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Fiber, fitness and follow-through: Helpful tips to lower your risk of colorectal cancer

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Good carbohydrate fiber rich food

Eating foods that are high in fiber can help reduce the risk of colon cancer.

Cases of colorectal cancer (CRC) – the third most common cancer in men and women – have steadily increased over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The American Cancer Society estimates that between March and June 2020, 1.7 million individuals missed their recommended colonoscopies. And over the next 10 years, there could be more than 4,500 more CRC deaths than previously expected.

According to the National Cancer Institute, Nebraska – which is fairing worse than Iowa – has one of the lowest CRC screening rates (68.7%) in the country among adults 50 and older, and a higher CRC incidence rate (42.9%) than the national average (37.8%). What’s more, Nebraska’s Hispanic population has the lowest screening rate, and the state’s African American population has the highest incidence and mortality rates.

It’s time to take action – through screenings and a healthier lifestyle.

Focus on Fiber

The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends 30 grams of dietary fiber daily. Fiber helps manage blood lipids – such as LDL cholesterol – and blood sugar levels. Fiber-rich foods not only provide a variety of vitamins and minerals that work together to benefit the body, but also help regulate the bowels and support healthy gut bacteria. Even an increase of just 10 grams of fiber a day can reduce your CRC risk by about 7%!

To further reduce your risk of CRC, aim for at least five servings of fruits and vegetables and three servings of whole grains each day.

Remember: One serving is roughly ½ cup of smaller fruits, vegetables and whole grains (berries, peas or oatmeal); one piece of larger fruit (apple, orange or pear); 1-plus cups of leafy greens or larger vegetables (broccoli or cauliflower florets); and one slice of whole grain bread.

Some of the best fiber powerhouse foods are:

• Artichokes

• Avocados

• Barley

• Berries

• Brussels sprouts

• Lentils

• Quinoa

These foods are great sources of fiber and provide important micronutrients and antioxidants. Although food is always the best source of nutrition, fiber supplements can be used when you’re busy, traveling or dining out for several meals. In these scenarios, a fiber supplement may be necessary to maintain bowel regularity.

Keep in mind: A sudden increase in dietary fiber can cause gastrointestinal pain, bloating, constipation or diarrhea. Although these side effects are temporary, you may want to start gradually if you’re not used to eating much fiber. For example, if you decide to swap your morning pastry for a bowl of oatmeal each day, perhaps wait a few days before incorporating another fiber-focused change into your diet.

Practice Moderation and Avoid Carcinogens

Of course, there are some foods and beverages linked to an increased risk of CRC. They include:

• Alcohol: All alcohol contains ethanol, a carcinogenic byproduct. Limit yourself to less than two drinks a day.

• Processed meat (deli meat, hot dogs, various sausages and cured pork products): These packaged products – cured with salt, smoke, nitrates or nitrites – are strongly linked to CRC and should be avoided as much as possible.

• Red meat (beef, pork and lamb): Red meat contains haem iron, which can damage the bowel when broken down. Aim for no more than 18 cooked ounces (approximately three servings) each week.

Like excessive alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking also increases your risk of colorectal cancer. The risk is even greater for those smoking more than a pack a day.

Get Moving and Get Screened

Physical activity is another important tool in cancer prevention. A high BMI is associated with an increased risk of 12 different cancers, including CRC. And research suggests that adults who are physically active can reduce their CRC risk by up to 24%. Some great sustainable exercise options include:

• In-person or online fitness classes

• Jogging

• Swimming

• Walking

And don’t forget the weights! Strength training at least twice a week can reduce the likelihood of dying from cancer by 31%.

Although diet and exercise are extremely important, annual well-exams and routine screenings can be lifesaving.

If you’re at least 45 years old with an average risk of colorectal cancer, it’s time to schedule a colonoscopy. The American Cancer Society has more information on screening guidelines, but reach out to your provider if you have questions specific to your risk. And continue doing your part in warding off cancer – eat right, get moving and schedule regular screenings.

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