Reports & Position Statements

SACN Iron and Health Report

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In 1998, the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition Policy (COMA), in their report, Nutritional Aspects of the Development of Cancer, recommended that high consumers of red and processed meat should consider reducing their intakes because of possible links with a risk of colorectal cancer. However, since red and processed meat are sources of iron in the UK diet, COMA recommended that the possible adverse nutritional implications of a reduction in red and processed meat intakes should be assessed. The present report has been prepared in response to COMA’s recommendation.

The report considers the potential adverse effects of both low iron intake and excess.  As well as considering the implications of a reduction in meat consumption on the iron status of the UK population, the report also examines associations between red and processed meat and cancer risk.

The main recommendations of the report are:

  • While most people in the UK are iron replete, health professionals need to be alert to increased risk of iron deficiency anaemia in toddlers, girls and women of reproductive age (particularly those from low income groups) and some adults aged over 65 years.  Those with symptoms suggesting iron deficiency anaemia should receive appropriate clinical assessment and advice, including dietary advice on how to increase their iron intakes and to consider use of iron supplements if required.
  • 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 consuming iron-rich foods at the same time as foods/drinks that enhance iron absorption (e.g., fruit juice, meat) or not consuming iron rich foods with those that inhibit iron absorption (e.g., tea, coffee, milk).
  • Adults with relatively high intakes of red and processed meat (around 90 g/day or more) should consider reducing their intakes.  A reduction to the UK population average for adult consumers (70 g/day cooked weight) would have little impact on the proportion of the adult population with low iron intakes.

The report can be viewed in full at the link above.

Hard copies of the report may be purchased from The Stationery Office book shop.



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