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The Best Foods to Eat to Prevent Bowel Cancer

The Best Foods to Eat to Prevent Bowel Cancer

It is an established fact: the food we eat can have a major influence on the development or progression of disease.

Only last year we learned that eating 10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day correlated with a 28% reduction in cardiovascular disease risk, not to mention a 31% reduction in the risk of premature death.

The reduction in cancer risk, meanwhile, was 13%.

In this article, we look at the best foods to prevent and fight bowel cancer – the fourth most common cancer in the UK.

Beating Bowel Cancer with Nutrition: Foods to Avoid

Improving your diet is of course as much about knowing which foods to limit/avoid as which foods to eat on a regular basis.

It is no great secret that you will reduce your risk of bowel cancer by limiting your consumption of ultra-processed foods – soda and other sugary drinks, packaged snacks, highly processed reconstituted meats etc.

This point has been raised in countless studies, including a large population-based cohort study published in the British Medical Journal earlier this year.

Not only was an association shown between consumption of these ultra-processed foods and colorectal cancer, but also cancer of the breast and overall cancer incidence.

The study furthermore highlighted the risk posed by “the formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines in meats containing sodium nitrite when meat is charred or overcooked. These N-nitroso compounds may be involved in causing colorectal cancer.”

Sodium nitrite is of course a widely-used food additive common in processed meat.

Maintaining a healthy body weight is vital for reducing your risk of bowel cancer, or indeed any cancer, and so it is wise to moderate your intake of ‘empty calories’ which contribute to weight gain and obesity.

Many of the aforementioned foods fall into the ‘empty calories’ bracket.

Given the evidence of cited above, it is not surprising that Cancer Research UK believes 54% of bowel cancer cases in the UK are preventable.

The organisation also states that 13% of bowel cancer cases are directly caused by eating processed meat while 6% are caused by alcohol consumption and 7% by smoking.

The take-home? By not smoking, minimising your alcohol intake and eating processed meat/foods sparingly or not at all, beating bowel cancer is achievable.

The Bowel Cancer Prevention Diet

Given that poor nutrition is an established cause of bowel cancer, it stands to reason that any bowel cancer prevention diet would prioritise wholesome nutritious food.

That is to say, food which does not make it to market with the aid of flavouring agents, emulsifiers and surplus sugar, oils and fats.


Increasing your intake of dietary fibre has consistently been shown to decrease the risk of bowel cancer. Ideally this fibre should be obtained from whole grains (brown rice, oatmeal etc) pulses, vegetables and fruits.

According to Cancer Research UK, 28% of bowel cancer cases in the UK are directly caused by eating too little fibre.

In their breakdown of bowel cancer causes, 28% is actually the highest percentage given – underlining the major part it plays in prevention.

An earlier study by Imperial College London found that for every 10g increase in daily fibre intake, there was a corresponding 10% drop in bowel cancer risk.

As an added bonus, fibre helps you feel fuller for longer and can therefore help with weight loss.

Needless to say, you should ensure you are drinking enough water: fibre and water are a match made in heaven when it comes to the bowel, and with proper hydration you will reduce the likelihood of digestive discomfort.

While we are recommended to eat at least 30g fibre every day, the aforementioned ICL study indicates that more is better, having found a 20% reduction in risk for every three daily servings (90g a day) of whole grains.

Cruciferous vegetables

Certain foods can be particularly useful for reducing the risk of bowel cancer. Foods which contain plenty of fibre, yes, but also foods which produce anti-cancer chemicals when digested.

Research conducted by the Francis Crick Institute and published in the journal Immunity showed that indole-3-carbinol – which is produced by chewing certain vegetables – helps regenerates both the lining of the bowel and immune cells.

Moreover, mice fed a diet high in indole-3-carbinol were much less likely to develop cancer, even when genetically prone to the disease.

When mice began to develop cancerous tumours, the introduction of indole-3-carbinol foods actually managed to halt tumour progression.

It is believed the efficacy of I3C is due to its activation of a protein called the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), which protects us from inflammatory reactions to the trillions-strong colony of bacteria living in our gut.

Indole-3-carbinol is present in Brussels sprouts, broccoli, collards, turnips, kale, cauliflower, cabbage and mustard greens. It is also available as a dietary supplement.

Antioxidants found in vegetables and fruit can be beneficial for reducing bowel cancer risk, as they help to minimise cell damage caused by stress, pollution, cigarette smoke, pesticides and other harmful processes.

The negative effect of reactive oxygen species on DNA repair mechanisms is a well-known contributor to bowel cancer.

Lastly, there is some evidence to suggest that purple potatoes lower the risk of colon cancer due to their effects on the pro-inflammatory protein interleukin-6.

Bowel Cancer Prevention: Summary

As far as bowel cancer prevention is concerned, nutrition plays a major part.

What to eat:

• Fibrous foods

• Antioxidant-rich foods

• Cruciferous vegetables

• Fresh fish

What to avoid:

• Ultra-processed foods, including processed meat

• Charred or overcooked meat

• Sugary drinks

• Empty calories such as from biscuits, sweets and crisps

• Smoking

• Alcohol

It should be noted that these guidelines also apply for other types of cancer. Modify the necessary lifestyle factors and you will give yourself a much better chance of remaining cancer-free.

Struggle to Eat 10-a-Day? Try a Green Smoothie

If you struggle to eat 10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, you are not alone.

You can simplify matters by drinking a daily green smoothie, though. Packed with cruciferous and other vegetables, plus antioxidant-rich fruit and botanical extracts, our green food supplements are a great way of upping your intake.

If you find the taste unpalatable, just add a little natural fruit juice or even some fresh fruit. Of all our greens powders, Rejuvenate and Spectrum Vibrance are considered the most palatable: the former has a pleasant minty taste thanks to the inclusion of stevia, while Spectrum Vibrance derives its flavour from the large number of fruit ingredients.

The majority of our greens powders contain high-I3C foods including Brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale, in addition to a spread of vitamins, minerals and polyphenols.

You might also consider using a vitamin D supplement, particularly as low vitamin D levels are linked with a significant increase in colorectal cancer risk.