I don’t know of anyone who looks forward to a day in the bathroom and a clear liquid diet, followed by baring your backside to a stranger and then being told you can’t leave until you pass gas. Somehow, it breaks all the rules of decency. Anyone who makes that call to schedule a colonoscopy knowing what’s in store deserves a gold medal for courage, and wisdom.
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of death for men and the third leading cause of death for women in the US, predicted to claim over 50,000 deaths this year. One out of 21 men and one out of 24 women will develop colorectal cancer in their lifetime. Thankfully statistics have been declining because more people are getting screened.
Colonoscopy, the gold standard
There are other screening tests for colorectal cancer but why take short cuts? There’s nothing better than having a camera and snipping tool on one end of a scope and a pair of trained eyes on the other to cut out any polyps along the entire five feet of colon.
Choosing any other screening method comes down to one thing: polyps.
Not all polyps lead to cancer, but colorectal cancer starts with polyps. And the only way to get rid of polyps is to snip them out. And the only way you will know if all the polyps in the colon have been removed is to have a colonoscopy.
The American Cancer Society recommends that everyone should be screened for colorectal cancer at age 50 and at age 45 if you are African American. There are noninvasive tests that can be used but they don’t remove the polyps. If polyps are found then more frequent follow up will be required depending on the type, size and number of polyps found.
Eating your way out of colorectal cancer
Colon cancer is partly genetic and partly due to lifestyle choices. A diet high in animal fats, grilled meat, alcohol, smoking and being overweight increases one’s chances. What if you could find just the right foods to lower the risk of colorectal cancer? What if it’s as simple as eating more of a couple of things and none of another? On top of it, what if they were abundant, tasty, affordable and easy to prepare?
Mediterranean diet and colorectal cancer
It has long been known that those who follow a Mediterranean diet have a reduced risk of developing colorectal cancer. The Mediterranean diet is a diet high in fruits, legumes and veggies, nuts and seeds, fish and poultry, and mono-unsaturated fat rather than saturated fat. There’s low consumption of red meat, alcohol and soft drinks.
Now in a study presented at the European Society for Medical Oncology(ESMO) 19th World Congress on Gastrointestinal Cancer and reported in Science Daily determined what specific components of the Mediterranean diet were providing the most protection.
The study concluded that eating more fish and fruit and not drinking sugary sodas had the most impact on preventing cancer. Focusing on just one of each of these three dietary choices reduced the risk of colorectal cancer by 30%. If someone followed all three of the components of the diet the risk of developing colorectal cancer dropped by 86% according to the lead researcher, Dr. Naomi Fliss Isakov, from Tel-Aviv Medical Center, in Tel Aviv, Israel.
More fish and fruit, no sugary sodas
What’s in fruit and fish that make them so special?
Fruit is high in potassium, fiber, vitamin C and folic acid. Potassium helps maintain proper blood pressure. Fiber helps move digested food through our colon faster, reducing the exposure to toxic substances in our food. The Institute of Medicine recommends that women get 25 grams and men get 38 grams of fiber daily. Vitamin C helps with the growth and repair of tissue and folate helps with the formation of red blood cells. It’s important to eat a variety of fruit and use this as your guide.
Fish, an excellent source of protein, is high in omega 3 fats, Vitamin D and selenium. It’s the fatty fish like salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, herring and blue fish that are the best for your health. Just 6 ounces a week will protect your colon and your heart.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest(CSPI), a nonprofit that does extensive research on food and nutrition, recommends, generally, buying fish raised in the US where farming standards are higher. They also recommend buying fish that is the freshest on display and to explore some of the other 30% of the unusual fish caught accidently in the fish nets that are often times much cheaper and healthier for you. CSPI put together a wonderful chart ranking fish based on omega 3’s, sustainability, mercury and food chain level.
Making this work
I think it’s much harder giving up something than adding something to your diet. For soda drinkers, it’s hard to give up the flavor and caffeine from a soda. But stopping sodas doesn’t have to happen overnight.
I remember well my Orangina days. Then I moved on to Diet Pepsi until I became concerned about the sugar substitutes. Now I drink Seltzer water. My favorite is the Polar 100% natural pomegranate Seltzer. It has no artificial sweeteners and enough flavor to taste and carbonation to make it feel special. You can ween yourself off sodas – even if it means mixing regular soda with Seltzer or diet soda to help you transition.
It is much easier adding fruit to a diet – it’s nature’s candy, portable and requires little prep work other than washing. You can add it to smoothies, top your cereal with it or have it for dessert in a fruit crisp. Even dried peaches can last forever in your cabinet or your car. And there is nothing better than fresh picked berries – especially if you can grow them in your own back yard.
Fish, on the other hand is a struggle for many people. If you weren’t raised eating fish it can be a tough one to learn to enjoy. Sardines are super healthy for you and cheap but can be strong in flavor. Tuna is the go-to fish for many people but it contains much more mercury than most fish and doesn’t have as many omega-3’s as most of the fatty fish. And of course, many people like chowder and fish and chips but haddock and cod aren’t nearly as high in omega 3’s as the fatty fish.
But I do have a solution! Try mixing two cans of light tuna (has less mercury than the albacore) with one can of sardines and lots of celery, mustard and a little mayo and the strong fish flavor will be hidden. I promise you won’t notice. And if you’re ok with cod or haddock, try rainbow trout – it’s a light fish without a strong flavor and high in omega 3’s. All you need is 6 ounces a week.
Food is medicine
The more I learn about nutrition, the more I realize that food choices can be either medicine or poison for our body. Knowing that just 3 servings of fruit a day and 6 ounces of fish a week can be medicine to my colon as well as my whole body makes this easy to made a priority. It’s simple, it’s tasty and it makes everything come out smoothly ;). Now I think I’ll schedule my colonoscopy.
CSPI is a wonderful nonprofit who’s focus is to protect consumers. They lobbied for trans fats to be listed on food labels. They publish an informative monthly newsletter for $24 dollars a year – the best investment you’ll ever make!
Barbara does personal health coaching on-line or in person. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Other useful health information can be found on her website, ahealthyweightoday.com.