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Colorectal Cancer and Diet

Fiber and calcium help; red meat and alcohol don’t.

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A glass of red wine spilling

Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the second most common cancer in women and the third most commonly diagnosed cancer among men worldwide. It’s also one of the deadliest. As with other forms of the disease, the etiology of colorectal cancer is multifactorial, but a handful of recent research reports suggest our dietary habits play a big role:

  • A 45-study meta-analysis, published in JAMA Network Open, uncovered strong evidence for a lower CRC risk with higher intakes of dietary fiber, dietary calcium and yogurt, and lower intakes of alcohol and red meat.
  • Investigators from the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, found that people who consumed more whole grains—with the special types of fiber they provide—have a lower incidence of CRC.
  • Using data from the expansive Nurses’ Health Study II, a report in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute pinpointed the Western diet—typically heavy in meat and processed foods, along with their sugar, fat and sodium—as being a greater risk factor for the early onset of a dangerous form of CRC compared with healthier, whole-food dietary patterns, including Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension).
  • A review of evidence published in Gut suggests that high consumption of red meat and alcohol increases the risk of CRC, while a loftier intake of magnesium, folate, fiber, fruits, vegetables and dairy has been linked to decreased risk.

Catch the trend here?

See also: Training Cancer Patients

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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