Food for the Fight Against Colorectal Cancer

Maintaining a level of good nutrition can seem like an uphill battle when fighting colon or rectal cancer. Oftentimes chemotherapy and radiation therapy can cause side effects affecting your ability to eat. Here are some tips that can help:food heart

  • Many of the chemotherapy regimens, including irinotecan and 5-FU, can cause diarrhea.
    • Choose foods higher in soluble fiber such as bananas, white rice, applesauce, oatmeal, and graham crackers.
    • Avoid fatty, greasy foods, caffeine, citrus or acidic beverages and foods high in insoluble fiber (fruit and vegetable skins, whole grains to avoid aggravating your diarrhea.
    • Make sure to drink one cup of additional replacement fluid for each loose stool you have, but drink this slowly throughout the day.
    • Watch your daily food to see if dairy foods could be triggering your diarrhea. If they do, use lactose-free dairy products or take lactase tablets instead.
  • You may develop mouth sores while on oxaliplatin or 5-FU that make eating painful.
    • Choose soft, bland, and cool foods. Mashed potatoes, cottage cheese, canned fruit, eggs, and tuna salad are all good choices. Moisten breads, cereals and cookies in milk or milk substitutes as well.
    • Even honey diluted in a little water may soothe your sore throat.
    • Avoid irritants such as spices, acidic juice, salty or hard, crunchy foods.

Even if you do not have colorectal cancer, you could be at increased risk. Individuals with a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps or individuals who are overweight, especially those with high amounts of belly fat, are at increased risk. If this sounds like you, or you are just looking for a healthier diet, consider a low fat, high fiber diet. Low fat, high fiber diets have been associated with a decreased risk of colorectal and other cancers.

Include more fruits, vegetables and whole grains in your diet as an easy way to reduce fat and increase fiber. Aim for at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day and seek grains with three or more grams of fiber per serving. Following these tips will likely reduce your calorie intake and help achieve weight loss.

When choosing protein sources, limit your intake of red meat to three-ounce portions, three times a week and choose lean versions. Avoid or limit processed meats such as sausage, pepperoni, hot dogs and lunchmeat.  Make sure to eat calcium rich foods such as dairy, fortified cereals, soybeans and spinach to meet your daily needs. When buying calcium fortified foods, look for those with vitamin D to meet a goal Vitamin D intake of 600-800 IU per day.

Diet is not the only way to decrease your risk. Quit smoking, reduce or avoid alcohol, and increase physical activity (higher intensity for longer) to also reduce your risk.

If treatment related side effects are affecting your ability to eat and resulting in unwanted weight loss, or you are just interested in learning more about healthy diets to decrease your cancer risk, call 1-877-907-0859 to make an appointment with one of the Registered Dietitians in the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.


U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center: Recipes

U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center: Cancer Nutrition Services