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Internal Medicine

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Pump up your diet for colon health

Our digestive tract is akin to our own personal plumbing system. As such, when the anatomical pipes become clogged or we put the wrong nutrients down the drain, it can wreak havoc on our overall health. To protect this system, be mindful of what you put in it.

“Eating the right foods can help maintain normal bowel movements and keep toxins from building up in the colon,” says T.J. Redington, M.D., an internal medicine physician with The Christ Hospital Medical Associates. “Your diet can actually contribute to colon cancer or trigger flare-ups if you have inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.” Likewise, your diet can also help prevent colon cancer and other conditions. Keep it healthy by including the following foods in your daily diet:

Dietary Fiber
High-fiber foods improve digestion, provide bulk in the digestive tract and absorb toxic substances, so they can be removed from your body. There are two types of dietary fiber.  

Insoluble fiber passes through the body without being digested, increasing bulk and the water content of waste. Not only does it promote regular bowel movements (once per day or every other day), it also keeps your pH balanced in the colon. 

What to eat: Whole grains such as brown rice, whole-wheat, bran and whole fruits and leafy green vegetables are high in insoluble fiber.

Soluble fiber binds with fatty acids and traps cholesterol and triglycerides. It also slows stomach-emptying time so that sugar is released and absorbed more slowly in the bloodstream. [Links to diabetes article]

What to eat: Nuts, oatmeal, barley, seeds and whole fruits and vegetables are good sources of soluble fiber.

How much to eat: Men and women need about 30 – 35 grams of fiber (soluble or insoluble) daily. Learn how to increase fiber in your diet here

Vitamins A, C and E are antioxidant vitamins, which work to prevent or repair damage to the cells that make our bodies vulnerable to colon and other cancers. Higher levels of vitamin D and calcium have also been linked to protecting against colon cancers.  

What to eat: “A balanced diet with whole fruits and vegetables, lean meats and low-fat dairy should provide you with all the vitamins you need,” Dr. Redington says. Vitamin D is derived mainly from sunlight, but can also be found in cooked salmon, eggs and fortified milk and cereal. Talk to your doctor about whether a multivitamin supplement is right for you.

How much to eat: Click here for a breakdown of the type and amount of nutrients you should consume.

Probiotics are healthy bacteria that aid in digestion. “Natural microorganisms in our colon help the gut digest food and protect the lining of the intestines,” Dr. Redington says. Some evidence even suggests probiotics boost the immune system and fight infection, inflammation and disease.

What to eat: Yogurt, miso and some soy beverages contain probiotics. Just make sure the product label reads "live and active cultures," such as lactobacillus.

How much to eat: There are no hard and fast rules about the amount of probiotics to consume, so talk to your doctor if you’re considering a supplement.    

Dietary Fat
High amounts of dietary fat can increase bile acids in the colon and promote tumor growth in the lining of the colon. But not all fat is bad for you. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids have been proven to prevent colon cancer by reducing the size and number of polyps.

What to eat: Mono and polyunsaturated fats found in soy products, beans and other plant-based foods help lower LDL (bad) and total cholesterol. Fish (salmon, sardines and mackerel), flax seed and walnuts contain high amounts of omega-3 fats.

How much to eat: If you stick to a 2,000-calorie per day diet, consume no more than 77 grams of fat per day. Avoid saturated and trans fats entirely.

Paying attention to the foods you eat is as important to colon health as paying attention to your bowel habits. “Be watchful for things like painful bowel movements, frequent loose stools, constipation lasting several days or blood in the stool. These, along with a family history of colon problems, could be clues to more serious issues,” Dr. Redington says.

Find a physician who can assess your diet and colon health by calling 877-904-4YOU or visiting

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