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By Avera Medical
While regular screenings are the most important step to colon cancer prevention, nutrition plays a vital role. This National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, we explore the impact of diet on gastrointestinal wellness.
“The best foods we can consume for colon health are fresh fruits and vegetables. High-fiber foods keep the colon cleaned out and help prevent colon cancer from developing,” said Nicole Haberer, RD, LN, a registered dietitian at Avera Sacred Heart Hospital in Yankton.
She offered these nutritional tips for optimal colon health.
Eat a Variety of Fruits and Vegetables
Consume an assortment of vividly colored fruits and vegetables. For example, eat a mix of dark, leafy greens, red or orange fruits, and blue or purple fruits.
“The different colors offer a variety of health benefits because of the different vitamins they supply to our diet,” Haberer said. “All have different health benefits that work together in the body and create a nutrition powerhouse for our health.”
Vegetables can be fresh, frozen, or canned as long as they are whole and low in sodium. Legumes, beans, lentils, and peas also are good options to increase nutrition.
Choose Whole Grains
While some popular weight-loss plans remove carbohydrates from your diet, carbohydrates are essential nutrients for your body. The challenge is to choose whole grains and avoid processed foods and simple sugars.
“Carbohydrates are fuel for our body and our brain,” Haberer said. “Whole grains are a great source of fiber which helps to reduce cancer risk by maintaining regular bowel movements and helping the healthy bacteria in the colon to flourish.”
Drink Plenty of Water
Adults should consume a minimum of 64 ounces of non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic drinks a day. That is eight 8-ounce glasses.
Avoid Saturated Fats, Especially from Animals
Limit red meats to one to two servings a week and avoid consuming processed meats such as sausage or hot dogs. Include more heart-healthy fats, such as avocados and olive oil, but even those should be consumed in moderation. “You still can have too much of a good thing,” Haberer said.
Look For Low-fat or Fat-free Dairy
Dairy products are great sources of protein but can increase fat consumption as well. Choose dairy products made with skim or reduced-fat milk.
Avoid Alcohol and Added Sugar
“Alcohol can be an irritant to the gastrointestinal tract,” she said. “Even small amounts can increase cancer risk factors and reduce the absorption of some vitamins.”
Reading food labels is a good way to make sure what you are putting into your body is healthy.
When it comes to colon health, some symptoms to watch for include:
Blood in your stool
Abrupt changes in bowel habits, such as continued constipation or diarrhea
Inability to empty your bowel
Sudden gas, painful bloating, or severe pain
Unexplained weight loss
Nausea or vomiting
Contact your primary care provider if you have any of these symptoms. They also can offer screening recommendations based on your family history of colon cancer.
Routine colon screenings start at age 50, but your primary care provider can evaluate your risk factors to determine if you should be screened at a younger age. Learn more at Avera.org/colon.