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Are You Regular?


Most people hardly ever think of their colon. When they do, it's probably because they're not regular. This organ, which is often on the bottom of our health priority list, is where the absorption of essential vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and water takes place.

Most people hardly ever think of their colon. When they do, it’s probably because they’re not regular. This organ, which is often on the bottom of our health priority list, is where the absorption of essential vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and water takes place.

The colon’s role in water regulation and hydration is vital. The colon is also home to billions of healthy bacteria that line the colon wall, collectively known as gut flora. These micro-organisms are not only responsible for producing many essential nutrients for our bodies, such as vitamins B7 and K; they also play an integral role in supporting immunity.

The foods we eat can have a tremendous impact on our digestive health. Given the prevalence of constipation and the rise in colon cancer rates in our society, we need to know about six simple foods that help keep the colon healthy and functioning well. What foods can we eat to support our colon?

1. Fibre first

A diet rich in fibre has been shown to provide such powerful health benefits as lower cholesterol levels and reduced risk of colon cancer and intestinal polyps.

Dietary fibre comes from the thick cell wall of plants and is divided into two categories. Insoluble fibre, which cannot be broken down by our digestive system, helps to promote regular bowel movements and may actually help reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. Sources of insoluble fibre include green leafy vegetables and whole grains such as oats. Soluble fibre dissolves readily in water and binds with fatty acids as well as cholesterol. Increasing soluble fibre from sources such as barley and flaxseed may help to reduce cholesterol levels, regulate blood sugar, and aid in healthy weight loss.

The general recommendation for daily fibre intake for adult women and men is 25 g and 38 g respectively. As an example of the amount of fibre contained in some common foods, 1 cup (250 mL) of oats provides roughly 17 g and 2 cups (500 mL) of spinach offers about 9 g of fibre.

2. Essential water

Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of colon health is adequate water intake, which can be the simple answer to chronic constipation, defined as a bowel movement frequency of less than once a day.

According to an epidemiological survey of constipation in Canada published in 2001 in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, approximately 57 percent of Canadians suffer from constipation. For some individuals, constipation has become a part of life, yet they do not give this condition the attention it requires. Longstanding constipation has serious repercussions. A recent study of Japanese men concluded that chronic constipation increased the risk of colon cancer.

Taken with a fibre supplement, water can help make the stool softer and easier to pass through the gastrointestinal tract. A total of eight glasses of water each day is recommended for optimal colon care.

3. Fermented foods

Ancient cultures throughout the world fermented fruit, vegetables, and milk, not only to preserve them but also because of the enhanced nutritional value that fermentation provides. The ancient Romans ate sauerkraut, which contains high amounts of vitamin C. In the Orient fermented soybean products, such as miso and tamari, have been a part of the daily diet for centuries, whereas in India, fruit is fermented to make delicious and nutritious chutneys.

Today we still enjoy the tantalizing taste of these and other fermented foods, such as yogourt and kefir. In the process of lacto-fermentation, healthy bacteria called lactobacilli are produced that maximize the digestibility of the food, increase its vitamin levels, and help these foods bolster immune function.

4. Spice it up

Turmeric, a spice once reserved for adding flavour and colour to East Indian curries, has received attention as a promising dietary supplement for cancer prevention and treatment. A study published recently in Alternative Medicine Review unveiled the powerful effects of turmeric on the prevention of colon cancer. Scientists reported that curcumin, the yellow pigment in turmeric, inhibited the growth of human colon cancer cells by suppressing the expression of a gene that is involved in the development of colon cancer.

5. Protective green tea

Among the numerous health benefits of green tea, researchers have now added colon cancer prevention to the list. The major active component of green tea appears to be epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), which has been shown to have a protective effect against colon cancer. While the mechanism of action is not fully understood, epidemiological studies have supported a decrease in colon cancer risk among people who drink about 3 cups (750 mL) daily, providing 240 to 320 mg of polyphenols.

6. A good reason to eat your vegetables

Two very important types of vegetables confer a wealth of benefits to the colon.

Cruciferous vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower have been associated with anticancer activity, possibly due to substances such as indole-3-carbinol and calcium D-glucarate found in these foods. In a preliminary study, people who ate cruciferous vegetables were reported to have lower-than-average risk of colon cancer and better bowel habits.

Other vegetables that support gut flora are those that contain oligosaccharides, such as Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, onions, and garlic. The undigested portion of oligosaccharides found in these vegetables serves as food for the friendly bacteria in the colon, which help strengthen immune function and increase resistance to infection.

The second leading cause of cancer deaths in Canada, large bowel cancer is associated with poor diet. Incorporate these six foods into your daily diet to maintain a healthy colon.

For a Healthy Colon . . .

Increase your intake of:

  • fibre
  • water
  • fermented foods such as yogourt
  • lactobacilli
  • turmeric
  • green tea
  • cruciferous vegetables

Decrease your intake of:

  • coffee
  • saturated fat
  • alcohol
  • high-sugar foods


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Matthew Kadey, MSc, RDMatthew Kadey, MSc, RD