DESPITE the World Health Organisation (WHO) labelling processed meats as a definite cause of cancer and red meat as a probable cause of cancer, the actual evidence is certainly not as cut and dry as their bold proclamation.

Red meat is the meat of mammals that in its raw state appears red, hence the name. The most common ones are beef, lamb and pork.

As humans, we are designed to be carnivorous, having teeth to break down the fibres and a digestive system equipped to extract nutrients from meat.

ALSO READ: Resident GP Dr Zak talks sugar consumption and how to reduce it

Meat is high in essential B vitamins, zinc and iron, which is more readily absorbed by the body than that contained in plants. It is an excellent source of protein, required for growth and to repair muscle and tissue.

Current recommendations are 70g or less of red meat per day. Many of us could benefit from a reduction in our intake, perhaps most easily achieved in the form of meat free days.

Many traditional societies so far untouched by western influences and lifestyle consume red meat in far greater quantities yet remain remarkably healthy and this is perhaps where the crux of the matter lies.

Red meat per se is not unhealthy, yet the quantities in which it is consumed, how it is cooked and indeed the lifestyle choices of those who consume large amounts of processed meats may be more to blame for the associated health risks.

While many studies point out a link between red meat, processed meat and increased risks of bowel cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, the majority of these are observational.

Furthermore, many of these have not separated the consumption of red meat from that of processed meats. Though we are aware that processed meats are high in saturated fats and do have negative effects on health, red meats and processed meats are not the same thing.

While what you eat is a very personal choice which should be respected, a balanced meat free diet requires more than just cutting out meat, if you wish to remain nutritionally replete.

Red meat can be safely enjoyed in small amounts, if cooked in the correct manner. Processed meats do pose an increased risk of bowel cancer, heart disease and diabetes, mostly due to their high calorie count, salt and saturated fat content, as well as frying being the usual method of cooking. Ideally, these should be eaten as little as possible, if at all, to avoid the associated risks.