If you’re hoping to reduce your risk of colon cancer, the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in America, you might wonder if a plant-based diet can help. The answer is a resounding yes!
Plant-based diets significantly lower your chances of developing many types of cancer, including colon cancer. At Rivas Digestive Center in Hollywood, Florida, board-certified gastroenterologist John M. Rivas, MD, has the experience and expertise needed to diagnose and treat colorectal cancers.
Besides making lifestyle changes, Dr. Rivas strongly encourages all eligible adults to have regularly scheduled colon cancer screenings. Since anyone can get colon cancer, regardless of dietary choices, colon cancer screenings are the best way to catch colon cancer early, when it’s the most treatable.
The role a plant-based diet plays in preventing colon cancer
Most American meals center on meat. But decades of research now suggest that filling your plate with foods that grow from the ground rather than graze grass is the best way to protect yourself from many cancers, including colon cancer.
Plants produce chemicals, called phytochemicals, that protect your cells from damage and have anti-inflammatory properties. Plants are also high in fiber, which helps you eat fewer calories and makes it easier to maintain a healthy weight.
In addition, fiber shortens the time that waste spends traveling through your colon. And it helps regulate your blood sugar and keep your cholesterol levels healthy. In short, there are few drawbacks and many benefits to adopting a plant-based diet.
The good news is that eating a plant-based diet has never been easier! Start by reducing the amount of meat you eat by avoiding it every day and making your portions smaller.
Expand your palate by eating a wider variety of foods and experimenting with vegetables, grains, beans, and legumes you haven’t cooked with before. Every step you take towards a plant-based diet is a step in the right direction.
Lowering your risk of colorectal cancer
If you want to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer, there are simple steps you can take.
Eat more fiber
Eating a high-fiber diet reduces your risk for colorectal cancer. For example, one large study found that people who ate more than 35 grams of fiber lowered their risk of colorectal cancer by about 40% compared to those eating less than 13 grams of fiber each day.
You can only get fiber from plant sources, like vegetables, fruits, legumes, beans, and whole grains, like oats and brown rice. If you’re like most Americans, you probably don’t get close to 35 grams of fiber each day.
By actively choosing foods high in fiber, you can reduce your risk of colon cancer. A good rule of thumb is to remember that every 10 grams of fiber you consume each day lowers your risk of colorectal cancer by about 10%.
Avoid eating carcinogens
Carcinogens are substances that cause cancer in living tissues. According to massive data collection and interpretation by numerous research organizations, processed meat and red meat are considered carcinogens when consumed by humans.
Processed meat using salting, curing, smoking, fermentation, and other “processes” to change the flavor of the meat and/or to help keep it preserved. This can add carcinogenic chemicals to the meat and increases your risk of colorectal cancer significantly.
Red meat, which includes unprocessed meat from mammals, has heme iron, which increases the production of carcinogenic compounds. Cooking it increases the production of carcinogens in all red meat, processed or otherwise.
Eating meat increases your risk of developing colon cancer so much that even consuming just 100 grams of red meat increases your odds of getting the disease by more than 17%.
Watch your weight
Research demonstrates a link between being overweight and an increase in death from colorectal cancer. The more overweight you are, the greater the risk compared to people with a healthy body mass index (BMI) as follows:
- 45% greater risk for morbidly obese people with a BMI ≥ 40
- 35% greater risk for moderately obese people with a BMI ≥ 35-39.9
- 10% greater risk for mildly obese people with a BMI ≥ 30-34.9
The good news is that by taking steps to reach a healthy body weight, you can reduce some of your risk of getting this common cancer.
Regardless of your diet and other risk factors, everyone needs a colon cancer screening. Your risk of colon cancer rises along with your age, so starting at 45, the American Cancer Society and the Colorectal Cancer Alliance recommend beginning screening at 45 for most people.
Learn more about plant-based diets, colon cancer, and colorectal cancer screening by scheduling an appointment online or over the phone at the Rivas Digestive Center in Hollywood, Florida.