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10 Foods That Can Reduce Your Risk of Colon Cancer

Colon cancer rates are rising, and the disease is striking adults at a younger age. But risk factors like weight gain and poor diet are within our control.

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Colon cancer: First, the foods that raise your risk

Colon cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in the United States with over 101,000 new cases expected to be diagnosed this year, according to the National Cancer Institute. In many cases, the cause is unclear, though potential risk factors include weight gain, a sedentary lifestyle, and a poor diet. If you eat a lot of red and processed meat or down more than two alcoholic drinks a day, you’re raising your risk, warns Cleveland Clinic dietitian Anna Taylor, MS, RD. Those are just two of the things that increase your risk of colon cancer.

When it comes to meat, the problem stems not just from the meat itself but from the ways in which it is processed and cooked. In the case of processed meats, sodium nitrites combine with natural amines during cooking to form mutagenic, cancer-causing N-nitroso compounds. “Polyps can grow on the inner lining of the colon and some can turn into cancer if the cells start to grow abnormally out of control,” said Leigh Tracy, RD, LDN, CDE, a dietitian at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. But eat the right foods, and you can actually lower your risk, she says. These are the foods that offer you the most protection.

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Leafy greens

Stock up on spinach, kale, and arugula. Not only can you find naturally occurring fiber in these plant foods—a diet component found to reduce the risk of colon cancer—but there are a variety of health benefits to eating more vegetables. Not getting enough is dangerous, Taylor points out: Research indicates that people who eat less than a cup of fruits and vegetables a day are at an increased risk of contracting colorectal cancer.

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Broccoli

This cruciferous green vegetable is a great source of fiber; it can help prevent weight gain, which can lead to increased risk for several types of cancer, including colon cancer, says Taylor. “Fiber slows down digestion which can help really control body weight,” she said. “Excess weight is associated with increased risk for all different types of cancer.” Learn to love it steamed, and it’s just one of the 30 easy ways to prevent cancer.

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Berries

Blueberries, blackberries, strawberries—take your pick. These fruits are not only packed with fiber but also vitamin C. There’s some research that suggests vitamin C can protect against colorectal cancers, says Taylor. Vitamin C is an antioxidant, Taylor says, which helps shield cells from the kind of damage that can promote cancer growth.

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Oranges

If getting daily vitamin C and a variety of colored foods is the goal, oranges are another obvious answer. The fiber plus vitamin C in oranges makes them a great candidate for cancer protection, reports Medical News Today. Oranges are also a low-calorie snack that can help prevent weight gain—another risk factor of cancer.

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Bell peppers

Not only are bell peppers high in vitamin C, but they contain phytochemicals that may block the growth of cancer cells. “The number one thing is to eat fruits and vegetables and get a variety of the colors in there,” said Rachel Johanek, RD, a dietitian with the Georgia Cancer Center at Augusta University. “Each of them has a different phytochemical compound that helps prevent damaged cells and protects good cells. I tell people to eat the rainbow—or set a goal of each meal having two different colors involved.”

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Lentils

Johanek says the average American needs 25 to 38 grams of fiber a day—but only gets 10 to 16. That gap is worrisome—research suggests that failing to hit the daily recommend numbers boosts colon cancer risk. Johanek recommends lentils as a way to increase fiber and get the digestive system moving. Try throwing some in a soup or salad to up your daily fiber intake.

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Beans

Beans are another fiber-rich food that can help shape a diet that will lower your risk of colon cancer. Kidney beans and black beans are also good ways to get plant protein—making it a good substitute for processed meat. Some research indicates that eating beans at least twice a week can cut colon cancer risk nearly in half.

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Oatmeal

Oatmeal does a lot more than “stick to your ribs.” That feeling of fullness you get after eating a hearty bowl comes from all the fiber in oatmeal, explains the Dairy Council of California. And research suggests that eating at least 30 grams of fiber per day can reduce your risk of colon cancer by up to 21 percent, says Taylor.

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Whole wheat pasta

When you choose whole wheat pasta over the regular variety, you not only add fiber but you also gain additional benefits, says Taylor. “The fiber helps slow down the rise and fall of blood sugar, and that helps prevent insulin resistance.” Controlling your blood sugar protects against weight gain, which is important as being overweight or obese is linked to an overall increased risk of cancer. Learn what kind of role whole grains play in reducing your risk of colon cancer. 

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Quinoa

Quinoa can be a good grain substitute. It is not a cereal grain like wheat, oats, or corn but rather a seed harvested from a plant more closely related to spinach and beets. Unlike most grains, it’s a good source of protein, so it can help you cut down on red meat. If you want more info on eating a diet that lowers your risk, these are the 12 foods cancer doctors avoid—and you should too.