by Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN
About 50 percent of colorectal cancer, the third most common cancer among men and women in the U.S., can be prevented through daily diet, physical activity and weight management, making it one of our most preventable cancers.
Five specific steps toward that goal come from an evidence-based report on reducing risk of colorectal cancer released by the
1. Fill up on foods with fiber
Each 10 grams of dietary fiber is linked with a 10 percent lower risk of colorectal cancer, according to an analysis detailed in the
-- Focus on whole plant foods -- vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and nuts -- in order to reach levels of fiber linked with lowest risk. Whole plant foods, which provide fiber along with protective nutrients and phytochemicals, are best. Although you can get some of these benefits from fiber supplements or refined grains with added fiber, whole plant foods provide fiber along with protective nutrients and phytochemicals.
-- Add beans or tofu to soups, stews and stir-fries.
-- Start eating whole grain bread and pasta, then expand to a variety of unprocessed, cooked grains such as bulgur, whole wheat couscous, quinoa, and whole-grain polenta.
-- Add some nuts or seeds (including ground flaxseed) to your morning cereal or smoothie.
2. Cut calories if you're carrying extra weight
Especially if it's around your waist. Excess body fat secretes inflammation-inducing proteins and creates cancer-promoting changes in hormones like insulin and growth factors. Each one-unit increase in body mass index (BMI), which corresponds to five to seven pounds for most adults, is linked with a 2 percent increase in colorectal cancer risk. Fat deep in the abdomen poses the most risk. Each one-inch increase in waist links to a 5 percent increase in colon cancer risk. The key: don't simply add healthy foods; swap them for less healthy foods to boost nutrition and keep calories the same or lower.
-- Sip water, seltzer, tea or coffee instead of soda or sugary tea and coffee specialty drinks.
-- If you're not hungry, relax with a walk, meditation, music or a book instead of food.
3. If you drink alcohol, limit it to no more than one (for women) or two (for men) drinks a day
Alcohol is metabolized to compounds that damage cells and can lead to cancer. Based on similar alcohol content, one standard drink is considered 12 ounces beer, 5 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor or 1 ounce of 100-proof liquor. For each one standard drink consumed daily, colorectal cancer risk increases 14 percent, according to analysis of multiple studies. Cancer risk is linked with alcohol content, not choice of beverage.
-- Watch your glass size. With today's larger glasses, what you may consider one drink may be more.
-- Choose seltzer flavored with fruit essence, or add slices of fruit to club soda, for a more enticing option than plain water.
4. Limit red meat (beef, lamb and pork) and avoid processed meat
Each 3.5-ounce portion of red meat eaten daily increases colorectal cancer risk 17 percent, according to CUP analysis published in PLoS ONE in
Add a few more meatless meals to your week, making sure to include beans, lentils or some other source of protein.
5. Get moving
Even if you don't lose weight, a little extra activity every day can stop or slow weight gain. What's more, regular physical activity fights cancer development directly by reducing elevated insulin levels and reducing inflammation regardless of weight. Each 30 minutes of daily recreational physical activity is linked with an 11 percent decrease in colorectal cancer risk.
-- You needn't get the recommended 30 minutes or more of daily physical activity all at once. See how many 10-minute blocks of movement you can include throughout your day.
-- Get up just a little earlier and start the day with a 10-minute walk.
-- Get off public transit one stop early, walk 10 minutes at lunch or between projects, head outside or turn on your favorite tunes and dance before or after dinner.
Beyond the five steps
While other lifestyle strategies may not have as much research support as our top five, some also show colon-cancer fighting potential.
This plant food contains allyl sulfur compounds that, in laboratory studies, inhibit colon tumor formation. Population studies tend to link regular garlic consumption with lower colorectal cancer risk (Annals of Oncology,
Milk and calcium.
Consuming milk probably decreases colorectal cancer risk, according to a study in the
Vegetables and fruits.
Eating more vegetables and fruits may modestly reduce colon cancer risk. Aim for variety to get the widest array of protective compounds. Include cruciferous vegetables regularly for isothiocyanates that may intervene directly in cancer development (Food & Function,