It may be a coincidence that National Colorectal Cancer Awareness and National Nutrition Month both fall in March, but it shouldn’t be. Good nutrition plays a major role in the prevention of colorectal cancer, many other types of cancer, and lots of other diseases, as well.
Almost 100,000 people are diagnosed with colon cancer every year, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). Some of the risk factors are unavoidable, such as age and family history. Others are within your power. When you make choices to improve your diet and increase your activity, you decrease your risk.
Here are some basic guidelines that will help you lower your risk of many types of cancer, including colorectal cancer, and help you maintain a healthy weight.
The single most important food-related decision you can make is to eat more vegetables. Research published in the January 2014 issue of the journal Current Colorectal Cancer Report noted that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables lowered colon cancer risk by 25 percent. That is too high a number to ignore!
Yellow and orange vegetables—like carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and summer squash—are especially high in beta carotene, a proven cancer-fighting compound. Any time is a great time to try a new recipe including one or more of these vegetables.
At the same time that you are bumping up your veggie consumption, dial back the red and processed meats. Include leaner sources of protein, like nuts, beans, and seeds, which also contain heart-healthy fats.
Finally, swap out your white bread, white rice, and conventional breakfast cereal for whole grain versions. Almost without thinking, you will increase your fiber intake, improve digestion, and maybe even lower your LDL (the harmful type) cholesterol. Higher fiber foods also help you feel full without eating as much, which may help you keep your weight in a healthy range for you.
There are a few recipes that make good use of these principles and may help you plan a healthy and satisfying menu for you and your family. As a bonus, they use produce that is locally available this time of year.
Try a hearty chicken-broth-based minestrone. This is an easy soup that provides lots of opportunity to include cancer-fighting foods. Be sure to use plenty of carrots. In the interest of time, you can use canned, rinsed beans, which are inexpensive and packed with fiber. Then just swap conventional white pasta for a whole grain variety. You will be impressed with how delicious and satisfying this meal can be.
Another easy recipe is roasted root vegetables. Chop sweet potatoes, squash, beets, carrots—really any winter vegetable that appeals to you or looks especially good at the market—into equal sized pieces. Toss with olive oil and your favorite herbs. Roast them on a baking sheet at 450 degrees for 40 minutes. About ten minutes from the end of the baking time, toss in some walnuts. The combination of sweet and crispy vegetables with the walnuts will leave you totally satisfied.
By eating a healthy diet, exercising as much as you can, and getting your recommended checkups and screenings, you will have the best chance of preventing colorectal cancer, other cancers, heart disease, diabetes, and many other disruptive and life threatening conditions. To your health!
Kristin Irace RD, LDN, is a registered dietitian at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. “Health Matters” is a column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public health matters, and public policy as it affects health care. For more stories like this one, visit svhealthcare.org/wellnessconnection.