Diet is a huge factor in maintaining a healthy body, but did you know it could also go as far as to keep you cancer-free?
In particular, experts have found certain food types that increase one’s risk of contracting colorectal cancer – the most common cancer in Singapore – while some foods help to reduce the risk.
While diet won’t guarantee a fool-proof defence against cancer, studies show that the association between diet and colorectal cancer incidence is strong. Thus, reducing your chances of contracting colorectal cancer can be as simple as making a few dietary adjustments.
Foods associated with increased colorectal cancer risk
For a start, here are some foods you should cut down on if you wish to guard yourself against colorectal cancer:
Studies show that having about 50g of alcohol a day (or three and a half drinks) can increase one’s risk of contracting the cancer by 50%. To minimise the effects of alcohol on one’s cancer risk, limit drinks to no more than two a day.
While the mechanism of alcohol intake to cancer remains unclear, some suggest that the responsibility lies with acetaldehyde, a DNA-damaging chemical that results from the breakdown of ethanol. Alcohol consumption is also linked to numerous other health conditions like liver disease and pancreatic cancer.
- Red meats
Red meats like beef, pork, and lamb have been found to be associated with up to 20-28% increased risk of colorectal cancer, and is linked to higher risks of other cancers like that of the pancreas and prostate. While red meats are a good source of iron and proteins, the American Institute for Cancer Research recommends limiting intake to not more than 510g of red meat per week, and complementing it with other iron and protein sources.
Experts say the culprit behind red meat’s link to cancer may be the high levels of saturated fat. This leads to an increased emission of bile acids (chemicals that break down fats), of which excess turns into secondary bile acids, a carcinogen. Other possible contributors are Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs) and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) – carcinogenic chemicals formed from cooking meats at high temperatures, as well as nitrites and N-nitroso compounds (NOCs) – suspected carcinogens.
- Processed foods
According to research by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), every 50g of processed meat (about one hotdog) eaten daily raises one’s chances of contracting colorectal cancer by 18%. Processed foods like ham, bacon, and sausages should be only eaten occasionally.
The components suspected to be involved in contributing to the higher cancer risk are similar to that of red meat: saturated fats, HCAs, PAHs, nitrites, and NOCs.
Food recommendations for preventing colorectal cancer
On the flip side, researchers have found that certain diets are favourable in reducing the risk of colorectal cancer. These tips will help you maintain a diet that is low-risk and beneficial to overall health.
- Try the Mediterranean diet
In their studies of diet and colorectal cancer, researchers noticed that people with diets high in fruits, vegetables, whole-grains and fish were less prone to getting colorectal cancer. The cancer risk is reported to be up to 45% less than those who had a meat-based diet.
The high fibre content of fruits, vegetables, and whole-grains are thought to be beneficial for gut health as it reduces the amount of time that potentially cancer-causing compounds can stay in the digestive system and wreak havoc on the body. Additionally, fish offers the body healthy fats while providing it with the proteins it needs.
- Eat in moderation and go low-fat
Obesity is also a risk factor for colorectal cancer. Studies find that people who are obese have about 30% higher risk of developing colorectal cancer than people of healthy weight, and this effect is higher in men than in women.
Eating in moderation, watching one’s consumption of fatty foods, and regular exercise will be helpful for maintaining a healthy weight.
How to stay vigilant against colorectal cancer
Indeed, there are many steps you can take to maintain a low-risk, cancer-free lifestyle. Apart from a healthy diet, regular physical activity and abstaining from smoking are some other steps you can take.
It is also crucial to be aware of the common colorectal cancer symptoms like blood in stools, persistent diarrhoea or constipation, bloated stomach, stomach pain, nausea and/or vomiting. If you have any known risks or symptoms, be sure to keep up with regular colon screenings at your nearest health facility, or with a colon cancer specialist in Singapore.