DIETARY CHOICES MAY HELP PREVENT COLON CANCER
For Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month coming up in March, let’s get to the bottom of what you can do from a nutritional standpoint to help prevent what is the third-most-common cancer diagnosed in the United States.
The American Cancer Society estimates that the number of new colorectal cancer cases in the U.S. for 2023 will be 106,970 colon cancer cases and 46,050 rectal cancer cases.
Karen Kruza, an registered dietitian nutritionist from Wayne, Chester County, who owns Kruza Nutrition based in Radnor, Delaware County, shared some prevention tips.
With a primary focus on family nutrition, she would typically direct this type of preventative nutritional guidance to those who are middle aged.
However, when it comes to making any dietary changes, Kruza prescribes a whole-family approach when working with patients to establish new goals and strategies.
“If the whole family is participating in the strategies, then everyone is more likely to get on board, and it’s easier to stay on track,” she said. “It’s a whole family approach.”
She likes to offer simple steps to her patients and shared three things to remember when it comes to colon cancer prevention.
Kuza’s first recommendation is to limit foods that studies have shown increase the risk of colon cancer.
“Those would be processed meats like salami, hot dogs, pork roll, lunch meat, red meat and excess alcohol,” Kruza said. “Excess alcohol means more than one drink for women per day and more than two for men per day.”
Kruza generally directs patients to limit the above foods as opposed to eliminating them.
“People find it too hard to achieve when it involves the elimination of any food group, so it can make someone give up,” she said. “I find that limiting things is a great first step because they can achieve a small goal, which will give them the incentive to keep going.”
Kuza pointed out a recent study published in the medical journal BMJ that proves that limiting fast food and processed foods is protective for men and women against colorectal cancer.
The conclusion, published in the 2022 study, emphasized an increased risk for those who eat ultra-processed foods.
“In the three large prospective cohorts, high consumption of total ultra-processed foods in men and certain subgroups of ultra-processed foods in men and women was associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer,” the study states. “These types of foods are usually high in added sugar, oils/fats and refined starch, altering gut microbiota composition unfavorably and contributing to increased risk of weight gain and obesity — an established risk factor for colorectal cancer.”
“Aiming for a healthy weight has been shown to be protective against colorectal cancer,” Kruza said.
Kruza’s second recommendation is to increase protective foods that research has shown to provide some protection from colon cancer.
“People who eat these foods are less likely to get colon cancer,” Kruza said. “When you have a diet of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and beans — they are all fiber foods and high fiber keeps things moving.”
Kuza’s third recommendation is to keep everything moving in the digestive department.
“The best way to do that is to shoot for a goal of 25 grams of fiber per day and adequate water per day — aiming for eight to 10 8-ounce glasses,” she said.
In addition to fiber and water, physical activity is another area to focus on.
“Physical activity increases your metabolism, which makes your digestive system kick into high gear to keep things moving,” Kruza said. “Physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk.”
She said that daily activities of living qualify, so it doesn’t mean you necessarily have to head to the gym.
“It’s moving around, walking farther in the parking lot, walking up stairs,” she said. “It’s best not to sit after a meal — it’s best to get up and walk around for five to 10 minutes and then you will be less likely to overeat, and it lowers your blood sugar.”
All the strategies Kuza discussed can help you get to and maintain a healthy weight.
You don’t have to wait until you’re middle aged to heed the above guidance. In the process, you will be setting good dietary examples for your children.
“Parents are role models for what children eat,” Kruza said. “If we show them the right choices it will benefit them greatly.”