Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer affecting men and women in the United States. The risk increases with age (>50 years), but when caught early is often curable. Risk factors include: polyps found in the colon or rectum, high fat diet, family history of colorectal cancer, and inflammatory conditions such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. If you are over the age of 50, or have risk factors, talk to your doctor about important screenings and testing.
Lifestyle-related factors linked to colorectal cancer include smoking, alcohol, obesity, poor diet, and inactivity. Good nutrition and regular physical activity provide a solid foundation for health and can reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases.
5 Diet Tips to Lower Your Cancer Risk
- Eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables (5-7 servings daily) – A plant-based diet is associated with a reduced risk of cancer. Fresh fruits and vegetables provide many important vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients that protect the body from damage. The cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, arugula, rutabaga, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, watercress, radish, kale, and cauliflower) are some of the most important vegetables known to reduce the risk of cancer.
- Reduce your intake of red meat / processed meat – Red meat is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. In addition, animal fat stores residual agricultural chemicals, hormones, and antibiotics that are harmful to your health. Most cured meats, such as sausage, bacon, hot dogs, and lunch meats can contain sodium nitrates that can be carcinogenic. If you choose to eat meat, keep portion size small and aim for organic, grass-fed meat. Move towards incorporating more wild fish, lean poultry, eggs, and legumes as protein sources rather than red meat.
- Increase your fiber intake (aim for at least 25 grams daily) – Fiber helps to move potential carcinogens though the body faster and decreases the contact time between harmful substances and the intestines. Fiber also binds to carcinogens and helps to excrete them from the body. Fiber is also essential for promoting the growth of healthy bacteria in the intestines while crowding out the unhealthy bacteria. Good sources of fiber include whole grains, legumes, beans, and dark leafy vegetables.
- Eat the right fats / avoid unhealthy fats – Good fats play a critical role in your health. They are anti-inflammatory, cardio protective, support brain and nervous system functioning, support vision, and are needed for the structure and function of every cell in your body. Examples include avocadoes, cold water fish (wild salmon, tuna, cod), grape seed oil, flaxseed oil, nuts, nut butters, cold pressed oils (olive oil, safflower, soybean, sesame), and seeds (pumpkin, sunflower). Unhealthy fats found in cakes, cookies, doughnuts, potato chips and other processed snack foods and deep fried foods promote inflammation, obesity, and increase your risk for chronic disease.
- Drink water – Water is so important to your health. It carries vital nutrients to cells and carries away waste. If not enough water is ingested, constipation can occur, which can increase the amount of toxins circulating in your body. Aim to drink half your body weight in ounces (example 140 lbs = 70 oz daily).
- Studies show that people who exercise regularly have a 40-50% lowered risk for developing colon cancer. Exercise also lowers your risk of developing other common chronic diseases, reduces stress and tension, increases your body’s metabolic rate, promotes weight loss, and increases your body’s ability to balance blood sugar levels.
- Probiotics – Probiotics are “friendly” bacteria that play an important role in bowel and immune health. Our bodies need a continual supply of good bacteria for optimal health. Taking a high quality, multi-strain probiotic supplement is recommended.
- Fiber – Fiber promotes regularity, as well as healthy cholesterol levels and healthy weight management. Unfortunately, the average diet is very low in fiber. Supplementing with fiber can help you achieve the recommended daily intake of 25g.
- Vitamin D – Vitamin D regulates gene expression and plays an important role in immune health. Based on clinical studies, it is believed that a 50% decreased incidence of colorectal cancer can be achieved if serum 25 hydroxy vitamin D levels are >34 ng/mL. However, it is advised to be >50 ng/mL for optimal health. At your next doctor visit, ask for a 25 hydroxy vitamin D test. Depending on your levels, you may need to supplement with 1000, 2000, or 5000 IU of vitamin D3.
- Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) – Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are critical to your health, but not manufactured by your body. You therefore need to get them in your diet and/or through supplementation. Healthy fats nourish the body in so many ways, but one major health benefit is its anti-inflammatory activity.