How To Eat To Avoid Colorectal Cancer, According to Katie’s Nutritionist

different foods placed within the outline of a colon


Including a surprising fact about your morning cup of coffee.

Part of the fight against any disease is understanding every little thing we do that increases our risk. Thorough research has led us to applying plenty of sunscreen to avoid skin cancer and daily Sudoku to ward off dementia. The same can be applied to how we eat. We know that certain foods are better for joint health, and there are even ingredients that prevent various types of cancer, including breast cancer. Research shows that the relationship between diet and colorectal cancer is more of the same: “In the past few decades, findings from extensive epidemiologic and experimental investigation have linked consumption of several foods and nutrients to the risk of colorectal [cancer],” states a 2015 study.

For National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month last year, we consulted with Emily Buchholtz, RD, CDN, CSO, to serve up a list of foods that may help prevent colorectal cancer. The oncology dietitian at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center identified ingredients — and one notable cooking method — that may increase your risk.

Foods to Prevent Colorectal Cancer

Calcium is key

We can’t talk about calcium without discussing dairy. Buchholtz said that dairy isn’t always appropriate for every individual, but that there is some proof it can provide protection: “What current evidence suggests is that the consumption of dairy may help against colorectal cancer development.”

She suggested opting for protein-rich options like 2 percent Greek yogurt or 2 percent cottage cheese to also optimize heart health.

If you can’t consume dairy products, try experimenting with chia seeds or integrate more tahini into your diet, since sesame seeds are full of the good stuff.

Proteins like sardines, salmon, and tofu are also calcium-rich. The same goes for almonds, amaranth, white beans, and figs. You can also get calcium from broccoli and dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, or collard greens.

Fill up on fiber

Most of us know that we all need some amount of fiber in our diets to reap benefits like maintaining bowel health and lowering cholesterol. But Buchholtz said fiber has effects specific to colorectal cancer concerns: “The gut microbiome relies on fiber as fuel so it can fight harmful bacteria and produce short chain fatty acids that promote colon health.”

There are a few ways to get more fiber. You can easily replace refined grains with whole grains. Think whole wheat bread for your morning toast or brown rice for dinner. You can also start experimenting with different grains like farro or quinoa. If you’re not much of a home cook, Buchholtz points out that grain bowls and other whole grain options are becoming common at restaurants.

Embracing beans and lentils can up your fiber with very little effort: “It’s totally safe for people to consume canned options,” which will help cut back on cooking, if that’s the goal.

Vegetables are notably chock full of fiber. If you’re a little veggie-clueless, Buchholtz said it’s understandable but that there’s still hope. “If you’re not a good cook, you can buy frozen vegetables and just microwave them when you get home. Add them as a side dish to anything.”

The most fiber-rich vegetables are cruciferous vegetables like kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts.

The most fiber-rich fruits are the ones with edible skin. Think apples, pears, or berries. If you’re feeling adventurous, Buchholtz also recommends eating kiwi with the skin, which is perfectly safe to eat if you’re fine with the fuzz.

The perks of coffee for colon health

You might want to start rethinking your new year’s resolution to cut out coffee since Buchholtz said that there is some evidence that coffee can help prevent colorectal cancer: “There’s research suggesting that drinking coffee might protect against colorectal cancer. One study found that drinking as little as one to two cups of coffee a day was associated with 26 percent lower odds of developing colorectal cancer.”

She warned that the evidence is limited, though, and that you should indulge in moderation — about one to two cups a day.

Foods to Avoid for Colon Health

Bacon should be a special occasion food

The American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR) says, “evidence is clear that diets high in red and processed meats, contribute to an increased risk of colorectal cancer” so nixing processed and red meat is especially important. Salting, curing, fermenting, or smoking meats enhances flavor, but the processes introduce harmful chemicals like heterocyclic amines (HCA) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH); research has linked consumption of these carcinogens with higher colorectal cancer rates specifically.

“We don’t want these as staples in our diets,” Buchholtz said, but you can still allow yourself room to be human. Don’t stress over your ballpark hotdog or Fourth of July barbecue, but if you’re eating bacon every day, consider making a change.

As a rule, the AICR advises limiting your weekly meat intake to 18 ounces of cooked beef, pork, and lamb, with the general rule to avoid processed meats as much as possible.

Think twice before firing up the grill

Speaking of barbecue, we have some not-so-great news. Those same HCAs or PAHs that emerge during processing also occur when you cook meat at high temperatures.

The upside: You can grill fruits and vegetables safely. Buchholtz said according to the research she’s seen, grilling fish is OK as well.

Another tip to decrease harm is to use marinades on your grilled meat. When you let your meat marinade for about an hour, the muscles in the meat will break down, which reduces the formation of those HCAs and PAHs.

The AICR has a guide to safe grilling that you can keep handy, and it includes tips on crafting delicious, healthy marinades so that you can still get excited about enjoying barbecue season.

When in doubt, focus on choosing whole foods

As you make dietary changes to prevent colorectal cancer, Buchholtz recommended being kind to yourself. “No one’s ever going to eat perfectly. And that’s OK.”

From a cancer prevention perspective, Buchholtz said switching out processed grains, meats, and other foods for more wholesome options is critical. If this means you’re going to totally revamp the way you eat, the AICR has a treasure trove of healthy recipes you can reference to get started.