A study from Cancer Research UK revealed high levels of iron could increase the threat of bowel cancer by activating a "key pathway" in people with faults in a gene normally able to fend off the disease.
Scientists, based at the University of Birmingham and the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research in Glasgow, discovered bowel cancers were up to three times more likely to develop in mice with a faulty APC gene when they were fed a high-iron diet.
However, mice with the faulty gene fed a low-iron diet did not develop the cancer, suggesting high levels of the mineral are behind the growth of the disease.
As such, women undertaking a bikini body diet might want to avoid large quantities of red meat in favour of meals filled with fresh fruit and vegetables.
"It's clear that iron is playing a critical role in controlling the development of bowel cancer in people with a faulty APC gene," study author Professor Owen Sansom said.
"Intriguingly, our study shows that even very high levels of iron in the diet don't cause cancer by itself, but rely on the APC gene."
According to the professor, the APC gene is faulty in an estimated eight out of ten bowel cancers, but this is the first time scientists have discovered how this could cause the disease.
The research showed that high-iron diets only raise the risk of bowel cancer where there are faulty APC genes and that a low-iron diet is effective in eroding the prevalence of these genes.
Co-author Dr Chris Tselepis explained: "We're now planning to develop treatments to reduce the amount of iron in the bowel and so could lower the risk of developing bowel cancer."
Iron remains an important mineral, however, with nuts, beans and wholegrains all rich alternatives to red meat.