Decreasing Colon Cancer Risk through Diet and Lifestyle

According to researchers at the National Cancer Institute and American Cancer Society younger Americans are at a greater risk of getting colon cancer. If you were born in 1990, your risk of colon cancer is actually twice as great as someone born in 1950. 

It’s difficult to pinpoint why colon and rectal cancer rates have spiked for Americans younger than 55, but the increase parallels a similar spike in obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and poor eating habits.

Each five-point increase in body mass index corresponds to a 10 percent increased risk for colon cancer, according to a 2014 study.

The eating pattern outlined below, combined with regular exercise, supports weight loss and can reduce the odds that your first routine colorectal screening will show any signs of cancer.

Fill at least half of your plate with deeply colored fruits and vegetables.

The array of phytochemicals in plant foods work together to scavenge free radicals (fight inflammation), repair DNA, and prevent DNA damage. So a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is more protective against colon cancer than dietary supplements.

A note on phytochemicals: In general, deeply pigmented fruits and vegetables contain the most phytochemicals (carotenoids, polyphenols, and indoles). Some of the best sources are: alliums (onions, shallots and garlic), fresh herbs, legumes, artichokes, turmeric root, ginger root, cabbages, dark leafy green vegetables, berries, green tea and dark chocolate.

Broccoli, for example, contains more than thirty phytochemicals. It is also an excellent source of fiber and other nutrients known to support colon health such as: folate and vitamin C. So, skip the supplement isle and head over to the produce department.

Garnish that plate of full of vegetables with a modest portion (3-4 ounces) of lean protein. 

The best choices of protein for colon health include: fiber-rich legumes (lentils, beans, and peas), omega-3 rich fish (sardines, wild salmon, mackerel, and tuna), eggs, lean poultry, and lower fat (2 percent) yogurt and milk.

Your goal: two portions of omega-3 rich fish each week.

Eat more omega-3 fatty acids.

Like fruits and vegetables, omega-3s suppress inflammation. Besides fatty fish, the best sources of omega-3s are ground flaxseed, chia seed (whole or ground) and walnuts.

Eat more fiber.

Besides promoting regularity, fiber is converted to the short-chained fatty acid butyrate by beneficial bacteria (probiotics) in the colon. Butyrate is an important nutrient for colon cells that suppresses an inflammatory metabolic pathway associated with colon cancer.

Ninety-five percent of Americans are not consuming enough fiber to decrease their risk of developing colon cancer. To reap the benefits of fiber, women should aim to get 28 grams each day, and men should aim for 35 grams.

Some of the best sources of fiber are: 

  • Lentils, 1 cup, 16 grams
  • Raspberries, 1 cup, 8 grams
  • Artichoke, 1 medium, 7 grams
  • Avocado, ½ cup cubed, 5 grams
  • Whole grains and cereals, 1 cup, 5-10 grams of fiber

Lifestyle tip: Don’t try to reach your fiber goal overnight! Adding fiber too quickly could cause bloating, gas and cramps.  Instead, add a 3-5 grams of fiber each day until you reach your goal.

Limit trans-fat, saturated fat and omega-6 fatty acids.

These fats are pro-inflammatory (pro-cancer). Review the ingredients list and avoid products that contain “partially hydrogenated” oils and “mono- and diglycerides” — sources of trans-fat. Limit coconut oil, palm oil and red meat to reduce total saturated fat intake.

It is also best to limit corn, safflower and sunflower oils because they are rich in omega-6 fatty acids.

Limit red meat.

Limit red meat to less than 18 ounces per week and stew or bake instead of grilling and other high-temperature cooking methods.

It is best to limit processed blackened, smoked, and cured meats because they can contain compounds (such as nitrosamines, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and advanced glycation end products) that damage DNA and injure colon cells. 

Limit calories from refined carbohydrates to 100-150 calories per day.

Consider removing certain foods from your pantry that may make it difficult to reach this goal such as: sugar sweetened beverages and store-bought snacks.

Be well.

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