Colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the U.S. While it typically affects men and women over the age of 50, individuals as young as teenagers have developed colon cancer. A screening is the most effective way to reduce the risk of colon cancer, as it can detect abnormal growths in the colon or rectum known as polyps.
However, an individual’s diet and nutrition can also play an important role in protecting against colon cancer. When trying a new diet trend, it’s important to consider how the nutrients involved affect overall health.
Here are three key factors to an individual’s diet that affect their risk of colon cancer:
Drinking alcohol can have many negative effects on the body, including an increased risk for colon cancer. Alcohol consumption has increased 23% during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many individuals are drinking more to cope with their stress and anxiety. Moderate to heavy alcohol consumption is associated with a 1.2- to 1.5-fold increased risk of cancers of the colon and rectum. Experts recommend no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.
Fiber can be found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes – and most Americans don’t get enough. In the short term, fiber keeps you full and prevents constipation. In the long term, fiber plays a protective role in preventing colon cancer.
The average American consumes 15 grams of fiber per day, though it is recommended that men consume 38 grams of fiber daily and women consume 25 grams of fiber daily. A good mix of high fiber foods is encouraged in a diet. Examples include:
- Avocado: 10 grams of fiber in one avocado
- Chickpeas: 12.5 grams of fiber in one cup of cooked chickpeas
- Oatmeal: 4 grams of fiber in one cup of cooked oatmeal
- Raspberries: 8 grams in one cup of raspberries
3. Red and Processed Meats
A study found individuals who ate red or processed meat four or more times per week had a 20% higher risk of colon cancer than those who consumed processed meat less than twice per week. Processed meats – like lunch meats – are high in sodium and often contain preservative chemicals. Replace lunch meats with less processed options like roasted chickpeas, hummus, grilled chicken, fish, tuna or tofu; and limit eating red meat to three meals per week.
Many new diet trends emphasize eating patterns that promise short-term results but could be nutritionally deficient. Here are some popular diets:
This high-fat, moderate protein and extremely low-carb diet was designed to control epilepsy in children but has since been adopted by adults looking to lose weight quickly. However, this diet restricts whole grains and legumes – and many individuals focus on the fattier and processed foods allowed by the diet like bacon cheeseburgers and skimp on important nutritious foods that provide fiber.
Many plant-based meat substitutes are not necessarily healthier than their ground sirloin or turkey counterparts due to their high saturated fat and sodium content, and overly processed nature.
While this diet encourages eating fresh fruit and vegetables and focusing on minimally processed or “whole” foods, it prohibits legumes and grains – which are important to colon health. Before starting any new diet, consult with a primary care provider to evaluate the risks and benefits of establishing a new pattern.
Shanthi Appelö is a registered dietitian and health and wellness spokesperson for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network cover colorectal screenings for most members beginning at age 45 to align with the recommendation of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. For more information, click here.
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