What you should eat and avoid to lower your risk of developing colorectal cancer.
Every year, colorectal cancer claims tens of thousands of lives in the U.S. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 104,000 cases of colon cancer and about 43,300 rectal cancers will be diagnosed in 2020. Overall, more than 53,000 people in the U.S. will die of these cancers, the group estimates.
While there’s no surefire way of preventing colorectal cancer, there are foods you can eat — and avoid — to lower your risk of contracting the disease. “Having a healthy diet is one of the most important things you can do to prevent colorectal cancer,” says Marji McCullough, senior scientific director of epidemiology research at the American Cancer Society. “Individual components of your diet can contribute to an overall healthy diet pattern to lower the risk of colorectal cancer or increase it.”
Here are nine foods you can consume to mitigate your risk of developing colorectal cancer, and four you should avoid:
Foods that are high in fiber can help shield you from developing colorectal cancer, says Dr. Eudene Harry, medical director for the Oasis Wellness and Rejuvenation Center in Orlando, Florida. A half-cup of cooked artichoke contains 7 grams of fiber. Artichokes also contain a compound known as chlorogenic acid. Laboratory research suggests this compound can decrease the rate at which colon cancer cells grow, Harry says.
Fiber is not only an important part of a healthy diet, it can help shield you from developing colon cancer, says Lana Nasrallah, a clinical dietitian with UNC Health, a not-for-profit integrated health care system based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
One cup of black beans contains 15 grams of fiber, more than half of the 25 to 35 grams recommended for adults on a daily basis, Nasrallah says. “Fill up on this fiber-packed legume to meet your daily fiber quota while reducing your colon cancer risk,” she says.
When it comes to reducing your colorectal cancer risk, you should look for foods high in antioxidants, fiber and vitamins. That makes blueberries an ideal choice, says Helen Kollias, director of nutrition for Precision Nutrition. She’s based in Vancouver.
Research suggests that foods with antioxidants and fiber — like blueberries — help shield us from cancer. Blueberries also contain vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, vitamin K, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium and calcium.
“Another benefit: A half cup of blueberries contains just 42 calories,” Kollias says. “Eat them raw as a snack, add them to smoothies (or) make blueberry jam or berry compote.” You can also add blueberries to desserts and use them in baking.
For people who have colorectal cancer, drinking at least 4 cups of coffee per day after they’ve been diagnosed can significantly lower their risk of early death from that disease or any other cause, compared to people who didn’t drink coffee, research suggests. The study, conducted by researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public health, was published in 2017 in Gastroenterology. Researchers found that patients who consumed at least 4 cups of coffee daily — caffeinated or non-caffeinated — had a 52% lower risk of dying from colorectal cancer.
Research suggests that increased consumption of cruciferous vegetables is associated with a decreased risk of colon cancer. These vegetables are typically a good source of fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Cruciferous vegetables include:
Consuming a diet rich in whole grains is helpful for reducing your colorectal cancer risk, Nasrallah says. One cup of oats contains 8 grams of fiber, which is helpful in shielding you from cancer. It also contains 10 grams of plant-based protein.
Oats are one of the most popular whole grains. “They’re affordable and can be purchased with no added sugar or sodium,” she says.
This grain is available in these forms:
— Instant oatmeal.
Fueling up on fiber-rich fruits like pears can help lower your risks of developing colorectal cancer, Nasrallah says. A medium-size pear has nearly 5 grams of fiber.
There are many different kinds of pears, including:
— Red Anjou.
— Green Anjou.
— Red Bartlett.
Seeds and nuts
Research suggests that eating seeds and nuts three times a week is associated with a decreased risk of recurrent colorectal cancer, Harry says.
Seeds and nuts include:
— Sunflower seeds.
Dark, leafy greens are great for your health in general. Swiss chard is a great choice to lower your risk for colorectal cancer, Kollias says.
One cup of boiled, drained Swiss chard has 3.7 grams of fiber and just 35 calories. It’s also an excellent source of vitamin K and a good source of vitamin A, magnesium, manganese and copper. “Mix it with a variety of salad greens to enhance the taste,” Kollias says. Keep in mind that Swiss chard, like all leafy greens, shrinks dramatically when cooked.
Foods to avoid to lower your risk of developing colorectal cancer
There are also foods that you shouldn’t eat in order to lower your risk of developing colorectal cancer, Kollias says. “You can mitigate your risk by minimizing your intake of certain foods, like red and processed meat,” she says.
Here are four foods you should avoid to minimize your risk of developing colorectal cancer:
Excessive alcohol consumption has been linked with a higher risk of colorectal cancer, Nasrallah says.
The American Cancer Society recommends that if you drink alcoholic beverages, you should limit consumption to no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink per day for women. A single drink amounts to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1 ½ ounces of distilled spirits or hard liquor.
Meats cooked at temperatures high enough to cause charring can contribute to an increased risk of colon cancer, Nasrallah says. This can be caused by grilling or broiling.
“The charring process can make nutritious proteins like skinless chicken breast harmful to eat,” she says. “Charred meat contains unsafe hydrocarbons and other carcinogens that are cancer-causing agents, which can increase the risk of colorectal cancer.”
A raft of research suggests a link between long-term consumption of red meat and an increased risk of colon cancer, Nasrallah says.
Red meat includes:
Consuming a modest amount of red meat, once or twice a week at the most, is acceptable for a healthy, balanced diet, Nasrallah says. “Choosing lean beef like loin and round cuts may help decrease your risk,” she says.
If your diet is heavy on luncheon meats, it might be time to make some adjustments, Nasrallah says. Lunch meats are classified as processed foods, which means they aren’t fresh and have been modified from their natural state through curing, smoking, salting or other processes to enhance flavor or boost preservation.
Processed meats include:
— Beef jerky.
— Canned meats.
— Corned beef.
— Some deli meats.
— Hot dogs.
To recap, here are 13 foods to eat and avoid to lower your risk of colorectal cancer:
Nine foods to eat to lower your risk of colorectal cancer:
— Black beans.
— Cruciferous vegetables.
— Seeds and nuts.
— Swiss chard.
Here are four foods to avoid to lower your risk of colorectal cancer:
— Charred meats.
— Red meat.
— Processed meats.
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