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Dietitians Dish: March is national colorectal cancer awareness month

By By Katherine Klingle
March 27, 2012 at midnight
Updated March 26, 2012 at 10:27 p.m.

Katherine Klingle

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Aside from skin cancer, colorectal cancer is the third most common diagnosis in both men and women in the United States. The chances of developing this cancer are about one in 20. Are there dietary habits that we can improve upon to reduce our risk for this disease?

Obtaining an adequate intake of vitamin D may help prevent colon cancer. Again, the natural form (small, controlled amounts of sunshine) or dietary sources like fatty fish and juices and cereals fortified with vitamin D may help you meet your needs.

The Institute of Medicine increased daily intake recommendations of vitamin D, and many of us don't get what we need. However, as with all supplements, too much can be a bad thing, so check with your primary care provider to evaluate if you even need a supplement.

According to the American Cancer Society, there have been some links of colorectal cancer to excessive dietary intake of certain foods such as red meat and processed meats (lunch meat, hot dogs, for example). Preparing meats at very high temperatures also may put you at risk. Excessive alcohol use also may be a factor.

Becoming aware of what foods and preparation methods put us at risk can help. But we also can consider what we should be eating more of - fruits and vegetables.

Depending on your age and size, a diet containing five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables each day can go a long way to reducing your risk of cancer and many other diseases.

And the addition of these foods to your diet can naturally replace other foods that are thought to increase risk. These foods also provide phytochemicals and antioxidants that may lower risk of many diseases.

The National Cancer Institute puts it perfectly when they advise that taking a multivitamin instead of consuming fruits and vegetables doesn't do the trick because "it is impossible to capture all of the vitamins, minerals, disease-fighting phytochemicals and fiber found in fruits and vegetables, in a pill."

Taking supplements of large doses of phytochemicals, in some studies, have actually shown an increased risk of cancer. So what's the bottom line? It's wise to get your natural occurring antioxidants and phytochemicals from a variety of colorful, well washed, minimally processed fruits and vegetables.

Calcium intake may play a role in cancer risk reduction also. An adequate, but not excessive, intake of the recommended levels of calcium may be helpful. Some examples of good dietary calcium sources are dairy products and dark, green leafy vegetables.

Spring is a great time to incorporate more fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet. Check out your local farmer's market or grocery store for everything from apricots to watercress, and try some new ones. Grocery stores often provide labels on fruits and vegetables regarding how to prepare new and unfamiliar produce, or go to fruitsandvegetablesmatter.gov for tips.

Sources: Holick, MF. Vitamin D Deficiency. New England Journal of Medicine, July 2007; cancer.org; cancer.gov; fruitsandvegetablesmatter.gov.

Katherine Klingle is a registered and licensed dietitian. Send questions or comments to dietitians@vicad.com.

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