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Your daily Ulster fry could increase risk of bowel cancer by 20%

By Lisa Smyth

Published 27/10/2015

Ulster Fry
Ulster Fry

Health experts have stressed that moderation is key after the World Health Organisation (WHO) ranked bacon, ham and sausages alongside cigarettes as a cause for cancer.

It said that 50g of processed meat a day - the equivalent of one sausage or less than two slices of bacon - increased the chance of developing bowel cancer by almost a fifth.

The WHO report followed a meeting of scientists from 10 nations, including the UK, who reviewed all available evidence and concluded that processed meat was a cancer-causing substance.

This is the highest of five possible rankings, shared with alcohol, asbestos, arsenic and cigarettes.

Fresh red meat was ranked on the next level as a "probable" carcinogen.

But while the WHO turned its fire on the traditional Ulster fry, the Public Health Agency (PHA) and even the Ulster Farmers' Union said following a balanced diet was key to remaining healthy.

Dr Carolyn Harper, PHA director, said the risk increased for individuals the more that processed meat was eaten.

"The lifetime risk of getting bowel cancer is 5%," she added. "If someone ate more than 50g of processed meat - about two rashers of bacon - every day, their lifetime risk would increase very slightly to 6%.

"For every 100,000 people, the risk would increase from 64 people developing bowel cancer to 72 people.

"People who eat a lot of it should consider cutting down and not eating it every day.

"Instead try fish, chicken, pork, or beef that hasn't been processed, and vegetarian options are also good alternatives.

"Eating a lot of red meat may also slightly increase the risk of developing bowel cancer. Red meat can play an important role in a healthy, well-balanced diet, and there is no need to avoid it completely. But those people who eat a lot are advised to reduce their intake."

Meanwhile, a Belfast-based dietitian said it was unrealistic to expect people to completely cut out sausages and bacon.

Gillian Killiner from 121 Dietitian advised simply cutting down and said: "When I see people I look at their total diet. I would advise them to cut down, but I don't think people will eliminate it completely. It is like saying people should cut out alcohol. I am a dietitian with almost 20 years of experience, and I think that if you are having one sausage a week and a ham sandwich you shouldn't really worry.

"You want to look at why clients are eating processed foods, and also reminding them to try alternatives, such as fish goujons."

Gerry McElwee, head of cancer prevention at Cancer Focus NI, welcomed the report and said it reinforced the charity's advice.

"It's important to take this report in the context of the wider range of factors that can help lower the risk of cancer," he added. "These include not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active, limiting alcohol intake and avoiding too much UV radiation."

Reacting to the report, the UFU also encouraged people to follow a healthy, balanced diet. "To date no conclusive research has shown that removing red meat from your diet will protect against cancer," it said."Therefore, the UFU would encourage people to familiarise themselves with the recommended daily guidelines for all foods."

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