Colon cancer epitomises the expression “you are what you eat.”. According to Anna Taylor, R.D., clinical dietitian at Cleveland Clinic, “poor diet is associated with 80 percent of colorectal cancer cases.”. Moreover, the American Institute for Cancer Research estimates that 47 percent of colorectal cancer cases could be prevented this year if you eat well, move more, and stay fit. Take a look at this simple guide on what to eat—and avoid—to prevent colon cancer.

Choosing a plant-based diet is the way to go

For your diet, anything that grows in the ground gets the thumbs up. Fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes (beans), whole grains, nuts, and seeds are all included. Bethany Doerfler, R.D.N., registered dietitian in Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine’s gastroenterology and hepatology division, explains that these foods contain antioxidants, which serve to eliminate oxygen-free radicals associated with cancer development and tissue defence mechanisms.

Reduce red meat consumption

Having a plant-based diet doesn’t mean you’re a vegetarian. However, it is important to place red meat behind plant foods. Everything that originally had four legs falls into that category: beef, veal, lamb, pork, and goat. Taylor explains that red meat contains iron compounds that can damage the gut lining. In addition, the by-products of digesting red meat are harmful to the DNA of colon cells, according to Doerfler. If you want to stay healthy, limit your red meat intake to three servings of about 100 grams each per week.

Likewise, avoid processed meat

Bacon, ham, sausage, hot dogs, jerky, bratwurst, kielbasa, and lunch meats like deli turkey, bologna, pastrami, and corned beef are all included. It may be time to start rethinking your lunch. Eating just 50 grams –that’s two strips of bacon –of processed meat increases your risk of colorectal cancer by 16%, Taylor says. Furthermore, she notes that preservatives found in processed meat may create cancer-causing compounds in the body, in addition to the issues associated with red meat, from which most of the processed meat category comes. Thus, bacon is best saved for special occasions.

Consume fibre-rich foods

For Taylor, fibre-rich foods are a win-win situation for a number of reasons. First and foremost, fibre increases the bulk and weight of stool, diluting harmful substances. Those harmful substances are then eliminated from the body faster, which protects the colon lining. Besides helping control body weight, fibre helps to keep you fuller for longer, which is essential since excess body fat increases colon cancer risk, as well as producing a fatty acid that may reduce the likelihood of colon cancer. At least 30 grams of fibre should be consumed each day.

Eat a rainbow of foods

Aside from providing fibre, fruits and vegetables also contain phytochemicals, which inhibit the growth of cancer and improve immunity. These phytochemicals can be identified by their colour. Dark greens, such as spinach, kale, and broccoli, contain phytochemicals known as isothiocyanates that have been linked with a lower cancer risk. Red fruits and vegetables, like tomatoes, red peppers, and watermelons include lycopene, which may protect against cancer. Orange and yellow foods, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin, contain cancer-preventive carotenoids. Eat at least five and preferably nine servings daily.

Add a Little Resistant Starch

The resistant starch found in potatoes, legumes like beans and lentils, and whole grains like oats and barley is a kind of fibre. According to Taylor, since our bodies cannot digest resistant starch, our gut bacteria convert it into butyrate, which has been shown to protect against cancer. Consuming resistant starch may be especially beneficial when you enjoy the occasional red meat treat. Some research suggests that eating them together decreases the amount of cancer-causing compounds produced by meat. That’s why potatoes and meat sometimes make sense!

There is no such thing as too much whole grain

As Taylor emphasises, “more whole grains equals more cancer protection.”. Sadly, Americans consume less than a third of the recommended daily amount of whole grains. According to her, eating three servings a day (90 grams) lowers the risk of colorectal cancer by 17 percent. Because whole grains contain anti-cancer vitamins, support chronic inflammation reduction, and speed up transit (read: poop) time, they protect the gut against carcinogens.

Avoid relying on supplements

Despite what supplement marketers may claim, there’s no miracle pill that will deliver the cancer-preventing nutrients you need. Natural foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fibre benefit the gut more than supplements, Doerfler says. Supplements also are not as well absorbed as natural foods. Vitamin D is an exception, since it’s associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer, but it’s hard to get through food. So, a vitamin D supplement may be beneficial.

Choose your drinks wisely

We’ll get the bad news out of the way first: Alcohol contains cancer-causing agents, which damage DNA. Taylor warns, “Consuming 3.5 drinks a day is associated with a 50% increased risk of colorectal cancer compared to light or non-drinkers.”. The recommendation is to avoid alcohol altogether or to limit yourself to no more than two drinks a day. Watch out for sugary drinks (sodas, fruit juices, sports drinks), as well, since they can increase body fat, a major risk factor for colorectal cancer, as well as 11 other forms of cancer.

Caffeine is okay

The popular energy boosters coffee and tea may help prevent colon cancer, but further research is needed. Taylor claims that coffee contains phytochemical compounds that inhibit cancer cell growth, block carcinogens, and promote the death of cancer cells. The phytochemical compounds in tea are similar and, according to a large-scale Chinese study, drinking two to three cups of tea per week decreased the risk of digestive cancer by 14%. Those who drink two to three cups of tea per day had a 21% lower risk, and those who drink tea for more than 20 years had a 29% lower risk.