Meat, Poultry, Eggs and Fish

Cancer Council Australia Position Statement on Meat and Cancer

Does eating meat increase my cancer risk?

The word ‘meat’ covers unprocessed red meat (pork, beef, veal and lamb), processed meat, poultry and fish. There is convincing evidence that links the consumption of red meat and processed meats to an increased risk of colorectal (bowel) cancer.

However, we also know that lean red meat is an important source of iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and protein. In terms of cancer risk there is no reason to cut meat completely from your diet, but there are steps you can take to have a healthier eating pattern.

There is not enough evidence to draw any conclusions on eating poultry and the risk of cancer. However, there is limited evidence that eating fish may help to reduce the risk of colorectal (bowel) cancer.

How much red meat should I eat?

Cancer Council Tasmania recommends eating moderate amounts of fresh red meat. A moderate adult intake is 65g of lean red meat daily totaling up to a maximum of 455g per week.  This is also the recommendation in the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating.

One serve of meat (65g) should fit roughly into the palm of your hand.  For example:

  • 65g of beef, lamb, pork, venison or kangaroo
  • ½ cup lean mince
  • 2 small chops
  • 2 slices roast meat

Processed meats are those that have been preserved by smoking, salting, curing or the addition of other preservatives and include bacon, sausages, ham and salami.  Cancer Council Tasmania recommends people limit or avoid eating processed meats.

What about poultry, eggs or fish?

Poultry, eggs and fish are also valuable sources of protein.  A serve of chicken, eggs or fish is listed below:

  • 80g cooked poultry (about 100g raw weight) eg. chicken, turkey
  • 2 large eggs (120g)
  • 100g cooked fish fillet (about 115g raw weight) or 1 small can fish with no added salt

What about vegetarians?

Protein rich alternatives to meat, poultry and fish are rich in nutrients and beneficial to all Australians, not just vegetarians.  Examples of a serve are listed below:

  • 1 cup (150g) cooked dried beans, lentils, chick peas, split peas, or canned beans
  • 170g tofu
  • 30g nuts or seeds or nut/seed paste, no added salt

Tips and ideas on meat, poultry and low-fat cooking methods

  • Fill half your dinner plate or more with vegetables/salad; don’t think of meat as the main part of the meal.
  • Buy lean cuts of meat – those that have most of the fat trimmed off with minimal marbling (of fat) through the grain of the meat.
  • Trim any visible fat off the meat before you cook it.
  • Choose chicken pieces without the skin or remove skin before cooking.

Barbecues

Some research suggests that burnt or charred meat, poultry and fish (animal foods) may increase the risk of cancer. Substances called heterocyclic amines are formed when animal foods are cooked at high temperatures and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are formed when they are grilled, or barbequed. These substances may pose a cancer risk. It is recommended not to overcook or blacken animal foods on the barbecue. Marinating them first help prevents these foods from charring. As well as keeping potential cancer causing agents down, marinating these foods keeps them tender and adds flavour to your meal. You can also use gentler cooking methods such as casseroling, boiling or microwave heating rather than high-temperature grilling, pan-frying or barbecuing.