Published June 5, 2018
Making your colon happy probably isn’t something you think about every day. But with colon cancer increasing at alarming rates among younger and middle-aged adults, colon health is coming into focus like never before.* While colon cancer diagnoses overall are decreasing, this is due largely to the increase in screenings of older adults. Now, our younger generations are in danger.
Only about 10% of colon cancers are hereditary, which means a lot of it is due to lifestyle. As Americans, we love our high fat, high cholesterol, high sugar foods, but these are all known risk factors for colon cancer.
The links between diet, weight and exercise and the risk for colorectal cancer are strong, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). In fact, the Colon Cancer Foundation reports that about 50 – 75% of colorectal cancer can be prevented through lifestyle changes like healthy eating.
And it’s not just about colorectal cancer … The colon is an important part of the digestive system, and many different conditions can make your colon unhappy. Some of these conditions include ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, diverticulosis, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). While these can be hereditary, most are caused by the foods eaten and other lifestyle factors.
So, what are some ways to eat healthier for your colon?
Limit red meat consumption and avoid processed meats.
The ACS says that the risk of colon cancer increases by 15 – 20% if you consume 100 grams of red meat (the equivalent of a small hamburger) or 50 grams (equivalent of one hot dog) of processed meats, like sausage or bacon, per day. Limiting yourself to two 4-ounce servings of red meat per week is recommended. But make processed meats an occasional special treat, because they have other ingredients like preservatives that may cause cancer.
Avoid added sugar.
Studies show that people with ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease often have diets high-sugar, low-fiber diets. While sugar hasn’t been directly tied to the development of colon cancer, foods high in sugar are often high in calories and can lead to weight gain and obesity, which can increase likelihood of colon cancer.
Boost fiber intake.
It’s no secret that eating a high-fiber diet is good for overall intestinal and colon health. The best way to add fiber into your diet is by eating fruits and vegetables, along with whole grains and beans. Fiber supports colon health by helping to keep you regular and prevent constipation. In turn, this lowers your risk of developing hemorrhoids and small pouches in your colon that can lead to diverticular disease. Most Americans eat about 13 grams of fiber daily, far below the recommended 25 to 35 grams.
Get your daily dose of calcium & vitamin D.
Recent studies have found that calcium and vitamin D not only strengthen bones but may also help fight off colon cancer. Make sure to get your recommended daily dose of calcium, depending on your age: 1,000 to 1,300 milligrams a day (or three to four eight-ounce glasses of low-fat or fat-free milk). Other great sources of calcium include dark leafy greens like spinach, kale and collard greens. Other dairy products like cheese and yogurt, as well as salmon and sardines, are good sources too.
Choose whole grains.
Whole grains contain all the essential plant parts and naturally occurring nutrients. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that all adults eat at least half of their daily grains as whole grains, about three to five servings. Easy-to-find whole grains include barley, quinoa, whole wheat flour, wild and brown rice, and oatmeal. The “naturally occurring” stipulation is simply means that the many nutrients in whole grain contain natural compounds found in plants that are beneficial for the body. Refined grains, such as white flour and white rice, aren’t nearly as advantageous.
While eating right can help keep your colon happy, the most powerful way to prevent colon cancer is through screening. A colonoscopy allows physicians to both screen for and prevent colorectal cancer. So eat healthy, and come see us at Valley Gastroenterology Associates & Four Seasons Endoscopy Center. Together, we’ll fight colon cancer!
Dr. Dominic Ventura is board-certified in internal medicine and gastroenterology. He practices at Valley Gastroenterology Associates in Beaver County, Pennsylvania.