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Diet and Bowel Cancer Prevention


You may not know, that bowel cancer is the nation’s second-biggest cancer killer. Although your risk of cancer increases as you get older, it’s important to know that you are never too young to get bowel cancer. A healthy lifestyle and nutritious diet can all help to reduce your risk. This month, it’s Bowel Cancer Awareness Month across Australia. In this article, we look at how the right food can lower your risk of bowel cancer.

What are the facts on bowel cancer?

According to Bowel Cancer Australia, 15,253 Australians are given this diagnosis every year. 2,186 of those people are under the age of 55. 67% of those cases are colon cancer, and 33% are rectal cancer.

Early detection is key

90% of bowel cancer cases can be treated successfully if found early. Sadly, fewer than 40% are detected early.

Rates are rising

20,000 cases of bowel cancer are predicted for 2020.


How can food and exercise help to lower your risk?

There are risk factors such as your age (being over 50 increases your risk sharply) and your family history (linked to 25% of cases) which you have no control over. However, diet and lifestyle also play a part. They are what is known as modifiable risk factors. This means, choosing the right kinds of foods and making lifestyle changes is something you can improve upon to lower your risk. Giving up smoking, and reducing your alcohol intake can help, and so can diet and exercise.


Physical activity can help to reduce your risk factor for colon cancer. The Cancer Council says that “inactivity is responsible for 14% of colon cancers.”

“Just 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each day is good for your health and 60 minutes can reduce your risk of developing cancer. There is evidence to suggest that the more exercise you do, the lower your risk – especially if this is more vigorous physical activity.”


Your choice of food can impact your risk for many cancers including bowel cancer. While there is no magic cancer-preventing food, eating a healthy diet can protect you from bowel cancer.

What food should I eat to prevent bowel cancer?


At least 5 serves of vegetables a day are the minimum requirement. Eat the rainbow to ensure the health of your entire body, including your bowel. Leafy greens, garlic, onions and tomatoes are particularly good!


At least two serves of fruit per day.  Apples, papaya and pomegranate are great, but any fruit eaten in place of a packaged or sugary snack is even better!

Legumes, nuts, seeds.

Eating plenty of beans, lentils and pulses is great for your bowel as is nuts and seeds. This is because they contain plenty of fibre as well as many nutrients for good health.

Limited red and processed meat, add more fish, poultry or vegetarian meals.

Eating more than 700 grams (raw weight) of red meat a week increases your risk of bowel cancer, and your risk goes up 1.18 times for every 50 grams of processed meat eaten per day.

“The World Health Organization has classified processed meats including ham, bacon, salami and frankfurts as a Group 1 carcinogen (known to cause cancer) which means that there’s strong evidence that processed meats cause cancer. Eating processed meat increases your risk of bowel and stomach cancer. Red meat, such as beef, lamb and pork, has been classified as a Group 2A carcinogen which means it probably causes cancer,” Cancer Council Australia.

Dairy foods

Dairy products are associated with a lower risk of bowel cancer. Consume 400 grams of dairy per day to decrease your risk by a staggering 13%. Include low-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese in your diet daily.


Eat 3 serves of whole grains per day to reduce your risk of bowel cancer by 17%. This can include brown rice, grains, and bread.

The Mediterranean diet can lower your risk


The traditional Mediterranean diet can help lower your risk of many chronic diseases, including cancers of the breast and colon. The diet is rich in fish, vegetable, legumes, whole grains, fruit, and olive oil, with lower to moderate amounts of wine and red meat. It also limits sugars and processed foods and flavours food with herbs instead of salt. Everything you are ‘supposed’ to be eating to prevent bowel cancer is naturally included in this way of eating. Dishes are delicious, nutritious and easy to prepare and enjoy as a family.

There are many studies on the efficacy of this diet. Here is a passage from the abstract of one study which helps to explain the benefits:

“The Mediterranean diet is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. The biological mechanisms for cancer prevention associated with the Mediterranean diet have been related to the favourable effect of a balanced ratio of omega 6 and omega 3 essential fatty acids and high amounts of fibre, antioxidants and polyphenols found in fruit, vegetables, olive oil and wine. The Mediterranean diet also involves a ‘Mediterranean way of drinking’, that is, regular, moderate consumption of wine mainly with food.” 

Help to implement the Mediterranean diet

If you are interested in more vibrant health for yourself and your family, then we can help here at Tree of Life Nutrition! We are Mediterranean Diet specialists, and would love to introduce you to healthy and enjoyable eating, the Mediterranean way.


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