If you experience constipation, bladder and kidney infections, vaginal yeast infections, bad breath, body odour, abdominal cramps, or toe- and fingernail fungus, your colon may be calling for a cleanse.

Some say disease begins in the colon. In fact, the colon is the third most common site for cancer–and colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death among Canadians. The colon, or large intestine, is our fueling station as well as our waste management system. Here, in the last five feet of intestinal tract, toxins can take two courses. A clean, healthy colon efficiently eliminates toxins. A clogged, unhealthy colon allows toxins to back up into the liver and bloodstream, polluting the entire system.

In the colon, water is squeezed out and absorbed from food remnants, leaving behind a mixture of non-digestible fibre, bacteria, bile acids and cells that have been scraped off the intestinal wall. If bowel transit time is too slow, bacteria and fungi proliferate and toxins are reabsorbed. A healthy colon eliminates waste within six to 18 hours after every meal–this means having two or three bowel movements a day.

Eating the right foods can clear your colon of debris. What is the best diet for colon cleansing and ultimately good health? The consensus today is that a plant-based diet is best for reducing the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other 21st-century diseases. This type of diet has obvious benefits for the colon.

Fibre

Plant-based diets containing generous amounts of vegetables, fruits, beans, seeds, nuts and whole grains are high in fibre, which is the essential, non-digestible component of food. A high-fibre diet supports a healthy digestive tract by sweeping debris from the colon, much like a broom. Fibre exercises the intestinal tract by stimulating peristalsis, the wave-like muscular contractions of the bowel that decrease bowel transit time. Fibre also holds moisture in the colon, softening the stool.

We need both soluble and insoluble fibre for colon cleansing every day. Soluble fibre dissolves in water whereas insoluble does not. Insoluble fibre is especially good for improving elimination and preventing constipation. Soluble fibre increases beneficial bacteria, which produce natural antibiotics that eliminate potentially harmful bacteria such as Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli. Researchers believe adequate and consistent levels of healthy intestinal flora can also help prevent colon cancer. Soluble fibre is also important for binding cholesterol and aiding its passage through the body.

Flax seed and oats top the list of foods highest in both soluble and insoluble fibre. One tablespoon of ground flax seed contains four to six grams of fibre. Other foods high in soluble fibre include beans, peas, rice, barley, citrus, strawberry and apples. Foods high in insoluble fibre include whole wheat, rye, brown rice, barley, cabbage, beets, carrots, brussels sprouts, turnips, cauliflower and apple (with skin).

Fibre recommendations are between 20 to 35 grams a day, but the modern affluent diet provides only about 10 g. (High amounts of fibre, however, should be avoided during inflammatory bowel conditions.) To meet the fibre requirement, consume daily five or more servings of vegetables and fruits, and six or more of whole grains. A half cup of fruit or vegetables or one cup of leafy, raw greens makes one serving. One grain serving is one slice of bread or one-half cup of cooked cereal, grain or pasta.

Green Foods

The high chlorophyll content of green foods (such as alfalfa, wheatgrass, barley grass, spirulina, blue-green algae) makes them ideal for colon cleansing. In addition to cleansing, chlorophyll soothes and heals damaged tissue in the digestive tract. It helps the body to obtain more oxygen and draws out toxins. For this reason, chlorophyll is called "the internal deodorant."

Fermented Foods

A diet high in refined carbohydrates and low in fibre reduces the number of friendly bacteria in the intestines, upsetting the balance of the body’s intestinal ecosystem. Yogurt, kefir and other fermented foods such as miso and sauerkraut can replenish friendly bacteria. Bifidobacteria are most numerous in the colon, while Lactobacilli prevail in the small intestine. These beneficial bacteria synthesize vitamins from food remnants, degrade toxins, prevent colonization of disease-causing micro- organisms, crowd out less beneficial bacteria, stimulate the immune system and produce short-chain fatty acids that provide an energy source for cells lining the colon.

Water

Most people need to drink more water. Water is the universal solvent, and an insufficient amount of it causes constipation and toxicity in the bowel and kidneys. Physical activity, fever, hot or dry climates and consumption of meat and salty foods all increase the need for water. The optimal amount varies widely, usually from six to 10 glasses a day. One useful formula is to drink half your weight in ounces. For example, if you weigh 120 pounds (55 kilograms), drink 60 ounces (eight glasses/two litres) of water per day. This can include pure water, herb tea or diluted fruit juices. Caffeinated beverages do not count because they are dehydrating. The best time to drink a glass of water is between meals or 20 minutes or more before eating; sip only small amounts with a meal. An important rule is: When thirsty, drink water–not pop or other beverages.

Cleansing and nourishing are two equally important factors in the health equation. Keeping your colon clean in turn keeps your tissues clean and allows your cells to rebuild. Ultimately, a colon-cleansing diet both nourishes the body and clears the way to good health.

Eat to Clean

  • Eat foods high in fibre, which sweeps debris from the colon.
  • Chlorophyll found in green foods such as alfalfa, wheatgrass, barley grass, spirulina and blue-green algae cleanses and heals the digestive tract.
  • Fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, miso and sauerkraut replenish the friendly bacteria needed for a healthy colon.
  • Drink lots of pure water.

Knowin’ Your Colon

  • The colon, or large intestine, is one of the body’s major organs of waste removal (in addition to the lungs, skin, kidneys and liver).
  • The colon is populated with 100 trillion friendly bacteria.
  • Stress and lack of exercise contribute to an unhealthy colon.
  • In addition to adequate nutrients and pure water, a healthy colon requires proper circulation and good nerve and muscle tone.

About the Author

Ken Babal is a licensed, certified nutritionist in private practice in Los Angeles, Calif. and the staff nutritionist for Erewhon Natural Foods Market. He has written over 100 articles for health publications and is the author of Good Digestion, a Natu