22 November 2018

The incidence of bowel cancer along with many other cancers are on the rise. Sadly, all cancers combined are now the leading cause of death in Australia accounting for 19% of total disease burden (AIWH, 2018). Of these cancers, bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related death in Australia, after lung cancer.

Several risk factors have been identified that may increase the chance of developing bowel cancer

  • excess body fat and physical inactivity
  • high intake of particular foods (such as processed meat)
  • high alcohol consumption
  • smoking. (AIHW, 2017)

The items on this list all have a couple of things in common – they are potentially associated with a lack of essential nutrients and are exposing the body to toxins.

“What we eat will either help us fight disease through nutrients or cause disease via toxins and lack of nutrients”.

Scientists for years have studied the biochemical pathways in our bodies to understand the way our body works. This is the basis of biology, biochemistry and physiology. Nutrients are needed to make sure these pathways work properly and if they are not provided on an ongoing basis, often illness is a result. The food we eat contains many vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that are essential to life and provide our body with this important information. So therefore, the food we eat has such an effect on our health. Studies have shown for instance that calcium and vitamin D can reduce the risk of bowel cancer. Therefore it is so important that we maximise nutrition.

Hippocrates the Father of Medicine said
‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food’, he also said that ‘all disease begins in the gut’.

So, if your gut is what absorbs the nutrients, then we need to make sure our gut is in tip top shape to allow this to happen! The gut also needs to effectively eliminate waste.

The large intestine in particular is the house to some very friendly bacteria that has a vital role in good bowel function. This beneficial bacteria helps to break down undigested food, absorb nutrients, produce vitamins {such as vitamin K which is essential for blood clotting), helps support the body’s natural defence (most of the immune system lives in the gut), and also helps to breakdown carbohydrates. It is important that this good bacteria outweighs bad bacteria in the gut.

So what can we do to make sure our gut is functioning optimally and we are absorbing all the nutrients we need to prevent bowel cancer? We need to feed our body and our friendly bacteria with the right food to keep out gut healthy.

Eat plenty of vegetables

This is an absolute must. You should be aiming to eat 6-7 serves of vegetables/day. Vegetables are high in fibre which is essential to help move the stool along the bowel. They also contain pre-biotics that help feed the friendly bacteria and they contain essential nutrients to help all your physiology work at it’s best. Bright coloured vegetables contain anti-oxidants which have been shown to reduce cancer. Make sure you vary your vegetables including sweet potato, green leafy veg, cruciferous veg such as cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower, and add some fermented veg if you wish such as sauerkraut to increase your friendly bacteria.

Healthy fats

Fat is essential to our health. Make sure you include good fats such as olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds, olives, coconut oil and fish. The omega 3 from fish is anti-inflammatory and is great for the gut. Try wild caught canned salmon with bones to get omega 3, vitamin D and C!


Drink 2 litres of water per day. The bowel absorbs water to help move the stool along for elimination. Water also helps with energy levels, hydration and regulates our blood pressure.


You don’t have to avoid meat completely to prevent bowel cancer. Red meat is a good source of iron, B12 and essential protein. Try to limit your intake to 2 serves of grass fed meat per week. Grass fed meat is higher in omega 3 which is anti-inflammatory. Lightly brown meat or slow cooking is best and avoid burning it. Avoid processed meat such as deli hams, salami, cabana and fritz etc. These often contain preservatives such as nitrates which have been linked to cancer. Enjoy free range chicken, wild caught fish and free range eggs.

Grains, legumes & fruit

Wholegrains and legumes such as rice, wheat, chickpeas and lentils all contain fibre and can be very beneficial to the gut. However, for many people with gut issues these foods can be a source of aggravation and inflammation.
Fruit also has many beneficial nutrients and a small amount should be enjoyed as ‘natures dessert’. Berries especially are full of anti-oxidants.
The commonality in all these foods is that they are carbohydrates and when digested break down to a sugar molecule. Eaten in moderation they can be enjoyed and can provide some benefits, but caution should be exercised as too much can cause problems with blood sugar control. Seek professional advice for more guidance on these foods.


Sugars and processed carbohydrates, vegetable oil, margarine, grain fed meats, too much alcohol and smoking.


On rising – drink 1-2 tsp of apple cider vinegar (unprocessed, with the ‘mother’) and a squeeze of ¼- ½ lemon in a tall glass of warm water. This stimulates digestion.

2-3 egg omelette with mushrooms, baby spinach, spring onion, chopped parsley or any veg you like
Chia seed porridge with berries, coconut or greek yoghurt, nuts and seeds
Green smoothie – try banana or berries, baby spinach, avocado, kale, almond or coconut milk

Salmon salad with quinoa – try wild caught canned salmon with bones, baby spinach, olives, avocado, capsicum, carrot, pumpkin seeds and drizzle with olive oil and lemon
Vegetable frittata with salad, avocado and sauerkraut
Vegetable soup with sourdough bread

Baked free-range chicken drumsticks, coated in olive oil, coconut flour and sea salt. Baked sweet potato chips, steamed kale or spinach, broccoli and cauliflower.
Lamb and vegetable curry with ‘cauliflower rice’
Fish and salad/veg with sweet potato chips

Apple slices with almond butter
Chia protein balls
Carrot or celery sticks with avocado dip (guacamole) or hummus
Handful of nuts (macadamias, almonds, brazil etc.)
Greek or coconut yoghurt with blueberries and sunflower seeds
Piece of fruit

Stress can also affect digestion. When we live in ‘fight/flight’ as a result of our busy lives, our digestion is switched off. This can cause issues such as bloating, reflux, diarrhoea and constipation. Nutrient absorption is hence compromised and gut bacteria is often disrupted. Taking the time to reduce stress through physical activity, meditation and doing things that you love to do will not only help with digestion, but also help your immunity and mental health!

These are general guidelines and by bulking up most of your diet with vegetables, some protein and healthy fats you will improve your health substantially and drastically reduce your risk of bowel cancer. Remember though that we are all individual and sometimes individual differences in diet are needed to achieve the best outcome for that person!

For more information visit Nicole James at Fundamental Nutrition HERE.