June is bowel cancer awareness month. Did you know that there is a strong association between bowel (colon and rectal) cancer and diet? Whilst there are other factors that will impact your risk (such as family history), lifestyle definitely plays an important role in the prevention.
This article will discuss dietary measures of prevention but firstly, a note on weight management.
Did you know that holding excess weight can actually contribute to your risk of cancer? Not many people do. Such cancers include bowel, breast, pancreas, kidney, oesophagus and endometrium.
Overweight and obesity has been linked to the development of 11% of bowel cancers and 9% of breast cancers !
…a risk factor that is so preventable.
To maintain a healthy weight, we need to balance our energy input with our energy output. This means eating and drinking to your energy requirements and not regularly exceeding them. Physical activity also plays a big role in weight management and cancer prevention.
For more help with weight loss or weight management, make an appointment with an Accredited Practicing Dietitian or read my blogs on the topic.
There is a link between high intakes of red meat and a moderately increased risk of bowel cancer . However, the main concern lies in frequently consumed processed meats.
Why is meat said to contribute to cancer risk?
There are a couple of theories:
- It could be due in part to the fat content
- The added nitrates and nitrites
- The way it is cooked
- Excessive meat consumption can displace other foods that have cancer protective effects such as vegetables and fruit.
For a more detailed discussion, follow the link below to an article written by Clare Collins, professor in Nutrition and Dietetics:
How much should I eat?
You definitely do not need to cut meat out all together; it is all about portion control. Red meat still provides many other important nutrients to our diet.
The Cancer Council and Australian dietary guidelines recommend a moderate consumption of red meat. The Australian Dietary guidelines recommend a maximum of 7 serves of lean red meat per week – one serve equalling 65g of cooked red meat or approximate 90-100g of raw meat. This adds up to a maximum of 455g of cooked, lean red meat per week. It is up to you how you spread this out e.g. 150g three times per week.
Processed meats (sausages, salami, ham, bacon) should ideally be avoided all together or limited. They contain high quantities of fat, salt and nitrates.
What about other types of meat?
Eating fish appears to have the opposite effect and may actually decrease the risk of bowel cancer and other forms of cancer as well. Aim for 2-3 serves per week.
The jury is still out on the impact poultry has on the risk of bowel cancer. More research needs to be conducted.
Dairy products also have been shown to have a potentially protective effect. However, requires more research for supportive evidence.
Dietary fibre assists in keeping your bowel motions regular and at an appropriate consistency. Stool s that are regularly very hard or infrequent can cause changes to your bowel over time e.g. diverticular disease. Irregular bowel motions also increase the risk of bowel cancer due to a prolonged exposure to the toxins from the waste products (faeces) staying in your bowel.
For this reason, no one should be too embarrassed to visit their doctor or a dietitian to discuss methods of regulating bowel movements and digestion. In fact, doctors and dietitians are very used to this and we are here to help! There are many very effective and simple steps to get you regular again so do not have to suffer any longer.
Laxatives should be avoided where possible because the bowel can become dependent on them for movements. Additionally, it could mask sign of an unhealthy and unbalanced diet.
Fibre not only lowers your risk of bowel cancer but it as well prevents other conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Not to mention the hand it lends in maintaining a healthy weight. It is firstly recommended that fibre be attained via wholefoods opposed to supplements, as these foods provide many other nutrients that benefit our health and reduce cancer risk.
Where to get your fibre?
√ Wholegrain varieties of bread and cereal
√ Brown rice
√ Wholemeal pasta
√ Grains e.g. oats, barley, quinoa, amaranth
√ 5 serves of vegetables per day
√ 2 pieces of fruit
√ Legumes, nuts and seeds
How much do you need?
The table below summarises the fibre requirements for females and males aged 19 and above. Recommendations were taken from the NHMRC Nutrient Reference values .
Fruits and vegetables
These 2 important groups provide you with a load of beneficial nutrients that assist in lowering your risk of cancer, including bowel cancer. Additionally, they contribute a large amount of fibre to your diet. Aim for your 5 serves of vegetables and 2 pieces of fruit each day.
Unsurprisingly, water is the clear winner here. Other beverages provide sugars, acids and alcohols that we just don’t need! They also tend to increase our energy intake and hence make weight management difficult. A satisfactory water intake will also make sure your bowels are working regularly – it is hard to keep regular without enough water to help things move along.
Alcohol: even drinking alcohol moderately can increase your risk for a number of different cancers. This is especially the case if you drink regularly and in the long-term.
Bowel cancer Australia: For more information on bowel cancer and to find out how to participate in the national bowel cancer screening program, follow this link:
Contact us for results focused nutritional advice
This article was written by our dietitian Belinda Elwin who is a Dietitians Association of Australia member and an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist.
If you have any questions about bowel cancer and nutrition make an appointment. We’ll provide you with a simple and effective routine targeted to your concerns. Contact us today!