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Super Foods and Not-So-Super Foods

Keeping Your Colon Healthy

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Updated January 24, 2013

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

If you're up-to-date on the latest and greatest diets, you'll see that many focus on what you should and should not be eating. Fact is, science has proven time and again that certain foods are good for you and can actually help your body maintain health, whereas other foods can be detrimental to your health and, specifically, your colon. Your parents probably had it right: You truly are what you eat.

Keep in mind that many reports and articles regarding "super foods" for cancer sway back and forth like a pendulum. One week, coffee is in, and the next, it's out. Use common sense when choosing what foods are best for you, and remember that excessive amounts of some foods can be problematic. Before discussing foods to avoid, here are some foods that will not only help you maintain an overall healthy diet, but which are also among the most beneficial for your colon:

  • Cruciferous and other non-starchy vegetables
  • Onions and garlic
  • Skim or no-fat milk
  • Barley
  • Black beans and other lean proteins

Cruciferous Vegetables

Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower, have many valuable nutrients that are thought to be preventive against many different types of cancer. Chomp on them raw or slightly steamed to reap the most benefits, because once they're overheated (read soggy and overcooked), they lose many of their healthy vitamins, minerals and enzymes during the heating process. These vegetables are also low in calories and have no fat, so filling up on these fibrous gems will also help you watch your waistline.

Onions and Garlic

An onion a day keeps the doctor away. Perhaps that's not how the adage goes, but it could. Yellow onions and bulbs of garlic contain potent phytochemicals that can help your body by boosting your immune system. Cook them and add them to almost any entrée for extra flavor and nutrients.

Milk

A study published by the Harvard School of Public Medicine showed that drinking skim milk daily can help reduce your risk of colon cancer. Don't buy the full-fat or even low-fat versions, as too many fats increase your risk.

Barley

If you're trying to wean off the java, barley coffee makes a nice substitute. This plant is chock full of vitamins and enzymes, which may help reduce your risk of cancer. It also makes a great substitute for brown (and especially starchy white) rice in almost any dish.

Lean Proteins Versus Red and Processed Meats

According to a large study quoted by the Harvard School of Medicine, people who eat at least 5 ounces of red or processed meat daily have a much higher risk of developing colon and rectal cancer than people who stick to poultry. You further increase your risk if you charbroil or overcook the meat. If you're looking for healthy proteins, consider small amounts of nuts, black beans, vegetable protein (tofu), poultry and fish.

Sugars

Every cell in your body uses sugar for a source of energy and growth. Unsurprisingly, cancer cells love sugar as well. Try to limit the amount you eat daily, and avoid the worst offender: high fructose corn syrup. Although small amounts of these probably won't hurt you, you don't want sugar to be the staple of your diet.

Fat Facts

Although all fat has a higher calorie content than say, protein, for example, certain fats are better for your health than others. Three main types of fat on food labels include:

  • Saturated
  • Trans
  • Unsaturated

Studies show that trans fats, also known as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats, increase your risk of developing colon cancer. These fats are most popularly found in margarines, low-fat baked goods and other snack foods. Read the label and avoid these man-made concoctions.

Saturated fat is found in animal products, namely red meat and dairy. Eating too much of this fat may contribute to problems outside of your colon, including heart disease and high cholesterol levels.

Unsaturated fat is found in plant foods and cold-water fish, such as salmon. Nuts, and olive and canola oils also contain this healthier fat, but eat these items sparingly, as they carry a lot of calories.

Putting It All Together

This may sound like a lot of rules and regulations to think about while preparing dinner tonight, but it's well worth the effort. Just remember that even small changes can provide protection to your health and wellbeing.

Sources:

American Cancer Society. (2006). American Cancer Society's Complete Guide to Colorectal Cancer. Clifton Fields, NE: American Cancer Society.

Theodoratou, E. et al. (2007). Dietary Fatty Acids and Colorectal Cancer: A Case-Control Study. American Journal of Epidemiology. Accessed January 2, 2013.

National Cancer Institute. (n.d.). Cancer Prevention. Accessed online January 19, 2013.

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