As a major part of your digestive system, your colon (large intestine) is directly affected by the foods you eat. That probably doesn’t come as a big surprise: Most of us have eaten something that didn’t “agree” with us, resulting in an unwelcome change in bowel habits.
By watching which foods cause those changes — diarrhea, constipation, or bloating and gas — most of us can figure out which foods to avoid. But what most of us don’t think about is what we can eat to actually improve bowel function and support a healthy colon.
A top-rated colorectal surgeon in Coral Springs, Florida, Michael H. Tarlowe, MD, helps patients optimize colon health with dietary guidance aimed at optimizing bowel function and reducing the risk of colon problems, including colon cancer.
Here are four simple ways you can “tweak” your eating habits and improve your colon health.
1. Increase your fiber intake
Fiber forms the cornerstone of a colon-healthy diet, helping to regulate your bowels and prevent constipation. By keeping your bowels moving regularly, you can reduce your risks of hemorrhoids and diverticulitis, an inflammation of tiny pouches (diverticula) that may form as a result of eating too little fiber. You could also lower your risk of colorectal cancer.
Fiber-rich foods include:
- Oats, barley, popcorn, and other whole grains
- Beans and legumes
- Fruits, like apples, berries, and avocados
- Veggies, like carrots, broccoli, and leafy greens
- Nuts and seeds
Bonus: Eating more fiber could help stabilize your blood sugar and decrease your cholesterol levels, two benefits that can improve your overall health, too.
2. Limit red and processed meat
Red meat refers to fresh meat you buy from your butcher’s case, like beef, lamb, and veal, in all its forms — roasts, chops, and ground meat. Processed meat includes meats that are changed through curing, smoking, or other methods. Common processed foods are hot dogs, sausages, deli meats, and ham.
Both red meat and processed meat have been linked with increased risks of colon cancer and other cancers, too. One simple way to limit your intake of these foods is to make meat a “side dish” rather than the focus of your meals. To replace the meat, substitute a portion of a healthy food, like vegetables, fruits, or whole grains, instead.
3. Pamper your gut bacteria
Your gut is home to billions of helpful bacteria that break down food so nutrients can be absorbed more readily. Eating a lot of unhealthy or processed foods can reduce bacteria populations, causing bowel issues like diarrhea and constipation.
Eating a balanced diet that’s high in fiber (and low in unhealthy fats and sugars) supports healthy gut bacteria. You can give them an added dose of nutrition by adding some yogurt or kefir with live cultures to your regular eating routine.
4. Reduce your sugar intake
Eating too much sugar upsets your gut bacteria, too. Plus, sugar is a primary factor in inflammation in your gut and throughout your body. In fact, recent research identified a link between a high-sugar, low-vegetable diet and an increased risk of inflammatory bowel disease.
Too much sugar also leads to weight gain and obesity. And obesity is a probable risk factor for colorectal cancer, especially in men, and is also possibly associated with worse outcomes from cancer.
Natural sugars from fruits are OK — but choose whole fruits, not fruit juices, to get the benefits of fiber.
Keep your colon healthy
Eating a nutritious diet is one of the best ways to keep your colon healthy, but it’s also important to have regular colon cancer screenings. Colonoscopy is still considered the gold standard for colorectal cancer screening, but depending on your risk factors, you might be eligible for screening using a stool sample.
If you have any unusual bowel symptoms, including pain, bloating, or a change in bowel habits, don’t put off seeking care. Call 954-256-1842 or book an appointment online with Dr. Tarlowe, and learn how he can help you keep your colon healthy.