Skip to main content

Health library

Back to health library

A healthy diet can reduce your risk for colorectal cancer

A spread of salmon, avocados, tomatoes, kale and other healthy foods.

March 3, 2022—Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer in both men and women. And the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) reports that it's the second-leading cause of cancer deaths.

The good news: You can lower your risk for colorectal cancer. In fact, the American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that more than half of colorectal cancer cases are linked to risk factors you can change.

One great place to start? Your diet.

7 ways to reduce your risk

To help put colorectal cancer prevention on your menu, follow these tips from the experts at the ACS and the AGA.

Shift away from red and processed meat. That includes beef, pork, lamb, hot dogs and salt-cured sandwich meats. They're linked to a higher risk for colorectal cancer. Serve up some lean white meats instead. You might even try going meat-free one or two days per week.

Fill up on fruits and vegetables. The AGA recommends cruciferous vegetables—such as cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower—as a way to lower your risk. You can buy them fresh, frozen or even canned.

Get plenty of calcium. Good sources include low-fat or nonfat milk or yogurt. But dairy's not your only option. Try adding dark leafy greens like kale to your plate. Or serve up some calcium-fortified tofu.

Eat a variety of whole grains. Reach for whole-grain breakfast cereal, oatmeal and whole-wheat bread. And try experimenting with different grains such as buckwheat, bulgur, millet, quinoa, sorghum, whole rye or barley.

Increase vitamin D. Fortified milks, juices and cereals are a good way to get more of this vitamin in your diet. Fatty fish, including salmon, are another good source.

Cut back on fats. Reducing fats, oils and butter can help lower risk, according the AGA. Use them sparingly.

Avoid alcohol. Drinking too much is linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer—and it's best not to drink at all, according to the ACS.

Stay up-to-date on screening

Lifestyle changes, including a healthy diet, may help you lower your risk. But that's not the only way to prevent colorectal cancer. Screening can help you find colorectal cancer early, when it's easier to treat. It can also help prevent it altogether. That's because colorectal cancer screening can find polyps—abnormal cells—years before they become cancer. Ask your doctor when you should start screenings.

Read more breaking news Related stories

The information found in the Health Library is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice nor does it represent the views or position of WHMC. Readers should always consult with their healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment, including for specific medical needs.