The researchers also highlighted several key ones nutrients that protect against cancer— including a surprisingly promising discovery about grains.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the US American Institute for Cancer Research. While genetics play a role, lifestyle changes in diet and exercise can significantly reduce the risk.
In a study published Nov. 16, 2023, in the journal NutrientsResearchers from Chinese and Scottish universities aimed to identify foods and nutrients that could affect colon and rectal cancer among 139 commonly consumed items. They narrowed in on more than 118,000 participants in the UK Biobank – a collection of various health information from more than 500,000 British adults – who completed a food questionnaire about eating habits. Almost 1,500 developed colorectal cancer over a 12-year period. The study revealed that alcohol and, surprisingly, white bread have a strong association with the disease.
The study also highlighted nutrients that protect against cancer rather than focusing on specific foods. Along with fiber, which has already been widely studied as a protection against colorectal cancer, they added calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and manganese. They also noted that protective effects were stronger in men and dietary associations were not as strongly correlated with women. Along with consumption of white bread and alcohol, those who developed colorectal cancer during the study were more likely to be older white men with a genetic predisposition to colon or rectal cancer, to have a higher BMI, and to be more likely to smoke and have diabetes .
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While fiber was protective, it is interesting that fiber from fruits, vegetables and legumes does not appear to provide as much protection against colorectal cancer as cereal fiber, highlighting the importance of adding whole grains to the diet. White bread, in fact, which is largely devoid of fiber and many nutrients, has been linked to colon and rectal cancer. Certain other nutrients appear to protect against colon or rectal cancer. Increased intake of calcium and manganese foods led to a lower incidence of colon cancer, while fiber and magnesium were correlated with a lower incidence of rectal cancer.
While the implications and association with low-fiber white bread and alcohol are not new, they underscore the importance of a healthy diet in preventing colorectal cancer, especially in men. They also emphasize the importance of eating a diet rich in vitamins and minerals, in addition to eating less sugar and maintaining a healthy weight.
Researchers estimate that the diet has the potential to prevent about 25% of colorectal cancer, but there is a challenge in getting people, especially men, to take action. Advice on increasing fiber intake, limiting alcohol consumption and limiting red meat is sometimes overlooked. Recommendations for early screening at 45 they are also often overlooked, leading to delayed detection. The key message underlines the critical role of lifestyle choices in the prevention of colorectal cancer, urging early screening and dietary modifications.