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Eating Healthy to Prevent Cancer

Proper nutrition and diet are important for many digestive diseases, including colorectal, esophageal, and liver cancers. To stave off digestive disease, nutritional guidelines suggest eating less saturated fat and getting more nutrients from foods rather than from supplements.

Dietary Fat and Colon Cancer Risk

Dietary fat may be one of the biggest contributors to the cancer-causing process. High fat consumption increases the amount of bile acids in the colon. Bile acids can promote tumor growth, especially of the cells that line the colon.

Eating goals:

  • Limit cholesterol intake to 300 milligrams (mg) or less per day.
  • Decrease saturated fat (animal fat, butter, coconut, and palm oils) to less than 10% of your total calories per day. For a person eating 2,000 calories a day, this would be 20 grams of saturated fat or less per day.
  • Eliminate trans fats from your diet. Trans fats are in foods like margarine, packaged baked goods, fast food, some frozen prepared foods, chips, and crackers. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that the trans fat content of foods is now listed on the food label along with saturated fat and dietary cholesterol.

Antioxidants to Protect Your Body

Another important substance in the fight against colorectal and other cancers is the antioxidant. Antioxidants may work by bolstering the body's defenses against potentially dangerous substances called free radicals.

Free radicals are one of the by-products of oxygen use by every cell in our body. These substances damage the body's cells through oxidation, the same process that rusts metal and turns butter rancid. Oxidation has also been shown to contribute to heart disease, cataracts, aging, and infections.

The body's cells have a natural defense strategy against free radicals and are often able to repair the damage caused by them. However antioxidants, such as selenium and beta-carotene (a form of vitamin A), may help reinforce this protection. Studies have suggested that antioxidants are best taken as foods as opposed to supplements.

To increase antioxidants in your diet, eat foods that are good sources of vitamin A and C, such as all fruits and vegetables, and vitamin E which is found in foods including wheat germ, nuts, and seeds. Good sources of selenium include seafood, meat, and cereals.


Other Vitamins and Minerals

Calcium and Vitamin D. Some recent studies have suggested that these two substances may not only strengthen bones, but may help fight off colon, breast, and prostate cancers although other studies have not confirmed this; more research is needed. Good sources of calcium include: Milk, cheese, yogurt, salmon (with bones), sardines, and dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, mustard, and collard greens. Sources of Vitamin D include salmon, sardines, fortified cow's milk, egg yolks, and chicken livers.

Fiber to Improve Overall Health

Fiber has been thought to be a powerful weapon against cancer. Though there is conflicting research as to whether or not fiber has protective effects against colorectal cancer, there is evidence that fiber intake improves overall health.

Good sources of fibers include: whole-grain cereals and breads, prunes, berries, kidney beans and other legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables, and brown rice. Fiber supplements can also help meet fiber needs if you aren’t getting enough through the foods you eat. Examples include psyllium and methylcellulose. Increase the amount of fiber you get from foods or supplements slowly to prevent prevent gas and cramping. It’s also important to drink plenty of fluids.

Cancer-Fighting Phytochemicals

Recently discovered to be helpful in the fight against cancer inlaboratory animals, phytochemicals are non-nutrient substances such a flavonoids, polyphenols, and terpenes which are found in a variety of plant foods including tomatoes, citrus fruits, berries, peppers, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, and soy beans.

Healthy Eating Guidelines

You can learn to eat a healthy, cancer-fighting diet by following these guidelines from the American Cancer Society:

  • Choose many of the foods you eat from plant sources.
  • Eat whole grains rather than refined whenever you can.
  • Limit your intake of red and processed meats.
  • Be physically active; achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Limit consumption of alcoholic beverages.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on June 22, 2016



Food and Drug Administration.

American Cancer Society.

National Institutes of Health. “Patient information: High-fiber diet (Beyond the Basics),” Arnold Wald, MD.

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