Limit red and processed meat

A family eating at a picnic table outdoors

Why you should limit red meat and avoid processed meat

Eating red and processed meat increases cancer risk.

A family eating at a picnic table outdoors

Our recommendation

We recommend limiting red meat to 3 servings each week.

A serving is 85 grams (3 ounces) when cooked – smaller than a deck of cards. It’s best to avoid processed meats altogether.

What is red meat?

Red meat is beef, pork, lamb, veal or goat.

What is processed meat?

Ham, bacon, salami, hot dogs and sausages are examples of processed meats. Processed meat is any meat preserved by smoking, curing or salting or by adding preservatives. When meat is preserved in these ways, cancer-causing substances can be formed.

If I cut back on red meat, how will I get enough protein?

Good question! Your body needs protein to grow cells, heal tissue and maintain a healthy immune system to fight disease. Meat is high in protein and several other nutrients, including iron, zinc and vitamin B12.

Other excellent sources of protein include:

  • fish and seafood
  • poultry like chicken and turkey
  • dairy products such as cheese, milk and yogurt
  • legumes such as beans, peas, lentils and soybeans
  • nuts and seeds
  • eggs

6 ways to reduce red and processed meat

Check out these 6 ways you can reduce red and processed meat in a healthy diet.

Choose the leanest cuts of meat and trim any visible fat before cooking

A serving of red meat is 85 grams (3 ounces) when cooked – smaller than a deck of cards.

Cut back

When making a chili or stew, cut the meat quantity in half and replace it with double the amount of beans or other legumes. Make meat go further by chopping it into small pieces, buying ground meat and using smaller amounts in stir-fries, salads and pasta sauces.

Save processed meat for special occasions

Save hot dogs for baseball games and occasional barbeques and smoked hams for holiday dinners instead of making them part of your regular diet.

Make at least one meatless dinner each week

Choose dishes like vegetarian tacos, chili or hearty salads with legumes for a fun and filling meal without the meat.

Replace processed meat with veggie options

Try a veggie wrap with hummus on whole grain bread for lunch instead of a sandwich with cold cuts. Make a pizza without pepperoni. Add boneless chicken chunks with lots of veggies and herbs instead.

Switch out red meat for poultry or fish more often

Make up the rest of your meal with vegetables and healthy grains.

A roasted chicken and veggies being taken out of the oven

Research shows that cooking meat, poultry and fish at high temperatures (frying, broiling or barbecuing) may increase your risk of cancer. Why? Cancer-causing substances are formed when meat is cooked at high heat.

A roasted chicken and veggies being taken out of the oven

5 cooking habits that will reduce your cancer risk

Here’s how to take care when cooking meat.

Cook meat, poultry and fish at lower temperatures

Braise, stew, steam or roast more often.

Marinate meat, poultry and fish before cooking

Studies have shown that marinating these foods can prevent the formation of cancer-causing chemicals. Use an oil-free marinade that contains a strong acid like lemon juice or balsamic vinegar.

When barbecuing, choose lean cuts of meat, poultry and seafood

When fat is cooked on high heat, the smoke that develops contains harmful chemicals. Reduce your exposure by trimming the fat you can see.

Barbecue slowly

Keep food away from hot coals so that flames are less likely to char the food.

Grill vegetarian options

Swap out the meat on the barbecue for vegetables, veggie burgers and fruit slices. Most experts agree that plant-based foods do not form cancer-causing substances when cooked at high heat.