Prevention Done Well

Moderation of red and processed meats can help reduce colon cancer risk

When spring days bring summer temperatures, residents of Savannah and the Low Country are lucky to enjoy the pastimes for which Northerners must wait a few more months—softball games, trips to the park or the beach, and the neighborhood cookout. But those extra chances to fire up the grill can be detrimental to your colon health if you forget about moderation, especially when it comes to red meat.

“There have been numerous studies on dietary factors that contribute either negatively or positively to colon cancer incidence and colon polyps,” says gastroenterologist Gregory D. Borak, MD. “The data has shown that diets high in red meat can increase colon cancer risk. Conversely, diets high in foods that deliver fiber—such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains—have been shown to have a positive effect.”
 
“These results have been found not only for the risk of colon cancer but also other conditions such as heart disease,” Borak adds.
 
Processed meat is culpable as well. This kind of meat typically includes any meat that has been preserved through smoking, salting, curing, or adding preservatives. Unfortunately, this group is filled with many classic favorites: hot dogs, bacon, sausage, ham, and salami.
 
“The nitrites and nitrates within processed meat are thought to have a carcinogenic effect in general,” Borak says. “In addition, cooking any kind of meat, including white meat, at very high temperatures and causing the food to char can release chemicals that could potentially increase cancer risk.”
 
But don’t panic. Even if you need to modify your diet, it doesn’t mean you’ll never have bacon again.
 
“When we talk about lifestyle modifications, I don’t think it’s realistic to expect people to eliminate foods,” Borak says. “What I try to stress in my practice is moderation. If you want to have a steak every once in a while, get a steak. A meal like that here and there is not the problem. It becomes a problem when it’s excessive.”
 
Dr. Borak stresses moderation of alcohol use as well for the prevention of colon cancer. He also notes the importance of regular exercise, and of not smoking, in addition to diet.
 
“Putting all of these factors together will give you the most benefit,” he says. “Not only in the prevention of colon cancer and colon polyps, but for other diseases as well.”

High consumption of red and/or processed meat increases the risk of both colon and rectal cancer.

Dietary fiber is associated with reduced risk. For every 10 grams of daily fiber consumption, there is a 10 percent reduction in cancer risk.*



*Source: American Cancer Society