Colorectal Cancer Diet & Nutrition

Written by Lori Bumbaco, MS, RDN, CSO, LDN, Oncology Dietitian

Nutrition is an important part of the journey when you are faced with a colorectal cancer diagnosis. Eating a well-balanced diet before, during, and after cancer treatment can help you feel better, maintain strength, and enhance recovery. The following nutrition tips can help to optimize your health:

Include whole grain foods.

Whole grain foods provide a quality source of carbohydrate and fiber, which help keep our energy levels up. Good sources of whole grain foods include:

    • Oatmeal
    • Farro, brown & wild rice, quinoa, and bulgur
    • Whole grain pastas
Choose protein-rich foods.

Protein helps the body to repair cells and tissues. It also helps our immune system recover from illness.  Good sources of lean protein from both animal and plant sources include:

    • Lean meats such as chicken, fish, or turkey
    • Eggs
    • Low fat dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese or dairy substitutes
The following foods provide plant protein, but also fiber which has been shown to reduce the risk for colorectal cancer:
    • Nuts and nut butters
    • Beans and lentils
    • Soy foods such as edamame
  • Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables every day. Fruits and vegetables offer the body antioxidants, which can help fight against cancer. Choose a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables to get the greatest benefit. Aim to eat a minimum of 5 servings of whole fruits and vegetables daily.  These foods offer selenium, carotenoids, and lycopene which are cancer protectors.
  • Choose sources of healthy fat. Limit fried, greasy, and fatty foods. Instead, choose baked, broiled, or grilled foods. Healthy fats include:
    • Olive oil
    • Avocados
    • Nuts
    • Seeds
  • Limit sweets and added sugars. Foods high in added sugars like desserts and sweets provide little nutritional benefit and often take the place of other foods that are better for you.
  • Limit red meat and processed meat. Experts advise to limit red meat to no more than 12-18 oz. per week and to try to limit processed meat as much as possible.
  • Stay hydrated. Drinking enough fluids during cancer treatment is important for preventing dehydration. Avoid drinking large amounts of caffeinated beverages. Too much caffeine can lead to dehydration.
  • Practice good food safety. Wash your hands often while preparing food. Use different knives and cutting boards for raw meat and raw vegetables. Be sure to cook all foods to their proper temperature and refrigerate leftovers right away.
  • Grill safely. Marinating, pre-cooking, and flipping meat often limits the creation of carcinogens.  Best of all, fruit and vegetables on the grill do not have significant levels of carcinogens.
  • Talk to your healthcare team before taking any vitamins or supplements. Some medications and cancer treatments may interact with vitamins and supplements.  Choose food first as the main source of nutrients.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all. Alcohol may contribute to dehydration, can lower the abilities of your immune system, and provides no beneficial nutrients.
  • Most importantly, know that your cancer journey is unique to you and your treatment. You may experience side effects that affect your ability to follow these suggestions. If you are struggling with any side effects, such as loss of appetite, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, or any other nutrition concerns, your needs may be different. A registered dietitian can suggest nutrition guidelines that will be appropriate for your cancer journey.