What does a bowel healthy diet look like and how can you look after your body the right way?
Bowel cancer is one of the most common – and ignored – types of cancers. More than 3000 New Zealanders and 14,000 Australians are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year.
While anyone can be affected by bowel cancer, some people have an increased risk of developing the disease.
Having a first-generation relative who has had bowel cancer previously increases your risk, especially if they were diagnosed before the age of 50.
Inflammatory bowel conditions such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis that have been present for ten or more years can also make you more susceptible.
A colonoscopy is the best way to assess bowel health, as abnormalities can be detected and samples removed for testing.
If the cancer is found in its early stages, before it has spread to the bowel, it can often be treated successfully.
There are certain symptoms that should always be investigated by a doctor, such as passing blood with bowel movements or a long-lasting change in bowel movements.
5 steps for a bowel healthy diet and lifestyle
1. Go High Fibre
A high-fibre diet reduces your risk of bowel cancer.
Fibre in the bowel is broken down by friendly bacteria into butyric acid, a type of fatty acid that helps to keep the walls of the gut healthy and slows down the proliferation of cancer cells.
Boost your dietary fibre by eating lots of fruit and vegetables, wholegrain bread and cereal, lentils, beans and legumes.
A bowel healthy diet also means drinking plenty of water to keep your bowels moving regularly.
Some research also suggests that onion, garlic, watercress and broccoli may have additional benefits.
2. Eat Less Meat
Keep saturated fat intake low. That means choosing low-fat dairy products and restricting meat consumption.
There is a clear correlation between the consumption of processed meats such as salami, sausages and bacon and bowel cancer.
Consuming just one sausage or three rashers of bacon a day increases the risk of bowel cancer by 20%. Try to keep red meat intake to less than 500g per week.
3. Choose Fish Over Steak
People who eat fish regularly are proven to reduce their risk of bowel cancer.
A 2016 study by scientists at Harvard Medical School found that people who ate oily fish once a week had a 41% lower risk of dying from bowel cancer than those who did not consume sufficient amounts.
Furthermore, the research revealed that people who were already diagnosed with cancer had a 70% reduced chance of it being fatal if they were eating approximately 0.15g per day.
Up your intake of salmon, sardines and trout to reap the benefits.
4. Increase Vitamin D
Studies show that a vitamin D deficiency can increase the risk of bowel cancer. Get a check for blood levels of vitamin D to see if you are lacking this important mineral.
If you are low, supplementation with D3 and 10 minute daily bursts of sunshine will help get you back on track.
5. Reduce Alcohol
People who drink five or more units of alcohol per day increase their risk of developing colon cancer by 40%. Try to limit your alcohol consumption to weekends, or stick to a 1-unit maximum during the week.