Eat This and Ditch That to Help Prevent Colon Cancer

Some foods can help keep your colon healthy while others can significantly up your risk of colorectal cancer. Find out which foods to add and which to dump.

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Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. And while risk factors such as family history and age can’t be controlled, certain lifestyle changes may help prevent the disease. Aside from regular, moderate exercise, maintaining a healthy weight and getting screening tests, cleaning up your eating habits can be another important step toward prevention. Find out which foods to add to your diet and which to avoid for a healthy, happy gut.

Medically reviewed in June 2019.

Eat: Salmon

2 / 8 Eat: Salmon

Swap out the red meats and fried chicken for this superfood instead. Salmon is chock-full of omega-3 fatty acids. Research suggests these healthy fats may help slow colon cancer growth and potentially reduce the development of colorectal tumors. While more research is needed to determine how big a role omega-3 fats play in reducing colon cancer risk, the American Institute for Cancer Research recommends eating 3-ounce servings of fatty fish twice a week. And you don’t have to stick to salmon. Add variety to your plate with other fish high in omega-3s such as trout, mackerel and sardines.

Eat: Brown Rice

3 / 8 Eat: Brown Rice

Brown rice is packed with nutrients like selenium and has been shown to reduce colon polyps—growths that can become cancerous. A study published in Nutrition and Cancer found that those who ate a serving of brown rice once a week had a 40 percent lower risk. One reason that brown rice may help protect against colon cancer is that it's high in fiber, which helps clear toxins from the digestive tract.

Eat: Cruciferous Vegetables

4 / 8 Eat: Cruciferous Vegetables

It’s not news that vegetables are an essential part of a healthy diet, but did you know they can also give your colon an extra health boost? Researchers found that eating cooked green vegetables at least once a day, compared to less than five times a week, was linked to a 24 percent reduction in the risk of colon polyps. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts and arugula can also keep your gut healthy thanks to isothiocyanates—anti-inflammatory compounds that help turn on a gene that sweeps out cancer cells.

Eat: Beans

5 / 8 Eat: Beans

What do peas and peanuts have in common? They’re two types of beans—legumes to be exact. And one study indicates that people who eat legumes three times a week have a 33 percent lower risk of colon polyp growth. As with brown rice, legumes have a strong concentration of fiber, which may explain their cancer-busting properties. Additional colon-friendly legumes include chickpeas, lentils and black beans.

Eat: Fruits

6 / 8 Eat: Fruits

Fruits are another no-brainer when it comes to healthy eating—but they’ve also been shown to protect against certain cancers. One study showed that eating dried fruit three times a week or more, compared to less than once a week, could help stave off colon cancer risk by 24 percent. Fresh fruits like apples may also promote a healthier colon. Apples contain pectin, the fibrous part of the fruit that may produce compounds that protect colon cells. The antioxidants in apples may also help slow cancer cell growth.

Ditch: Red Meat

7 / 8 Ditch: Red Meat

While red meats such as beef, pork and lamb raise several dietary red flags, high consumption of these protein sources has been linked to a higher risk of cancer. This may be due to the way the meat is cooked. Grilling, charring and high heat produce harmful HCAs that could be damaging to the colon. 

Consider putting processed, salted, smoked or cured meats, such as bacon and hot dogs, on your off-limits list, too. The nitrate preservatives used to add flavor and color have also been linked to cancer.

Ditch: Alcohol

8 / 8 Ditch: Alcohol

Low levels of folic acid have been associated with significantly higher rates of colorectal cancer—and heavy drinkers are typically folate-deficient, according to the American Cancer Society. This is especially true if they have poor diets with little folate; alcohol also likely interferes with folate absorption. Some experts believe that folate, a B-vitamin, helps prevent cells from becoming cancerous by keeping DNA healthy.

Another risk: As the body breaks down alcohol, cancer-causing substances are created. If you don’t drink alcohol, don’t start. And if you do, remember that moderation is key. Experts recommend that men limit themselves to no more than two drinks per day; the recommended limit for women is one drink per day.

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