Moderate amounts of red meat, or as little as a rasher of bacon a day, increase the risk of bowel cancer, experts from Oxford University have warned.
A study of 475,581 people over nearly six years, funded by Cancer Research UK, found that 2,609 people developed bowel cancer, adding to evidence that eating red meat can be harmful.
Around one in every 15 men and one in every 18 women will develop bowel cancer during their lifetime, the study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology found.
People who consumed a daily average of 76g of red and processed meat still increased their risk of bowel cancer by a fifth compared to those who eat very small amounts (21g).
For red meat, the risk was 15pc higher for people who ate 54g per day (about one thick slice of roast beef or one lamb chop) on average compared with those who had 8g per day.
For processed meat, the risk was 19pc higher for those who had an average of 29g per day (about one rasher of bacon or a slice of ham) compared with those who had an average of 5g per day.
However, people with a high intake of fibre from bread and breakfast cereals lowered their risk of bowel cancer by 14pc.
Cancer Research UK’s Professor Tim Key, who co-authored the study, said: ‘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.
‘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.
‘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.’