Eating just one extra strip of bacon a day could increase your risk of bowel cancer by 20%

Andy Stewart London / GettyYour morning bacon sandwich could be a health risk.
  • Eating even a small amount of red and processed meat could increase the risk of bowel cancer by 20%, according to new research.
  • Researchers at the University of Oxford and Cancer Research UK found that people who eat 76g of red or processed meat per day have a 20% higher risk of developing bowel cancer than those who averaged 21g a day.
  • The study also found that risk of bowel cancer also rose 20% with every extra 25g of processed meat – about one strip of bacon.
  • “This doesn’t necessarily mean cutting out red and processed meat entirely,” said the head of health information at Cancer Research UK, Julie Sharp. “But you may want to think about simple ways to reduce how much you have and how often.”
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Research has suggested for some time that even a small amount of red and processed meat can increase the risk of some cancers. But according to a new study from the University of Oxford and Cancer Research UK, even sticking within government guidelines can increase your risk significantly.

The study, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, found that people who eat 76g of red or processed meat per day have a 20% higher risk of developing bowel cancer than those who averaged 21g a day.

The research team analysed the diets of nearly half a million British men and women aged 40 to 69. They were followed over five years, and in that time 2,609 developed bowel cancer.

While about one in 15 men and one in 18 women are expected to be diagnosed with bowel cancer in their lifetime, the results of the study found this risk rose 20% with every extra 25g of processed meat. The risk was heightened with red meat too, by 19% per 50g – about a slice of roast beef.

Cancer expert Tim Key, a coauthor of the study, said the results strongly suggest people who eat red and processed meat more than four times a week have a higher risk of bowel cancer.

“There’s substantial evidence that red and processed meat are linked to bowel cancer, and the World Health Organisation classifies processed meat as carcinogenic and red meat as probably carcinogenic,” he said.

“But most previous research looked at people in the 1990s or earlier, and diets have changed significantly since then, so our study gives a more up-to-date insight that is relevant to meat consumption today.”

Read more: Eating even a little bit of processed meat regularly can increase your risk of some deadly cancers

The head of health information at Cancer Research UK, Julie Sharp, said the study should serve as a reminder that you can always improve your health beyond simply following government guidelines.

“This doesn’t necessarily mean cutting out red and processed meat entirely, but you may want to think about simple ways to reduce how much you have and how often,” she said.

“Although breaking habits we’ve had for a long time can be hard, it’s never too late to make healthy changes to our diet.”

For instance, she suggested meat-free Mondays, and trying more recipes using filling ingredients such as fish, beans, and lentils.

There are benefits of red meat. It’s full of iron and protein, and can be part of a healthy, balanced diet. But ingredients in processed meat can be carcinogenic, especially if it is smoked or barbecued.

Last year, a major study based on data from 51 million people found that cutting out bacon and alcohol could reduce your risk of cancer by up to 40%.

“Eat little, if any, processed meat,” the report recommended.

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