Foods to Eat & Avoid for Colon Health

April 17, 2024


Regular screenings are the most important step to colon cancer prevention, but good nutrition plays an important role as well. Just as diet can have a positive or negative impact on heart, brain, and bone health, your colon's overall health can also be affected by what you eat.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) reports that the links between diet, weight, exercise, and colorectal cancer risk are significant. An estimated 50% to 75% of colorectal cancers can be prevented through lifestyle changes like healthy eating, according to the Colon Cancer Foundation.

So what foods should you eat or avoid?

Nutritional Tips for Optimal Colon Health

Overall, diets high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and low in red and processed meats have been associated with a decreased risk of colon cancer, according to the ACS.

Foods to Eat for Colon Health

Variety of Fruits and Vegetables – Eating an assortment of brightly colored fruits and vegetables will provide your body with a variety of health benefits because of the different vitamins and nutrients in those foods. They have natural substances, called phytochemicals, that may block the growth of cancer cells or fight the inflammation that can fuel cancer. 

Whole Grains – The challenge here is to choose only whole grains and avoid processed foods and simple sugars. Whole grains are a great source of fiber which helps reduce cancer risk by maintaining regular bowel movements and helping the healthy bacteria in the colon flourish. Whole grains to consider include barley, quinoa, whole wheat flour, wild and brown rice, and oatmeal. 

Low-fat or Fat-free Dairy – Dairy products are great sources of protein but can increase fat consumption, so choose dairy products made with skim or reduced-fat milk. Most studies agree that calcium-rich dairy products can make you less likely to develop colon growths (called adenomas) and colorectal cancer. Calcium supplements may also be helpful.

Beans – Beans and other legumes (soybeans, peas, and lentils, etc.) are packed with fiber, protein, and vitamins B and E. They also have compounds called flavonoids, which can keep tumors from growing, as well as certain antioxidants that may help protect you from colon cancer. 

Fish – Fish like salmon are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which is great for heart health and may slow the growth of cancer cells. Limit swordfish, tuna, tilefish, shark, and king mackerel. They may have mercury and other pollutants that can harm your health over time.

Foods to Avoid for Colon Health

Saturated Fats – Limit red meats to one to two servings a week and avoid consuming processed meats such as sausage or hot dogs. According to the ACS, the risk of colon cancer increases by 15% to 20% if you consume 100 grams of red meat per day. 

Alcohol – Alcohol can be an irritant to the gastrointestinal tract. Even small amounts can increase cancer risk factors and reduce the absorption of some vitamins.

Added Sugars – Studies have found that people with ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease often have diets high in sugar and low in fiber. While sugar has not been directly associated with the progression of colon cancer, foods high in sugar are often high in calories and can lead to weight gain and obesity.

Processed Meats – These are meats that are smoked, cured, salted, or preserved with added chemicals, such as hot dogs, bacon, ham, bologna, and packaged lunch meat. Eating those kinds of meats often can up your chances of both colon and stomach cancer.

Make Cancer Screening a Priority at Alabama Colon & Rectal Institute

Eating right can definitely help keep your colon happy and healthy, but the most powerful way to prevent colon cancer is through screening. We should begin having colonoscopies at the age of 45 or earlier for those who have a family history of the disease. If detected early, up to 95% of colorectal cancers are curable!

Learn more about colon cancer at Alabama Colon & Rectal Institute.

Alabama Colon & Rectal Institute specializes in treating diseases of the colon, rectum, and anus. We are  experts in performing colonoscopies, anorectal surgery, and minimally invasive colon surgery. Our three doctors are known regionally for their expertise in these areas. Visit our website for more information, give us a call to make an appointment at 205-458-5000, or email us at [email protected].  

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