Thomas Adams once said, “Prevention is so much better than healing because it saves the labor of being sick." Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in the US with over 150,000 diagnosed cases each year, leading to more than 50,000 deaths. While early detection is important, there are steps that can be taken to prevent or decrease the risk of developing colorectal cancer through diet.
Avoid red and processed meats
Fat from red and processed meats may increase risk of developing colorectal cancer. Processed meats are meats that have been preserved by curing, smoking, salting, or adding chemical preservatives. These include bacon, hot dogs, sausages, ham, pepperoni, beef jerky, and deli meats. There are three chemicals that have specifically been linked to colorectal cancer. One of the chemicals occurs naturally in red meat and the others are added or developed as part of the process to produce these meats:
- Nitrates and nitrites are added to keep processed meat fresher for longer periods of time
- Heme - a pigment that is found naturally in red meat
- Heterocyclic amines and polycyclic amines are produced when meat is cooked at high temperatures
All of these chemicals can damage the cells in the colon and the rectum. As damage accumulates over time cancer risk increases greatly. Eating less processed meats is easier than you think. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Add vegetables to your omelet instead of bacon, ham, or sausage.
- Order a grilled chicken or fish sandwich instead of a deli sandwich.
- Add grilled chicken, hard-boiled egg, beans, tofu, or flaked tuna to your salad instead of cubed deli meat.
Get more fiber in your diet
Fiber is an important part of a healthy diet and has been found to help in prevention of colorectal cancer. Fiber has also been found to help lower cholesterol, prevent constipation, and improve digestion. The average American consumes only 15 grams of fiber per day, though it is recommended that men consume 38 grams of fiber daily and women consume 25 grams of fiber daily.
Fiber is only found in foods that come from plants such as fruit, vegetables, and whole grains as well as nuts, seeds, and legumes. Fiber is beneficial because it adds bulk to the digestive system, therefore shortening the amount of time it takes for waste to travel through your colon. Because waste can contain carcinogens, or cancer-causing agents, it is important that the waste be removed as quickly as possible. In addition, when the good bacteria in our intestines break work to digest fiber, it creates a substance called butyrate. Butyrate may inhibit the growth of tumors in the colon and the rectum.
Easy ways to add more fiber to your meals and snacks
- Fill two-thirds of your plate with vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans, and nuts. The remainder of your plate is for lean meats or other proteins.
- Choose low-sugar whole grain cereals, oatmeal, or whole grain toast as part of your breakfast.
- Add fresh fruit to your breakfast cereal or yogurt. Raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries are all great breakfast options.
- Choose fruit as a snack – apples, pears, bananas, oranges, berries, are all easy to take with you and are good sources of fiber.
- Choose nuts as a snack or add to foods like yogurt, salads, and trail mix.
- Peanut butter is good on fruits such as apples and bananas, and tastes great on whole grain bread and crackers.
- Add dried fruits, seeds, nuts, and different vegetables to salads. Ground flaxseeds or hemp seeds add a nutty taste to salads and cereals and are high in fiber.
- Beans are a good source of fiber and can be pureed into a dip, such as white bean dip or hummus, or can be added to a salad. They also are a good source of protein. To avoid gas, drink plenty of water.
- Instead of white flour pasta, try whole wheat, chickpea, or spinach pasta. Choose brown rice instead of white rice and try other high fiber grains like quinoa or bulgur.
Looking for a high fiber recipe idea? Kristen recommends this Quinoa and Black Bean Salad.