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Nutrition is an important part of life, cancer treatment, recovery, and prevention. Food is one of the few things you can be in control of during your treatment. The oncology certified registered dietitians at the Stanford Cancer Center are here to help you make informed choices about nutrition, answer your nutrition-related questions, and help you to achieve and maintain good health.
Certain risk factors for colorectal cancer can be reduced by:
Maintaining a healthy weight
Keeping physically active
Making smart food choices
Step 1. Manage your weight
If you are overweight or obese, weight loss is an important first step in reducing your risk of colorectal cancer development and recurrence. This increased risk comes from higher blood levels of insulin and related hormones that appear to encourage cancer growth. Aim for a body mass index (BMI) of 18.5-24.9. (Use our BMI Calculator to find out your BMI score). Even if your BMI is far from the target range, a body weight loss of 10% can reduce your cancer risk.
Step 2. Get and stay physically active
Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity daily.
Physical activity does not have to be expensive or difficult. You can walk around the block or in a local park. You can ride a bike or join a recreational league. As long as it makes your heart beat faster and your lungs breathe more deeply, you will get the benefits of physical activity. Choose activities that you enjoy. This way you will be more likely to continue doing them.
American Institute for Cancer Research
A model for smart food choices from the American Institute for Cancer Research
Step 3. Make smart food choices
Plant-based, high-fiber diets that are moderate to low in red meat with minimal processed meat and alcohol have been shown to reduce colorectal cancer risk.
Vegetables: salad greens, tomatoes, onions, broccoli, eggplant, carrots, etc. All varieties of vegetables have cancer-preventative properties so consuming a wide variety is the key. Research now shows that garlic is helpful in prevention of colorectal cancer so be sure to include it in your meals daily.
Fruit: berries, melon, apples, pears, oranges, bananas, etc. Whole fruit gives you the most benefits, so choose the whole fruit and limit or avoid fruit juices.
Whole Grains and Beans: quinoa, oats, black rice, barley, farro, wild rice, lentils, beans, etc. They are high in fiber which is protective against colorectal cancer. These foods contain many other substances that have been linked to lower cancer risk. It is for this reason that experts suggest increasing fiber intake from whole foods rather than supplements.
Red meat (beef, lamb, pork): the type of iron in red meat and certain other compounds can increase cancer risk. For this reason, it is recommended to consume 18 ounces or less of red meat weekly.
Processed meat (cold cuts, bacon, sausage and hot dogs): these items contain high levels of nitrates and sodium, which are both carcinogenic. It is recommended to eat processed meats rarely or not at all.
Fast food: high in calories making weight management more difficult. Also high in sodium but low in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and fiber.
Alcohol: alcohol turns into cancer causing compounds in the body. These compounds can also damage the cell lining of the colon. Avoid alcohol or if you choose to drink you should limit intake to 1 drink (12 oz. beer, 5 ounce wine, 1.5 oz. liquor) per day.
Broccoli, cabbage, collard greens, kale, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts are all cruciferous vegetables. This vegetable family contains powerful phytochemicals, including carotenoids, indoles and glucosinolates and isothiocyanates, which have been studied and shown to slow the growth of many cancers.