Many people are giving low carb diets a try and focused on increasing protein in their diet. And this could be why the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently reported that Americans are eating more meat than ever before. While cutting carbs and increasing protein intake can be a positive step, too much red meat—especially processed varieties like bacon and hot dogs—can have negative effects, such as a higher risk for colorectal cancer.
Commonly called colon cancer, colorectal cancer is the country’s third leading cause of cancer-related deaths. And two major risk factors for developing colon cancer are eating a diet high in red meat and processed meats, leading a sedentary lifestyle, and being overweight or obese. Having family history and Type 2 diabetes also raises the chances of a colorectal cancer diagnosis. The good news is that you can lower your risk for colorectal cancer by getting regular exercise, limit alcohol consumption, quit or avoid smoking and improving your diet.
To start, eat less processed meat
Several studies have shown a greater likelihood of colorectal cancer in those who consume a lot of red meat and processed meats. The World Health Organization classifies processed meat as a Group 1 carcinogen, which means that there is convincing evidence that it causes cancer.
While it’s recommended that you cut out processed meats—any meat that is salted, smoked, cured, etc., like hot dogs, sausages, bacon, and many deli meats—that doesn’t mean you need to eliminate your favorite steak or burger. Some studies suggest that eating two 4-ounce portions of red meat each week is okay. But choosing leaner cuts, trimming fat, and not charring meats can be even better.
And have more fiber
Another option is to think of meat as your side dish, and vegetables and whole grains as your main meal ingredients. This will help you consume a whole-foods diet, one with high-fiber foods, such as beans, lentils, and some fruits and veggies.
Other things you can do
While a high-fiber diet can help lower colon cancer risk, the calcium in low-fat and nonfat dairy can help too. High consumption of fish in many forms—such as fresh, canned, salted, and smoked—also seems to reduce the likelihood of colorectal cancer. Vitamin D, which can be found in sources like fish, eggs, and dairy, seems to lower the risk, as well.
And if you’re eating a balanced diet, you shouldn’t need to rely on supplements. So be sure to talk to your doctor before taking any.
There’s often a lot you can do now to lower your risk of colon cancer, so talk with your provider about a strategy that’s best for you. And remember colorectal cancer screening is recommended starting at age 50 for the general population (45 for African Americans) up to age 75 and earlier if you have a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) with a history of colorectal cancer.