Diet and nutrition are always hot topics when it comes to colon cancer. Because the gastrointestinal tract is the organ responsible for digesting and absorbing nutrients from food, it makes sense that the foods you eat would influence your risk for colon cancer and other diseases of the colon.
According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, choices about what we eat and how much we move could reduce risk of colorectal cancer by 50 percent. As a registered dietitian with an oncology background, I'm always interested in what people think can support a healthy colon. I've heard of everything from enemas to juice cleanses to detoxes, but what does the science actually say? Here are nine facts about diet for a healthy colon.
Eat 4 to 5 Cups of Colorful Fruits and Vegetables a Day
A simple way to achieve this is by having two to three pieces of fruit every day, at least one cup of vegetables with lunch and two with dinner. If that proves too difficult, add six ounces of low-sodium vegetable juice once a day.
Eat legumes such as beans and lentils at least five times per week.
Cut Red Meat and Avoid Processed Meat
Eat red meat no more than three times a week (for a total of no more than 18 ounces a week) and avoid processed meats such as hot dogs, bacon, sausage and deli meats. They include preservatives known to increase risk for colon cancer.
Go Whole, Avoid Refined
Choose whole grains and avoid processed and refined grains and added sugars.
Include Healthy Fats
Look for sources of healthy fats including cold-water fish, flaxseeds, walnuts, soybeans, olive oil and avocados.
What Not to Drink
Alcohol consumption of any amount is linked to increased risk of colon cancer, so it's best to avoid it when possible. If you do decide to drink alcohol, recommendations are to have no more than one drink a day for women, and no more than two drinks a day for men. "A drink" is defined as a 12-ounce beer, a five-ounce glass of wine or one-and-a-half ounces of hard liquor.
What to Drink Instead
Drink plenty of fluids such as water or unsweetened beverages.
Don't Eat Charred Meats
If you grill, be sure to marinate and avoid the flame touching the meat.
Consume 25 to 35 Grams of Fiber a Day
If that sounds like a lot, don't worry. By following the first two tips above (eating more fruits, vegetables and legumes), you shouldn't have any trouble meeting your fiber goals!
One more very important factor in reducing risk (and promoting healthy survivorship) of colon cancer isn't about what you eat — it's about what you do. Daily moderate physical activity not only can help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight, it also has been shown to decrease the risk of colon cancer.
And finally, I recommend people have a discussion about colon cancer screening with their doctor at age 45. If they have a family history, it's important to have a discussion about screening even earlier.
Try focusing on just one or two areas you want to improve on and track those for a few days. Studies show that people who track their progress are more successful.