Foods That Fight Colon Cancer

by Janet Renee, MS, RD

Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. The exact cause of colon cancer is unknown, but researchers are identifying certain risk factors. While some risk factors for cancer are genetic, other risk factors appear to be related to diet and lifestyle. While some foods have anti-cancer potential, it's most important to focus on your diet as a whole, instead of on a specific food.

Cruciferous Vegetables

Eating cruciferous vegetables provides protection against colon cancer. For a while, the exact compounds responsible for anti-cancer benefits remained unknown. Research into this area has shed some light. Researchers have found that the phytochemical sulforaphane significantly inhibits colon cancer growth, according to results from an experimental study published in the January 2004 edition of the journal "Colorectal Disease." Sulforaphane is found almost exclusively in cruciferous vegetables. Another compound, diindolylmethane effectively kills colon cancer cells, according to a test tube study published in the "The Journal of Nutrition" in the January 2007 issue.

Fiber-Rich Foods

Dietary fiber plays a crucial role in digestive health and helps protect against colon cancer, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. The body is unable to digest fiber, but its passage through the colon provides benefits. Fiber helps add bulk to stool and decreases transit time, which helps promotes bowel health. It also appears to help reduce contact with cancer-causing chemicals, or carcinogens, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Eating a diet high in fat and low in fiber is linked to an increased risk for colon cancer. Fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes and whole grains provide a good source of fiber.

The Other Side of the Coin

What you eat more of is just as important as what you eat less of. For example, a diet high in red meat is linked to an increased incidence of colon cancer. Scientists have yet to conclude why, but they have theories. The carcinogenic chemicals produced when meat is cooked at high temperatures, and the preservatives in processed meats -- particularly nitrates -- are thought to play a partial role, according to Harvard Medical School. A diet containing less red meat lowers the risk for colon cancer.

The Big Picture

Scientists are still discovering ways that diet influences cancer development. Your overall diet is central to promoting optimal health and protecting you against disease. One of the best places to start is to increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables. They contain vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that benefit health. Most Americans fail to consume enough fruits and vegetables. Examples of cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, bok choy, cabbage, collards and turnip greens.

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About the Author

Janet Renee is a clinical dietitian with a special interest in weight management, sports dietetics, medical nutrition therapy and diet trends. She earned her Master of Science in nutrition from the University of Chicago and has contributed to health and wellness magazines, including Prevention, Self, Shape and Cooking Light.