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Seven ways to help reduce your risk of colon cancer

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When it comes to nutrition and health, just as important as what we eat is what we eliminate. That makes a well-functioning colon key to well-being.

The colon is a major organ whose primary function is to eliminate waste from the body. Also known as the large intestine, the colon is five feet long and made up of muscles that move waste along in a wave-like motion known as peristalsis. If bowel movements are not regular, waste products accumulate and can compromise health.

It’s been estimated that 50 percent of colorectal cancer cases could be avoided by maintaining a healthy weight, engaging in moderate daily activity, and eating healthfully. Processed meats, such as hot dogs, sausage, bacon, and deli-style cold cuts, are most strongly associated with the incidence of colorectal cancer. This can be attributed to their manufacturing process, which includes chemical agents (such as nitrates and nitrites) that can create carcinogens (cancer causing agents) in the gut when eaten. Red meat and alcohol consumption are both strongly associated with the development of colorectal cancer, so moderation is the order of the day.

When it comes to proper nutrition to help reduce the risk of colon cancer, the hard and fast rule should be to choose a healthy diet — primarily plant-based — which allows you to get the nutrients you need from the foods you eat, instead of taking supplements. Research has shown that eating whole foods provides us with known anti-cancer compounds and fiber as well as healthful substances we may not even be aware of at this time.

Because an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, here are seven tips for healthful eating to help maintain colon health:

  1. Eat your vegetables, all of them! Vegetables and legumes such as beans, lentils, and soy, all contain fiber as well as phytonutrients (plant compounds thought to have health-protecting qualities) which have been shown to fight cancer.
  2. Enjoy garlic and onions as often as possible. Both of these vegetables, which we utilize as seasonings, have demonstrated their ability to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. Hint: allowing chopped garlic to sit 10 minutes before using will increase its health benefits.
  3. Limit intake of red meats (beef, pork, and lamb) to 18 ounces per week. Convincing evidence based on recent studies suggests that eating red meat is strongly associated with the development of colorectal cancer. And the more red meat you eat, the greater your risk.
  4. Cook meats at a lower temperature. Marinade if you’re grilling. Preparing meat over an open flame or in a frying pan causes the development of cancer-causing agents (heterocyclic amino acids, as one example) that are then deposited onto the meat as it cooks. Marinating meats decreases the creation of these unhealthy chemicals.
  5. Avoid processed meats such as bacon, sausage, hot dogs or deli-style meats. Bite for bite, processed meats increase the risk of colon cancer to twice that of eating red meat.
  6. Choose low-fat dairy and calcium-containing vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, and okra, often. Calcium-rich foods are considered to decrease the risk of developing colon cancer.
  7. If you drink, be moderate in your intake. Two drinks daily for a man and one drink daily for a woman.

To find healthy recipes, visit nyp.org/nutrition. To find a nutritionist, call 877-697-9355.