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Does Eating Right Really Matter?

Eating Right - Your Ticket to Colon Cancer Prevention and Preventing Recurrence

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Updated August 13, 2009

Eating Right: Putting Food to Work For Your Health

Along with regular colon cancer screening, regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy body weight, a healthy diet is an important part of every colon cancer prevention plan.

Eating Right for Colon Cancer Prevention

What you put in your mouth today can have a big impact on your future risk of colon cancer. Even more exciting is the latest research, which tells us that even after colon cancer diagnosis, eating right matters. It truly is, never too late!

What Does Eating Right for Colon Cancer Prevention Mean?

Eating right can mean different things to different people. To some, eating right means ordering the small fries at McDonald’s with their Big Mac, rather than the large. To others, it means having a diet coke with their pizza.

When thinking about reducing colon cancer risk with nutrition, think a little bigger. You want to overhaul your pattern of eating. The goal: Focus on a plant-based diet.

A plant-based diet doesn’t mean being a vegetarian, although it’s fine if you want to follow a vegetarian diet. Plant-based eating simply means that the majority of your calories come from minimally processed plant foods, such as vegetables, fruit, and whole grains.

If you divide your plate into quarters, three of those quarters should be covered by vegetables, fruit, and whole grains. The remaining one-quarter will be your lean protein, such as beans, chicken, or fish.

Why is Plant-Based Eating Best for Colon Cancer Prevention?

Much of the research points to the benefit of a whole-foods, healthy diet as the best way to reduce colon cancer risk. The “fiber studies” of the 1990s—studies in which people were assigned to take a fiber supplement to reduce colon cancer risk—taught us this. Focusing on just one or two specific nutrients or components of diet is unlikely to give the cancer-fighting benefit we seek.

No one nutrient appears to be most important for reducing colon cancer risk. Instead, it is the combination of the thousands of healthy nutrients found in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans, peas, nuts, and seeds working together that appear to best protect against colon and other cancers.

Are There Any Other Diet Tips to Reduce Colon Cancer Risk?

  • Eat low. Focus on foods that are low on the food chain. The closer a food is to its natural form, or what it looks like when it comes out of the ground or off the tree or vine, the more cancer-preventive benefit it has. Stick to unprocessed items such as vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and beans (legumes), all of which are known cancer fighters.
  • Go easy on the meat. Regular consumption of red meat, especially if it is cooked at high temperature, grilled, or charred, has been linked with increased risk of colon cancer. When the fat and protein in meat are heated to high temperature or char-grilled to black, this creates chemicals such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs). PAHs and HCAs are carcinogenic, meaning they are known to cause cancer.
  • Choose the right fats. Avoid processed items such as chips, crackers, cookies, donuts, pastries, and other convenience or fast foods. These contain trans-fats, which have been linked to increased risk of colon adenomas, small growths in the colon that if left untreated, can develop into colorectal cancer. Instead, go for healthy fats such as those found in fish, flaxseeds, avocados, olive oil, walnuts and other nuts and seeds.

Sources

Alberts DS, Martínez ME, Roe DJ, Guillén-Rodríguez JM, Marshall JR, van Leeuwen JB, Reid ME, Ritenbaugh C, Vargas PA, Bhattacharyya AB, Earnest DL, Sampliner RE. Lack of effect of a high-fiber cereal supplement on the recurrence of colorectal adenomas. Phoenix Colon Cancer Prevention Physicians' Network. N Engl J Med 2000 342:1156-62.

American Cancer Society. Cancer Prevention. Accessed: January 25, 2009.
http://www.cancer.org/docroot/PED/ped_1.asp

American Cancer Society. Nutrition and Physical Activity During and After Cancer Treatment. Accessed: January 25, 2009.
http://www.cancer.org/docroot/mbc/content/MBC_6_2x_FAQ_Nutrition_and_Physical_Activity.asp

American Cancer Society. Prevention & Detection Programs. Accessed: January 25, 2009.
http://www.cancer.org/docroot/PED/ped_1_4.asp

American Institute for Cancer Research. Diet & Cancer. Accessed: January 25, 2009.
http://www.aicr.org/site/PageServer?pagename=dc_home

Pan SY, DesMeules M. Energy intake, physical activity, energy balance, and cancer: epidemiologic evidence. Methods Mol Biol 2009 472:191-215.

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