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By Stepfanie Romine for Santiam Hospital

Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in American adults and the third most commonly diagnosed type of cancer overall. However, there are things we can do to reduce our risk. Eating a high-fat diet, consuming too much alcohol, not controlling our weight gain and not eating enough fiber are all risk factors for increasing our risk of cancers of the colon or rectum. 

In honor of Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month this March, the expert health care providers at Santiam Hospital provided some guidance on what to eat – and what to limit or avoid in your diet – to prevent colorectal cancer. In addition to a healthy diet and lifestyle, experts emphasize maintaining a healthy weight, the importance of preventative screening and early detection. Talk to your Santiam health-care provider about how your lifestyle can impact your risk factors, and when you should first be screened for colorectal cancer.

What foods to limit or avoid?

Diets high in processed meats, red meats, sugars and highly refined grains and starches are linked to an increased risk for colorectal cancer. A diet that’s healthy for your colon (and the entire gastrointestinal system) limits or avoids these foods.  

  • Limit or consume only moderate amounts of red meats, including beef, lamb and pork. 
  • Limit or eliminate processed meats, including any meat that is cured, smoked or salted. This includes hot dogs, deli meats, ham, bacon, salami and some sausages. 
  • Limit sugar intake. 
  • Limit fast foods and other processed foods, which are high in saturated fats, starches and sugars. 
  • Limit or cut out alcohol. If you do choose to drink, men should consume no more than two drinks per day, while women should consume no more than one. 

What to eat for colon health? 

Now for the good news. The same foods that help support a healthy GI tract, reduce your risk of heart disease, and diabetes, can also have a positive impact on your colorectal health. When it comes to protecting your colon, fiber is your friend. It keeps things moving, which is healthier for your colon. 

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that is not completely digested by your GI system, and it’s found in plants. Fiber comes in two basic forms: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water, and it may help reduce both blood sugar and cholesterol. Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water, and it adds bulk to your stool, promoting bowel health and regularity. A plant based diet that’s high in fiber can help lower your risk for colorectal cancer. 

Eat plenty of these fiber-rich foods every day: 

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits 
  • Nuts and seeds 
  • Legumes, including lentils and beans 
  • Whole grains, including whole wheat, barley, quinoa, millet, etc. 
  • Herbs and spices, including onions and garlic

What about proteins? Good choices include: 

  • Lean proteins, including white meat poultry 
  • Eggs 
  • Low-fat dairy products, including milk and yogurt
  • Fish (both white fleshed and fatty fish)

A diet that’s mostly unprocessed and contains whole foods – similar to the Mediterranean diet that’s recommended for the heart and overall health – will provide more of the essential nutrients your body needs to stay healthy. It may also help to reduce overall inflammation. 

Beyond a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy body weight, plenty of physical activity and not using tobacco products can also help lower your risk of developing colorectal cancer. If you have questions about how to adjust your diet for colon health, talk to your Santiam health-care provider. 

To schedule an appointment for a colorectal cancer screening or to discuss your colorectal health with a physician, contact Santiam Hospital.