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Bowel Cancer & Diet

In the UK, 1 in 15 men and 1 in 18 women will be diagnosed with bowel cancer at some point in their lifetime. With the bowel being an integral part of the digestive system, the food we eat can have a significant impact on how at risk we are of developing the disease. But which foods should we be avoiding and which can help promote a bowel healthy diet?


Fibre is a form of carbohydrate which takes longer to break down than others. Found in plant-based foods such as fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, it helps to keep the digestive system moving, making it easier for food and waste to travel through the bowel. Getting enough fibre not only reduces the risk of rectal and colon cancer, but is a key part of any healthy diet. Fibre comes in two forms:

Soluble fibre - This helps to soften food waste, making it easier to pass through the body. It may also help to lower cholesterol.

Insoluble fibre - This helps to harden food waste, allowing it to pass through the gut quickly. It can also help prevent constipation.

How to eat more fibre

  • Try to include some form of fruit and vegetables with every meal.

  • Substitute everyday carbs such as pasta, rice or bread with their whole grain alternative.

  • Switch to high fibre snacks like nuts, fruit, seeds or popcorn.

  • Try swapping out meat for lentils or beans in some of your main meals.

  • Keep the skin on vegetables such as potatoes and carrots.

Fruits and vegetables are fantastic for maintaining a healthy bowel. As well as being good sources of fibre, they also contain antioxidants which can help to fight against cell damage brought on by cancer.

Processed & Red Meats

Eating excessive amounts of processed meat (i.e. ham, sausages or bacon) or red meat (beef, pork or lamb) can lead to an increased risk of bowel cancer. This is due to harmful chemicals found within in them such as:

Nitrites - These are used to keep processed meats fresh, however, when consumed they can introduce harmful chemicals to the digestive system.

Haem - Naturally occuring in processed and red meat, haem can cause bacteria in the bowel to produce chemicals which damage skin cells.

Research recommends that people should aim to eat no more than 70g of meat per day. Generally speaking, reducing the amount of processed meat in your diet will always be better for your health.

Alcohol and Smoking

Studies have shown that approximately 1 in 17 cases of bowel cancer in the UK are the result of excessive alcohol consumption. To reduce your risk, drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week, spread over three or more days. Similarly around 7% of bowel cancer cases are linked to smoking. Smokers are at a greater risk of developing polyps; growths in the bowel which can turn into cancer if not removed.

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