Foods to Avoid with Colon Cancer
Colon cancer is a disease that causes malignant tumors in the cells lining your colon.
You may have heard it called colorectal cancer, or cancer of the colon and rectum. That’s because your colon and rectum are made of the same tissue, and there’s no clear line where your colon ends and your rectum begins.
Anyone can get colon cancer, but it occurs more frequently with age. It’s the third most common cancer (excluding skin cancers) in the U.S., and the risk of developing colon cancer also increases when there’s a family history.
One good thing to know about colon cancer is that it's one of the easiest to reduce your risk for by watching your diet.
Diet Related Risk Factors
As with most cancers, obesity, smoking and drinking too much alcohol will increase your risk of developing colon cancer.
There are also specific foods you can reduce or cross off your list completely.
Reducing red meat consumption to improve your health may sound like old news, but did you know the way you cook meat can also increase the risk for colon cancer?
Any meat cooked to well done is bad news for your health. When you’re BBQing, fat drippings that land on hot coals can release polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and some PAHs have been linked to colon cancer.
Processed meats are another food to avoid. The more you eat meat preserved by curing, smoking, salting or adding preservatives like nitrates or nitrites, the higher your risk of developing colon cancer becomes.
Trans Fats and Saturated Fats
The dangers of trans and saturated fats have been in the news for years. Preventing colon cancer is another reason to steer clear of foods like cakes, cookies, fried foods, margarine, donuts, pastries and chips. Pro tip: look for "hydrogenated oil" on labels to weed out trans fats.
As for saturated fats, keep food like butter, egg yolks, fatty cuts of meat and whole milk dairy products to a minimum.
studies have shown that people who eat a lot of sugar increase their risk of developing colon cancer later on in life.
You can keep sugar at bay by knowing a food’s glycemic index (G.I.) and glycemic load (G.L.).
The glycemic index tells you how much a certain food will increase your blood sugar level.
You may be thinking that counting calories and reading labels is enough work already, but an online calculator like this one from the University of Sydney can make it easier to be sure you’re eating foods with a G.I. of <55.
For example, the G.I. score for white bread is 75, and the one for specialty grain bread is 53. So, you don’t have to give up bread completely. It’s as easy as reaching for a different shelf at the grocery store.
Glycemic load is a little more complicated. Glycemic load tells you how much of that carbohydrate is in a serving of a particular food.
The formula for G.L. is G.I. divided by 100 multiplied by its available carbohydrate content (i.e. carbohydrates minus fiber) in grams. (Okay, that is complicated, but remember you can use a calculator). The G.L. number you want is <10.
Let’s use cake as an example. You’re at a cake buffet where the basic ingredients of each cake have been listed.
You can choose from:
- banana cake with sugar
- banana cake without sugar
- carrot cake made with coconut flour
- chocolate cake made from a mix and iced with frosting out of a can.
One of them has a glycemic load less than 10. Which one do you think it is?
If you chose the carrot cake, you can still have your cake and help reduce your risk of cancer too.
I’ve Been Diagnosed with Colon Cancer: What Should I Eat?
Getting a cancer diagnosis is tough enough on its own, and one of the many challenges you’ll face is knowing what to eat.
Because cancer treatments affect everyone differently, anyone with colon cancer should get advice from their treatment team and a dietitian tailored to their specific needs. This guide of foods to avoid with colon cancer is meant to point you in the right direction.
What Your Dietitian May Tell You to Avoid
If you’re feeling fatigued, you may have anemia. It’s the most common cause of fatigue during cancer treatments, but it’s easy to treat. Ask your dietitian how to get enough nutrients so you can keep your strength up.
Abdominal pain can be eased by avoiding dairy, soy, fat or wheat gluten products.
Acid reflux is common, and this can be helped by limiting or eliminating alcohol, limiting caffeine, avoiding fatty foods and others that tend to give you heartburn. You can also avoid eating 2-3 hours before going to bed.
And if you’re also experiencing constipation (another common side effect), avoid cheese, meat, processed food and other low fiber foods.
What Your Dietitian May Suggest You Eat
Appetite changes and/or weight loss could mean you need to eat protein-rich foods with more calories, like protein drinks (powdered protein supplements mixed with fruit, milk and/or yogurt), milk, dairy products, eggs, meat, sauces or gravies, legumes and mono-saturated oils. Colorectal Cancer Canada also suggests eating many small, nutritious meals, drinking fluids after you eat (not during), and eating and drinking fortified foods and shakes when necessary.
Diarrhea may be prevented by following the bland BRAT diet of bananas, rice, applesauce and toast.
Can you see why you need a dietitian? Foods to avoid with colon cancer is not a straightforward topic. One side effect requires you to shun dairy, while another requires you to eat more. These are complicated choices and your healthcare professionals are there to help you make them.
Whether you’re adjusting your diet to keep your colon healthy or to stay as strong as possible during treatment, eating well doesn’t have to be hard.
Your goal isn’t to change everything or swap your grocery store for the health food store.
But taking the time to read food labels, reduce your sugar intake and swap your steak for chicken or fish a few nights a week is worth the trouble. Your colon will thank you.