Bogdan Protyniak MD, Division Chief of Colon and Rectal Surgery & System Director of Robotic Surgery, Geisinger
Choosing good-for-you foods like fresh vegetables and whole grains is part of a healthy lifestyle.
But knowing which foods to avoid can be just as important as filling your plate with vibrant veggies and lean proteins. In fact, steering clear of some foods can actually help you reduce your risk of developing cancer — especially colon cancer.
It’s not a topic most people want to think about. But as Bogdan Protyniak, MD, a colorectal surgeon at Geisinger explains, taking a few preventive measures can pay off in good colon health.
“Colon cancer is very treatable in its early stages,” says Dr. Protyniak. “But because it’s symptoms can be difficult to detect early on, the best way to prevent colon cancer is to take preventive steps.”
That starts with your diet, which can affect your risk for colon cancer. In fact, certain foods may increase your likelihood of developing colon cancer by as much as 37 percent.
Dr. Protyniak calls out three foods that you should avoid reducing your risk of developing colon cancer.
Processed and red meats
If processed and red meats like bacon, salami or beef are part of your diet, pay close attention to how much you consume.
Researchers have found that eating 50 grams of processed meat every day (which is equivalent to one hot dog or four strips of bacon) may increase your risk of colon cancer by 18 percent.
While you don’t necessarily have to give up processed and red meat entirely, Dr. Protyniak urges caution and moderation.
“To reduce your risk of colon cancer, consider swapping red meats for poultry and fish,” he says. “It can help to start small by trading these foods out once or twice a week at first.”
Just like processed meats, processed grains can also increase your risk of colon cancer.
Refined grains in white bread and other white flour foods can increase blood sugar levels, which lead to insulin resistance. This can raise your risk of colon cancer—as well as other cancers like kidney cancer.
Grains are also a leading source of fiber in people’s diets. But because they are so processed, white flour foods do not have as much fiber as whole grain foods.
Choosing whole grain bread, pasta and oats can increase your fiber intake and reduce your colon cancer risk.
Sugary drinks are everywhere. Depending on where you are, it may even be easier to get a soda than a bottle of water.
While studies have shown the link between sugary drinks and obesity, they may cause cancer as well.
“The sugar in drinks like soda can lead to chronic inflammation,” said Dr. Protyniak. “Inflammation can lead to many different cancers throughout the body—including colon cancer.”
To avoid colon cancer, replace your sugary drinks with water and other low-calorie and low-sugar alternatives.
Foods that fight colon cancer
While there are foods that cause colon cancer, there are also foods that help prevent it, too.
“Foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains all fight colon cancer,” said Dr. Protyniak. “This is likely because they are all high in fiber.”
To decrease your risk of colon cancer, try eating more of these foods or even switching to a plant-based diet. Plant-based diets don’t restrict your intake of meat, but they focus on vegetables as the main course and meat as a side dish.
Remember, there’s no one food that can eliminate your risk for colon cancer. That’s why it’s important to get your routine colonoscopy or other preventive screening as recommended by your doctor.