Eating more than three slices of ham a day DOES increase the risk of bowel cancer, say government experts 26th February 2011 Contradictory: The debate about the nutritional impact of red meat is set to intensify You should limit the amount of red meat you eat to the equivalent of three slices of ham, one lamb chop or two slices of roast beef a day, Government advisors have warned. The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), published recommendations designed to cut the risk of bowel cancer. The latest findings are bound to muddy the already confusing debate around the nutritional benefits of red meat. Only last week a British Nutrition Foundation study claimed that the majority of adults ate healthy amounts of red meat and there was an inconclusive link to cancer. However, the government insists that people who eat 90g or more of red and processed meat a day should cut back. Cutting down to the UK average of 70g a day can help reduce the risk, the study from SACN said. Red meat contains substances that have been linked to bowel cancer. One compound in particular, haem, which gives red meat its colour, has been shown to damage the lining of the colon in some studies. The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) recommends limiting red meat consumption to 500g a week of cooked weight (about 700g to 750g uncooked). And it says people should avoid processed meats altogether because of the even higher risk of bowel cancer. The charity estimated 3,800 cases of bowel cancer could be prevented every year if everyone ate less than 70g of processed meat a week. Some 1,900 cases of bowel cancer could also be prevented through cutting red meat consumption to under 70g per week. Processed meat is generally defined as any meat preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or with chemical preservatives added to it. It is thought this process causes the formation of carcinogens, which can damage cells in the body and allow cancer to develop. To help consumers the Government published a list today of what is considered a 70g portion of red or processed meat. These are: one medium portion shepherds pie and a rasher of bacon; two standard beef burgers; six slices of salami; one lamb chop; two slices of roast lamb, beef or pork; or three slices of ham. Some 90g of cooked meat is the equivalent to about 130g of uncooked meat, due to the loss of water during cooking. Chop and change: Experts can't agree on how much red meat we should be eating Men are more likely to eat a lot of red and processed meat - 42 per cent eat more than 90g a day compared to 12 per cent of women. Interim chief medical officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, said: 'Following simple diet and lifestyle advice can help protect against cancer. 'Red meat can be part of a healthy balanced diet. It is a good source of protein and vitamins and minerals, such as iron, selenium, zinc and B vitamins. 'But people who eat a lot of red and processed meat should consider cutting down. 'The occasional steak or extra few slices of lamb is fine but regularly eating a lot could increase your risk of bowel cancer.' Experts estimate the average Briton's lifetime risk of bowel cancer to be about 5 per cent. This rises to 6 per cent if people eat an extra 50g of processed meat a day on top of what they already consume. Mark Flannagan, chief executive of Beating Bowel Cancer, welcomed the advice. 'The evidence suggests that a diet high in red and processed meat may increase your risk of developing bowel cancer, but the good news is that red meat can still be enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy balanced diet. 'This combined with an active lifestyle, and awareness of the symptoms and risk factors, could help protect you from the UK's second biggest cancer killer.' Dr Rachel Thompson, deputy head of science for the World cancer Research Fund, said: 'We welcome the fact that this report recognises the strong evidence that it increases risk of bowel cancer. 'We are also pleased that its suggested maximum intake is similar to the 500g per week (cooked weight) limit that World Cancer Research Fund recommends. 'However, our report made the distinction between red and processed meat and we recommended that while people should limit intake of red meat, they should avoid processed meat. 'This means that we would suggest that people following this new report's guidelines should try and make sure as little as possible of their 70g per day is processed.' Peter Baker, chief executive of the Men's Health Forum, said: 'Men who enjoy regular breakfast fry-ups or roast beef dinners will be surprised to learn that eating too much red or processed meat might increase their risk of bowel cancer. 'We're not saying men can't occasionally enjoy a bacon sandwich or some sausages for breakfast - but the evidence tells us we need to think about cutting down on how much red and processed meat we're eating. 'This is a health benefit surely worth giving up a few sausages for.' Last year, experts from the Harvard School of Public Health in the U.S. found that eating processed meats can increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes. The round-up of 20 studies published worldwide found people who eat processed meats have a 42 per cent higher risk of heart disease and a 19 per cent increased risk of Type 2 diabetes. However, unprocessed red meats, such as beef, pork or lamb, do not raise the risk, the study found.