What to Eat and What Not to Eat: Colon Health is the Question
On average, 1 in 20 people will be diagnosed with colon cancer in their lifetime. However, leading a healthy lifestyle, by engaging in regular physical activity and consuming more nutritious foods, plays a promising role in prevention. In support of National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, Stephanie Biggs, RD, LDN, CDE, Director of Nutrition & Diabetes Education at Jefferson Health in New Jersey, explains what we should eat more of and what we should watch out for.
Foods and Nutrients to Include:
Fruits and Veggies: A diet rich in fruits and vegetables may help prevent 1 in 6 colon cancer cases. Both contain important nutrients, such as fiber, folate, B vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals that help protect against cancer. Vegetables containing sulfur, including garlic, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli offer an even more significant protection. Weight loss from eating these foods will also help, as carrying excess fat around the stomach is a risk factor for some cancers. Aim for at least 3 servings of vegetables a day and 2 servings of fruit.
Fiber: In addition to finding fiber in fruits and vegetables, fiber is found in many other plant-based foods, including beans, lentils, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Studies show that whole grains, in particular, protect against colon cancer due to their combination of fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals. It’s also wise to incorporate whole grains, such as oats, quinoa, millet and brown rice, into your healthy diet. Women should aim for at least 25 grams of dietary fiber per day, while men should get closer to 35 grams per day.
Probiotics: New evidence shows that the gut microbiome, which consists of trillions of microbes representing over 1,000 species of bacteria, significantly impacts intestinal health. Consuming fewer processed foods and adding more fiber-rich and fermented foods can support a healthy gut. The lactic acid bacteria of fermented products may offer additional protection by inactivating carcinogens in the gut and reducing inflammation. Examples of fermented foods to include in the diet are plain yogurt and kefir, natto, pickled beets, sauerkraut and kombucha.
Foods and Nutrients to Limit:
Processed Red Meats: Processed red meats are linked to an increased risk for colon cancer, because certain chemicals in them, both added and naturally occurring, cause them to be carcinogenic. The nitrite and nitrate preservatives used are particularly dangerous. Processed red meats include bacon, ham, hot dogs, kielbasa and sausage. If consuming any of these meats on occasion, opt for nitrate-free versions.
Excess Dietary Fat: A diet high in processed foods usually contains high amounts of unhealthy fats. Studies show that higher intakes of omega-6 fatty acids and saturated fats may also cause an increased risk for colon cancer. Sources of these fats include fatty pieces of meat, fried foods, and refined vegetable oils. However, some fats are very important to our health and may protect us against colon cancer. These include omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish and monounsaturated fats found in olive oil, avocado and nuts.
Alcohol: Moderate to heavy alcohol consumption is associated with an increased risk for many cancers, including colon cancer. Limit alcohol intake to no more than 1 standard drink a day for women, and 2 drinks a day for men. This equates to 5 oz. of wine, 12 oz. of beer, or 1 oz. of distilled liquor. It’s best to choose water and other natural non-alcoholic drinks to quench your thirst, instead of reaching for a beer, wine or spirit.