Colon Cancer & Healthy Eating

A Q&A with nutritionist Anita McLaughlin of Norton Healthcare2013 - 8 Anita photo

We spoke with Anita McLaughlin, a nutritionist at Norton HealthCare, about the role healthy eating plays in cancer prevention and survivorship. Anita coaches oncology patients as they navigate chemo and radiation with an emphasis on maitenance of lean body mass, symptom relief, and stress management. She also coaches cancer survivors after treatment in their journey toward wellness.

Q: Is there a link between nutrition and cancer? Please explain.

A: The American Cancer Society says that “one-third of all cancer deaths in the U.S. each year are linked to diet & physical activity.” And the American Institute for Cancer Research states that about 45% of colorectal cancers in the U.S. are preventable each year through diet, staying a healthy weight and being physically active. Current recommendations are that adults be physically active 30 minutes/day. It is okay to divide this into 5 – 10 minute increments.

Q: How important is nutrition in cancer prevention?

A: While it is important to increase fruits, vegetables, & whole grains, it is also very important to avoid obesity and weight gain around the midsection. The science is clear that Americans need to increase the intensity and amount of physical activity. (see above)

Q: Are there certain foods that people can eat now that can help prevent or decrease their chance of colon cancer? What foods?

A: Overall, diets that are high in vegetables, fruits, & whole grains have been linked with lower colorectal cancer risk.

Q: Are there foods or beverages that can increase chances of colon cancer?

A: Many studies have found a link between red or processed meat intake and colorectal cancer risk.

Q: Are there any foods colon cancer survivors should avoid or be sure to eat?

A: The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends restricting red meat to 18 ounces/week and avoiding processed meats (includes hot dogs, bacon, sausage & processed deli meats).

In recent years, some large studies have suggested that fiber intake, especially from whole grains, may lower colorectal cancer risk.

Several studies have found that calcium (high in dairy foods, broccoli & dark leafy greens), vitamin D (sources below), or a combination of the two may help protect against colorectal cancer. But because of the possible increased risk of prostate cancer in men with high calcium intake, the American Cancer Society does not recommend increasing calcium intake specifically to try to lower cancer risk.

Vitamin D is obtained through skin exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation; through diet, especially products fortified with vitamin D such as milk and cereals, and through supplements. (The Institute of Medicine recently increased recommendations for the daily intake of vitamin D, based on levels required for bone health, from 400 to 600 international units (IU) for most adults, and to 800 IU per day for those aged 70 years & older.)

Q: What's the No. 1 thing you tell people - if there's one thing to remember - about using food to fight cancer?

A: Focus on eating whole, unprocessed foods the way mother nature made them, mostly plants (as opposed to animals). Choose lots of brightly colored fruits & vegetables.


Q: Anything else you'd like to add?

A: Your emotions and digestion are closely related. We know that digestion and absorption of nutrients is enhanced when the body is relaxed. David Servan-Schreiber, MD, PhD, cancer patient & author of the bestseller Anti-cancer, A New Way of Life, said it best in his last book (Not the Last Good-bye): “In light of my own ordeal, I’m tempted to emphasize the absolute necessity of finding & maintaining inner peace…”


American Cancer Society’s 2012 Nutrition & Physical Activity Guidelines

American Institute for Cancer Research

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