Nutritional advice for reducing risk of colon cancer

The American Cancer Society (ACS) and the American Institute for Cancer Research recommend limiting red meat and processed meats to no more than 18 oz (cooked weight) per week. There is evidence that red meat and especially processed meat increase the risk of colorectal cancer. Red meats are defined as beef, pork and lamb. Processed refers to meats preserved by smoking, curing or salting or by the addition of preservatives - ham, bacon, bologna, pepperoni, salami, corned beef, jerky, hot dogs, bratwurst and sausages.

We know that red meat is an excellent source of Vitamin B 12 and iron; if red meat is not eaten, other sources may need to be identified. For a low saturated fat intake, lean cuts of red meat include round steak, sirloin tip, and eye of round roast, loin pork chops and pork tenderloin. Research done by the National Cancer Institute found that muscle meats cooked at high temperatures (frying, broiling, grilling) formed Heterocyclic Amines, chemicals that may increase cancer risk. Slower cooking methods – baking, roasting, grilling at a lower temperature for a longer time, and using tongs instead of piercing meat on the grill is encouraged.

If red meat is included, the challenge is to keep the serving size small (3 ounce serving 3-4 x/week) and to use chicken, turkey, fish, beans, lentils or soy for other meals. Cancer protective nutrition includes a minimum of 5 servings of vegetables and fruits a day with the goal of 7-9 servings a day. Diets high in vegetables and fruits have been linked to a decrease in colorectal cancer. Calcium intake from food or supplements and higher Vitamin D levels (25(OH)D) are probably protective for colorectal cancer. Dietary calcium sources include calcium fortified juice, dairy products, calcium fortified cereals. 

A plant-based diet can include small amounts of lean meats or fish but the plate is at least 2/3 vegetables and whole grains. Plant-based diet research focuses on the benefit of whole foods and a healthy diet as the best way to reduce cancer risk. Focusing on just one or two foods or nutrients may not result in the cancer fighting benefit that is desired.

Maintaining or reaching a healthy weight and regular exercise also reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. According to ACS, one- third of all cancer deaths are related to diet and activity factors. Let’s hope that Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative for childhood obesity might have a major impact on cancer rates in general. This campaign focuses on four factors: Healthy Choices, Healthier Schools, Physical Activity and Accessible and Affordable Healthy Food. "Choose your food carefully, eat less, exercise more and reduce your risk."


June Brandner, RD CSO CD