The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) published its report on Iron and Health on 25 February 2011.  The report considers the potential adverse effects of low iron intake and of excess, and also the associations between consumption of red and processed meat and cancer risk since these foods are sources of iron in the diet. The report is available at: 
 
The British Nutrition Foundation welcomes the publication of the SACN report and clarification of the Government’s position on this matter.

As background to the SACN report, in 1998 the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition Policy (COMA) recommended that “higher consumers should consider a reduction” in red and processed meat consumption.  However, COMA also recommended that “the possible associated adverse implications of a reduction in meat consumption on other aspects of health, particularly iron status” should be reviewed.  This SACN report was prepared in response to COMA’s recommendation.

In its report, SACN has made five recommendations – in summary these are:
1. A healthy balanced diet, which includes a variety of foods containing iron, will help people achieve adequate iron status.  Such an approach is more important than focusing on foods/drinks that may enhance or inhibit iron absorption.
2. The Dietary Reference Values (DRVs) for iron should be reviewed when more data become available, as current DRVs may be too high.
3. Health professionals need to be alert to increased risk of iron deficiency anaemia in toddlers, girls and women of reproductive age and some adults aged over 65 years.
4. Current evidence does not support routine iron supplementation of pregnant women but this should be kept under review.
5. Adults with relatively high intakes of red and processed meat (around 90 grams/day or more) should consider reducing their intakes in light of the possible association between red and processed meat consumption and colorectal cancer risk.  A reduction in intake to the UK population average for adult consumers of 70 grams/day (cooked weight) would have little impact on the proportion of the adult population with low iron intakes.

In response to the SACN report, the Department of Health has issued new advice for consumers about the amount of red and processed meat that can be consumed as part of a healthy, varied diet.  This advice is available on the NHS Choices website (www.nhs.uk).  The Department of Health is advising people who eat more than 90 grams (cooked weight) of red meat and processed meat a day to cut down to 70 grams per day.  This advice is based on evidence that suggests a probable link between eating red and processed meat and a risk of colorectal cancer.  However, the advice stresses that red meat, such as beef, lamb and pork, can form part of a healthy diet and that it is a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals.
 
Last reviewed February 2011. Next review due January 2013. 

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