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Food for Your Colon

What a Survivor Should Focus On

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Updated October 12, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

The food you eat everyday is more than a source of calories and fuel: it provides sustenance and nutrients that help your body heal. Some foods are better than others—think chicken salad versus a cheeseburger. Making better dietary choices is just one more way you can boost your wellness, health, and possibly even your energy levels as you battle colon cancer.

Protein

Protein is a macronutrient, and something you must have to survive. But many Americans get too much of this nutrient, which can lead to weight gain and obesity. A serving of protein is three ounces, or about the size of your palm (fingers not included). Protein helps your body repair itself and is used to maintain your skeletal muscle. Without protein, wounds (including surgical ones) cannot heal, and the body will eventually start to digest itself by breaking down your muscles for nutrients.

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of protein varies by gender and age. Adult men should aim for about 56 grams per day, whereas the average woman needs only 46 grams. This varies greatly depending on activity level as well: the more active you are, the more protein you may require.

Getting sufficient protein in your diet has multiple health benefits, but you have to choose the right kind. Proteins saturated in animal fat, such as cuts of red meat or processed luncheon meats, have a cumulative and damaging effect in your colon. Stick to the lean proteins, such as skinless poultry or firm tofu.

You can learn to sneak protein into your diet, even if your appetite is waning. Sprinkle some whey protein powder into a smoothie or a glass of milk, or use it while cooking in soups or hidden in mashed potatoes. Healthy protein sources include:

  • Tofu
  • Whey protein powder
  • Skinless poultry
  • Cold water fish
  • Low fat dairy and eggs
  • Legumes

Vitamins and Minerals

Unless the food is genetically engineered or modified, you can only find vitamins and minerals in natural foods: fruits, vegetables and animal products. The majority of people get 100 percent of the recommended daily vitamins and minerals through a well-balanced diet.

These nutrients are known as micronutrients, which are vitally important and help your body work properly. Vitamins E and C, for instance, are antioxidants. That means they help remove circulating waste from your body (free radicals). Iron, a mineral, helps transport oxygen through your blood and to your body. Each vitamin and mineral has a specific purpose in your body, and many of them work together (the mineral calcium helps with vitamin D absorption). Some healthy sources of these micronutrients include:

  • Fresh fruit (especially berries)
  • Vegetables (dark, vibrantly colored vegetables have higher vitamin and mineral content)
  • Dairy (vitamin D and calcium)
  • Lean proteins (iron, zinc, B vitamins)

Fiber

Fiber helps regulate your bowels and can also help with heart disease, diabetes and weight maintenance. If you're eating plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables (at least two and a half cups daily according to the American Cancer Society), and grains, you are most likely getting plenty of fiber in your diet.

The average person needs between 20 and 30 grams of fiber daily (again more for men, less for women). You may think you're eating sufficient amounts until you consider this: Most sliced bread and refined grain products only have about 1 or 2 grams of fiber per serving. That means you would have to eat about 25 slices of bread to obtain your recommended daily allowance of fiber! Some better sources include:

  • Edible skinned fruits and vegetables (berries, apples, pears, tomatoes, zucchinis)
  • Whole grains, including oats, bulgur, and wild rice
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Lentils

Phytochemicals

No discussion on "super foods" is complete without touching on those that contain phytochemicals: intriguing plant compounds that are found to have wonderful, health-boosting effects in the human body. They are not essential to health, but they can help you maintain a better state of wellness, according to research.

You might have heard about some of these chemicals, even if you didn't know their scientific names. For instance, many people speak about the benefits of beta-carotene, a phytochemical found in orange vegetables, such as carrots.

Some phytochemicals to enjoy more of are found in:

  • Fresh fruit (especially berries)
  • Vegetables (especially the dark, vibrantly colored kind)
  • Soy products
  • Red wine
  • Herbs (garlic)

Every effort made to improve your diet can impact your health. Start making better dietary choices today, and reduce your risk of colon cancer recurrence tomorrow.

Sources:

American Cancer Society. (n.d.). Fruits and Vegetables: Do You Get Enough? Accessed October 1, 2012.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Protein. Accessed October 1, 2012.

Harvard School of Public Health. (n.d.). Fiber: Start Roughing It! Accessed October 2, 2012.

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