The Food Safety Authority of Ireland has said people should not avoid eating red meat altogether after the World Health Organisation classified processed meat as carcinogenic.
FSAI said healthy eating was all about moderation adding that lean red meat was a good source of protein and a particularly good source of iron but should only be chosen as a main meal three days a week — about 300g.
The Irish Cancer Society said avoiding or limiting consumption of processed meat can help to reduce the risk of certain cancers.
It said there was “strong scientific evidence” to support avoiding or limiting the consumption of processed meats that have been linked to colorectal cancer.
The society said a diet high in red and processed meat was linked to bowel cancer and recommends avoiding processed meats and reducing consumption of red meat to 500g per week.
The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified processed meat as carcinogenic but classified red meat as “probably carcinogenic”. A carcinogen is a substance that has been associated with cancer in humans.
While the classification for red meat was based on limited evidence, the report concluded there was convincing evidence that processed meats caused cancer.
Processed meat is meat that has been transformed using processes to enhance flavour or improve preservation and includes hot dogs, ham, sausages, bacon and salami.
The HSE said the report from the WHO was quite detailed and complex and required “careful consideration” to determine what action, if any, was needed regarding changes to nutritional plans for public health services.
However, the Department of Health said meat was an important source of protein, iron and vitamins and a balanced diet was key.
Red meat is on the protein shelf of the Irish Healthy Eating Guidelines food pyramid together with fish, chicken, eggs, beans and nuts.
“Individuals can choose two servings a day from this shelf. Go for a variety of choices, “ it says.
It urges people to limit processed meats, such as bacon or ham.
The department is already reviewing the healthy eating guidelines and the findings of the WHO report have been sent to the expert group charged with the task. The new guidelines will be issued at the end of the year.
The chief specialist in public health nutrition with the Food Safety Safety Authority, Mary Flynn, said red meat was a good source of iron.
“We would not like people to be afraid of eating red meat and even the International Agency for Research on Cancer says the report is not calling for the elimination of red meat; that it is a good food and there are benefits from eating it.”
Consultant gastroenterologist, Hugh Mulcahy, said that while there had been concern for years about processed meat and red meat being potentially carcinogenic, it was all about moderation.
On RTÉ radio Prof Mulcahy said people who ate too much red meat also tended to drink too much, not take enough exercise, were obese and smoked.
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