

The latest research from the World Health Organisation (WHO) states that processed meats can increase your risk of cancer and red meat probably poses a risk too. So is meat yet another food to avoid? The short answer to this is no, it doesn't have to be, it’s all about quality and quantity...

The health benefits of meatMeat

Meat is an excellent source of protein and provides many important vitamins and minerals, which our body needs to grow and work. Red meat, such as lamb, beef, pork and venison, is a rich source of iron and is important in preventing the condition anaemia. Eating red meat once or twice a week can fit into a healthy diet, especially for toddlers and women of reproductive age. Lean meats, such as chicken and turkey, are lean options and can play a role in maintaining a healthy weight. In addition, the high protein content may help control appetite and keep you ‘fuller for longer’.  

What is processed meat?

However, processed meat is a different story. This refers to any meat that is preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding preservatives. Bacon, sausages, salami, ham and pâtés are all examples of processed meats. These foods are often high in both saturated fat and salt and provide very little in the way of vitamins and minerals.  

Lamb chopHow much is safe to eat?

If you eat processed or red meat every day in excess of 90g, it's recommended you reduce this in light of the possible associations with colon cancer risk. In the UK, adults should aim to have a maximum of 70g per day or 500g per week (cooked weight). To put this in context:

Two thin slices of roast beef = 60g

One pork sausage = 50g

One portion Bolognese sauce = 60g

One lamb chop = 70g

One slice ham = 25g

5oz minute steak = 80g   

If you’re eating more than this, cutting down isn’t as hard as you may think. Making small swaps to your diet can help without making radical changes. Aim to have red meat just once or twice a week and swap processed meats for lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, peas, butter beans, baked beans or haricot beans. These are less expensive, high in fibre and lower in fat. Swap lamb or beef mince for turkey or vegetarian mince in spaghetti Bolognese, lasagne and chilli con carne. Introduce more white fish such as cod, coley and haddock. Aim to have oily fish such as mackerel, herring, sardines and salmon once a week. These are great sources of healthy omega-3 oils. 

So can I still eat a bacon sandwich?Bacon

If you eat a bacon sandwich once a month, then there's no need to worry. A healthy, balanced diet can include protein from meat, as well as from non-animal sources such as beans and pulses. Moderation is the key.

10 ways to cut down on meat

1. Build meals around vegetables and add a little meat in, rather than the other way around. For example, reduce the amount of meat in stews and curries, and bulk up with extra vegetables, pulses and grains.

2. Use vegetables with a ‘meaty’ quality, such as mushrooms and aubergines.

3. After soaking dried mushrooms (such as porcini and shiitake) in hot water, save the soaking liquid to use in stocks to add a ‘meaty’ flavour.

4. Devise a way of curbing your meat intake that works for you. For example, consider eating meat only on weekends, or restricting meat to one meal per day.

5. Buy meat less frequently but make it the best quality you can afford.

6. Opt for Indian, Middle Eastern or South-East Asian veg dishes that use loads of spices and herbs – you're less likely to notice the absence of meat.

7. Add cheese! Simple roasted vegetables taste amazing sprinkled with a strong cheese, such as mature cheddar, towards the end of the cooking time.

8. In sandwiches, swap salami, ham or other processed meats with canned tuna, sardines or mackerel, or use roast chicken.

9. If you love bacon, fry one rasher until crisp, chop into pieces and add to a salad, omelette or pasta dish.

10. Have one sausage and one bacon rasher, instead of two of each, in your full English breakfast – add another egg and extra beans if you're hungry.


All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

Comments, questions and tips

Sign in or create your My Good Food account to join the discussion.

Comments (4)

Pkay's picture

It does contain advice to eat pulses if you read it ! You can get cancer as a vegetarian so it may only change the odds slightly if you rule out meat.

thesmithsuk's picture

I think this article on meat is very poor. It should contain much more information on alternative sources of protein such as beans, pulses, grains and seeds. We don't need to eat any meat at all to have a healthy balanced diet. Why take the risk of getting cancer?

julianjones's picture

quite agree, it seems to be trying to talk down the risks, and still recommending some meat, rather than providing more information about healthier plant-based alternatives. Would you say 'aim to smoke a cigarette just once or twice a week' ?

jarrestr's picture

I iam getting fed up with all this news.To me it is a without facts. So how many sausages per weeke, or how much broccoli can I eat to get the negative and the positive from both. Slowly I think it is a sell.
Angst makes for a good selling point.Sorry also this magazine.A magazine that also gives a load of pages about cakes , puddings and 5 a day.

Questions (0)

Unsure about the cooking time or want to swap an ingredient? Ask us your questions and we’ll try and help you as soon as possible. Or if you want to offer a solution to another user’s question, feel free to get involved…

Be the first to ask a question about this recipe…

Tips (0)

Got your own twist on this recipe? Or do you have suggestions for possible swaps and additions? We’d love to hear your ideas.

Be the first to suggest a tip for this recipe…