March is colorectal health month. Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the States and the one with the second highest mortality rate. The CDC has created a Screen For Life campaign encouraging men and women after fifty to get regular screenings, as screenings can find precancerous polyps as well as detect colorectal cancer in its earliest stages.
But colorectal health doesn’t only deal with cancer. Other conditions can cause our colons to work improperly including diverticulosis, diverticulitis (when the diverticulii become inflamed and painful), constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis and Chron’s disease.
We often hear recommendations to drink more water, eat more fiber and move more. But do these recommendations impact our colon health? The American Cancer Society says there’s an irrefutable link between diet, weight, exercise and cancer. The Colon Cancer Foundation says that up to 75% of colorectal cancer can be prevented through lifestyle changes. We can, indeed, eat for a healthy colon.
Hydration and fluids: Simply put, most people don’t get enough fluids in their diets. If we’re hydrated, we’re less likely to be constipated. Most dietitians and physicians recommend eight to nine glasses of water a day.
How? Take a normal day and track how much water you’re actually drinking. You might be surprised at how little. Then set water goals. (There are even apps, Waterlogged and Daily Water, you can download to track progress). Keep a bottle filled with water in your workspace and drink … constantly. Add a little lemon zest or fresh fruit to give it flavor. If you find yourself forgetting to drink set your phone or computer to remind you to drink every two hours during day.
Fiber: Like water, fiber helps prevent constipation. On average, Americans eat about 13 grams a day, when we actually need 25 to 35 grams. This stuff can make you gassy and bloated, so start the extra intake slowly, add 2-3 grams every other day (http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods), while your body gets used to more fiber. And hydrate.
How? Add fiber-rich foods into your daily diet. As a snack, eat apples, pears, bananas, oranges, mangoes, and berries. Add cooked beans to your leafy green salad, giving you a fiber boost (lima, fava, kidney, garbanzo). Or, add beans to replace red meats in some sauces. Pick whole grains over refined carbs. Make sure your breakfast cereal has at least three grams of fiber per serving and top it with berries. Add fresh fruit to meals or snacks. Want your fiber and pasta, too? No problem! Try this delicious recipe for Pasta with Escarole and Beans.
Cut down on foods containing sugars, artificial sweeteners and refined carbohydrates. These can make you bloated and constipated.
Cut back on red meats and processed meats, especially the latter. Obviously, everybody wants their baseball game hot dog, which isn’t a problem. But when meats (think pepperoni, hard sausages, prosciutto, ham) are preserved by smoking, curing or salting them, or by adding preservatives (nitrates), carcinogens are formed. So indulge in the hot dog at the game, and make sure it’s not a daily treat.
Substitute fresh fish, a great source of Omega 3 fatty acids, for red meat and cured meat.
Exercise: Exercise boosts digestion and is critical for health. On a more micro-level, exercise increases muscle control and stimulates the body’s need to go to the bathroom. When we maintain a healthy weight, our bodies work better. We can add little doses of exercise to our busy lives, every day.
How? Incorporate ten to fifteen minutes of exercise into your daily life by parking in the space farthest away from the grocery store. Take the stairs. Choose to walk before automatically getting in the car. Take your children to the park … and play! Mall walk. Take the dog for a walk (or offer to take the neighbor’s dog). Stretch and do yoga while watching TV.
As only ten percent of colorectal cancers are hereditary, we have a unique opportunity to make sure we’re healthy. By modifying our diets, maintaining our weight, and scheduling regular screenings after fifty, we can almost guarantee early detection and positive outcomes.