Better Bowel Control

Ask a Dietician Monthly Column
By: Alison Licquia MS, RDN, CD

This month’s question is from Heidi: What can I do to get better bowel control now that I am done with chemo and colon surgery?

The Colon Cancer Alliance recently held a webinar in their Conversations Webinar Series addressing this very question. I’m going to share their top five takeaways from that webinar:

1. Nutrition is an integral part of your cancer treatment and long term survivorship plan. Your food choices can help minimize treatment side effects, support your immune system, maintain your energy and reduce your risk of recurrence and other medical conditions.

2. Modify your diet to manage bowel irregularities and still eat fruits and vegetables. Chemo, radiation and colorectal surgeries all have the potential to cause bowel irregularities. Soluble fiber from foods like oats, bananas, applesauce and peaches binds the fluid in the bowel to minimize diarrhea. Insoluble fiber from wheat bran, berries, fresh fruit with peelings, raw  vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains stimulates the bowel to relieve constipation. You can also limit lactose, eat cooked,  NOT RAW vegetables, avoid nuts, seeds, wheat bran, and fresh fruit with peelings, or take a probiotic daily to reduce the frequency of diarrhea. And don’t forget to drink lots of fluids!

3. Eat less red and processed meats. Eating red and processed meats consistently before and after a colorectal cancer diagnosis has been linked to a higher risk of colorectal cancer-associated mortality and recurrence. The American Institute of  Cancer Research recommends a maximum of 18 ounces cooked red meat per week, which includes beef, veal, lamb and pork. They also recommend avoiding all kinds of processed, cured and smoked meats as well as minimizing grilled meats.

4. Increase your intake of fish high in omega-3 fatty acids. Replacing red meat with fish high in omega-3 fat is a good choice after a colorectal cancer diagnosis. Research associates a higher intake of marine omega-3 fat after a colorectal cancer diagnosis with a lower risk of colorectal cancer-specific mortality.

5. Maintain a healthy body weight to reduce your risk of cancer recurrence and to lower your risk of diabetes, heart disease and other cancers. Obesity is a risk factor for other cancers, diabetes and heart disease. Colorectal cancer survivors are at higher risk for diabetes for up to five years after diagnosis. Eating healthy foods in appropriate portions and being more physically active is an important part of weight management and survivorship.

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