It's no secret that what you eat has a huge impact on your overall health. An unhealthy diet is a major risk factor for all kinds of diseases, from heart disease to cancer. Colorectal cancer—cancer that starts in either the colon or rectum—is no different. It's the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and third leading cause of cancer death in women and men, so it's important to understand what you should be eating to help reduce your risk of this condition.
Check out these good-for-you choices that may help reduce your colorectal cancer risk.
Fruits and veggies
Fruits and vegetables are the main players in any healthy diet. They provide you with great natural sources of the vitamins and minerals your body needs, as well as beneficial substances like antioxidants. Antioxidants help boost the body's defenses against free radicals, which are byproducts of oxygen use that can damage cells through oxidization. Carotene, beta-carotene and lutein are common antioxidants found in fruits and veggies. Your best bets are foods like berries, carrots, citrus fruits and dark, leafy veggies.
Brown rice (and other whole grains)
The verdict is still out on how and if more fiber can help prevent colorectal cancer specifically; research has been inconclusive so far. However, increased fiber can improve health in general by moving wastes through the digestive tract more quickly. One study by researchers at Loma Linda University, published in Nutrition and Cancer, found that people who ate brown rice at least once a week reduced their risk of colon polyps—potentially precancerous growths—by 40 percent. This is because of brown rice's high fiber content. Other whole grains can give you fiber too.
Lean protein and fish
Studies have shown that red meat consumption is linked to a higher risk of colorectal cancer. Processed, salted, smoked or cured meats should also be avoided. Instead, choose lean protein like poultry and eat plenty of fish. If you still want red meat on occasion, limit yourself to two small portions a week of red meat that's a lean cut, trimmed of fat and not charred on the grill.
Legumes were also part of the Loma Linda study, and eating them at least three times a week led to a 33 percent reduced risk of colon polyps. Peanuts, chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans and peas all count. Aim to get at least three servings a week, preferably more.
A study published in Cancer Prevention Research by researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School found that taking ginger supplements for 28 days reduced study participants' colon inflammation significantly. In prior studies, inflammation has been linked to colon cancer, and while more trials are needed, it seems safe to say that increasing your ginger intake isn't a bad thing.