Eat a healthy all-round diet
A healthy bowel is reliant on a sensible diet that includes enough of the good stuff and limits the bad stuff to occasional treats only. It’s a diet most of us know we should follow, but it doesn’t hurt to have a little reminder.
- Eat at least five portions of vegetables and fruit every day
- Choose wholegrain varieties of bread, rice, and pasta
- Enjoy more pulses, such as beans and lentils
- Eat some fish, chicken, eggs, and tofu but limit red meat and avoid processed meat
- Eat some milk and other dairy foods but choose those without added sugar
- Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and use in small amounts
- Limit food and drinks high in fat or sugar such as sweets, cakes, crisps, and fizzy drinks
Make sure you eat enough fiber
Fiber is an important part of a healthy diet and helps reduce your risk of bowel cancer by keeping everything moving through your digestive system. Here are some suggestions:
- Start with a high fiber breakfast such as porridge, wholegrain cereals, and wholegrain toast
- Add beans and pulses such as lentils, chickpeas, baked beans, kidney beans, and peas when cooking soups, stews, curries, and salads.
- Up your intake of vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seeds - all good sources of fiber
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It’s recommended to need to drink at least 6 to 8 glasses of fluid every day to stop getting dehydrated
- Water and low-fat milk are good choices
- Avoid sugary of fizzy drinks
- Limit your intake of fruit juice to one small glass a day
- Avoid or limit intake of caffeine – this can have the opposite effect and actually dehydrate you
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Eat the right kind of protein
Protein in our diet helps to repair cells and make new ones and is great muscle food. But it needs to be the right kind of protein, such as:
Please note there is strong evidence that eating a lot of red and processed meat increases your risk of bowel cancer –
- Limit the amount of red meat you eat to 500g or less – red meats include beef, pork, and lamb
- Avoid processed meats as much as possible, which included bacon, ham, salami, and sausages
- Try using ingredients like chickpeas or beans lentils or Quorn to replace some or all of the meat in shepherd's or cottage pies, bolognese or chili recipes
Get your 5-a-day
As well as containing fiber, vegetables and fruit may also help to protect against bowel cancer because they contain antioxidants, which are substances that help to delay or prevent cell damage as well as much needed vitamins and minerals. Most people that live in the UK will be familiar with the fruit and veg ‘5 A Day’ guideline. In the US, federal guidelines recommend that adults eat at least 1½ to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables per day.
Here are some examples of a single portion:
- 3 sticks of celery
- 6 or 7 cherry tomatoes
- a handful of grapes
- an apple, orange or banana
- 3 dried prunes
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Stop smoking and reduce your alcohol
Unless you’ve been living on the moon, you’ll know that smoking and drinking too much are not good for your health. You may not know that alcohol is linked to seven types of cancer including bowel cancer and that smokers are more likely to develop polyps (non-cancerous growths) in the bowel which could turn into cancer if they’re not treated.
In the UK alcohol recommendation are 14 units per week spread over a week. The recommended weekly limit in the U.S. is 7 drinks per week for women, and 14 for men. It’s not always clear what constitutes a unit or a drink – so to add some clarity:
- 2 units – is a pint of ordinary strength (3-4%) lager, cider or bitter
- 2 units - a 175ml glass of wine (12.5%)
- 3 units - a pint of premium strength (5-5.5%) lager, cider or bitter
- 1.5 units - 275ml bottle of alcopop (5%)
- 1 unit - a small single (25ml) spirit (40%), with or without a mixer
If you are physically active, the stats show that generally, you will have a lower risk of bowel cancer. Aim to do at least 30 minutes of physical activity 5 times per week. It doesn't need to be a structured exercise in a gym or class setting – fit things into your everyday life such as:
- taking the stairs rather than the elevator
- taking a brisk walk to the shops instead of jumping in the car
- doing the housework
- walking the dog
- getting off the bus a few stops earlier
- if you work in an office, taking a walk at lunchtime so you're not sitting down all-day
Alternatively, join a club, take up classes or follow a DVD or online class.
Watch your weight
Being overweight and carrying a lot of weight around your waist can increase your risk of bowel cancer. If you want to lose weight the most important thing is to reduce your calorie intake. This is likely to require you to make significant and ongoing changes to your diet so you may feel you need extra support – ask your medical team or join a local slimming club. Other tips to keep in mind:
- As well as dieting, do your 30 mins of exercise 5 times per week
- Keep an eye on your portion sizes, don’t overload your plate and avoid second helpings
- As well as portion size, fill up your plate with more veg and salad
- Have a glass of water before reaching for a snack – sometimes you’re body thinks it’s hungry, but it’s actually thirsty
- Change the way you cook: grill, steam, stir-fry, and boil rather than frying
- Avoid biscuits, cookies cakes, and sweets candy – instead keep healthier snacks on hand such as fruit, 0% yogurts, or even carrot sticks
- Avoid sugary drinks such as cola, lemonade, fruit squash with added sugar and fruit juices
- Alcohol is high in calories so limit the amount you drink
- Don’t allow yourself to get too hungry – keep yourself topped up on healthy snacks because if you get too hungry you’ll reach for the bad stuff
- Eat slowly and chew your food thoroughly
Probiotics may help to prevent and treat colon cancer
Probiotics are health-promoting bacteria found in supplements and some foods and can help increase the number of beneficial bacteria that reside in your gut. Although there is no clear evidence to claim that probiotics are effective in people with cancer, recent reviews have found that probiotics can significantly reduce the incidence of diarrhea and the average frequency of daily bowel movements.
There are two ways to get more good bacteria into your gut: fermented foods and dietary supplements. Fermented foods are the best source, as probiotic supplements, which are typically sold over the counter, are reserved to treat specific ailments as suggested by your doctor, and not recommended for everyday use.
They can be found naturally in foods such as:
- sourdough bread
- some cheeses
As a bonus, there are also studies which suggest having a healthy gut can also result in a healthier brain. Find out more:
This information has been sourced from reputable sites such as Bowel Cancer UK.
If you have been diagnosed with Bowel Cancer or any other type of cancer, join the Facebook Chemotherapy Support Group. You'll find a community of over 7000 people all fighting cancer right now - a great place to ask questions as well as offering advice and support to others at a difficult time in their lives.
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