Diet tips to prevent intestinal bowel distress

A must read for all colon and rectal cancer patients, survivors and caregivers. Learn what the nutrition experts recommend for preventing intestinal and bowel distress.

man holding stomach in pain

How can my diet help prevent distress?

Whether you're a patient, survivor, or caregiver, we're here to provide you with knowledge and practical tips for maintaining your well-being and minimizing discomfort in your intestinal and bowel regions. Here are some dietary tips and a recipe spotlight to help.

How can fiber help?

  1. Choose whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Studies show that eating more fiber after non-metastatic colorectal cancer diagnosis can improve prognosis. Fiber and whole grains can help colorectal cancer recovery. Dietitians recommend aiming for 30 grams of fiber per day.
  2. Studies show that eating more fiber, particularly fiber from cereals, can reduce inflammation and improve endothelial function, lipid profiles, and insulin sensitivity (all common complications of colorectal cancer).
  3. Some patients cannot tolerate fiber-rich diets due to constipation or bowel-irregularity. Fiber supplements can serve as an alternative to fiber-rich foods and come in many forms. Short-term relief from constipation and bowel irregularity are common reasons people use fiber supplements.
    • Consider Inulin. Inulin is one of the types of prebiotic fiber, which means that it changes your colon’s bacterial population. This is important because these digestive bacteria play a major role in how well you absorb nutrients and even produce hormones related to anxiety and appetite. Inulin can be found in chewable tablets (100 percent soluble fiber).
    • Methylcellulose. Another common soluble fiber is methylcellulose, which is made from cellulose, an important structure in plants. It differs from psyllium because it is non-fermentable, which means it is likely to give you bloating and gas. Methylcellulose is commonly found in powder or caplet form (100 percent soluble fiber). It’s also sold as a thickener and emulsifier, too, and only dissolves in cold liquid.
    • Psyllium. Also called ispaghula, psyllium is made from the seed husks of the plantago ovata plant. It contains 70 percent soluble fiber, which means it can help increase fullness and slow digestion. It also contains some insoluble fiber, so it passes through the gut relatively intact, providing bulk and helping to keep you regular. Research has shown that psyllium — most commonly found as Metamucil — can ease the painful symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, hemorrhoids, and anal fissures.
    • Wheat dextrin. Wheat dextrin, most commonly sold under the brand name Benefiber, is a byproduct of the wheat plant. It’s tasteless and can dissolve in both hot and cold liquids. It can also be used in cooking and doesn’t thicken. Like most soluble fibers, it also helps regulate digestion and stabilize blood sugar. It also contains less than 20 parts per million of gluten, so it is labeled “gluten-free.”

What about dairy?

  1. Studies have reported lower colorectal cancer risk associated with eating calcium-rich dairy products, milk, and dietary calcium. Dietitians recommend 1-3 servings of dairy per day. For CRC patients who cannot tolerate dairy products, calcium supplements are one of the available alternative options, usually between 800 and 1200 mg/d, best with added magnesium to reduce risk of constipation.
  2. Eating dairy products offers health benefits — especially improved bone health. They provide nutrients that are vital for health and maintenance of your body. These nutrients include calcium, potassium, vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin B12, zinc, choline, magnesium, selenium, and protein.
    1. Calcium is used for building bones and teeth and in maintaining bone mass.
    2. Diets rich in potassium help maintain healthy blood pressure.
    3. Vitamin D helps maintain proper levels of calcium and phosphorus, which help to build and maintain bones. Milk fortified with vitamin D is a good source of this nutrient.
    4. Low-fat or fat-free milk products provide little or no solid fat.
  3. Many cheeses, whole milk, and products made from whole milk are high in saturated fat. To help keep blood cholesterol levels healthy, limit the amount of these foods you eat. In addition, a high intake of fats makes it difficult to avoid consuming more calories than are needed.
  4. Calcium plays a very important role in the body. It is necessary for normal functioning of nerves, cells, muscle, and bone. If there is not enough calcium in the blood, then the body will take calcium from bones, thereby weakening them. Having the right amount of calcium is important for building and keeping strong bones. If you’re not able to get enough calcium from food, talk to your medical team or dietician about taking a calcium supplement (600 mg tablet).

How does sugar intake affect my health?

  1. Sugar is an important source of carbohydrates and energy, however, dietitians recommended that CRC patients keep sugar intake to 24 grams or less daily in order to maintain good health.
  2. Some research suggests that levels of triglycerides, glucose, and insulin are associated with risk of colon cancer and/or CRC survival that diets high in simple sugars increase risk of colon cancer. Some findings have shown that dietary sugars can increase risk of colon cancer.
  3. Experts recommend limiting foods with high fructose corn syrup and added sugar. It’s important to remember balance and moderation in your diet.

How should vitamins and supplements fit into my diet?

Many available vitamins and supplements are used to treat or reduce symptoms of colorectal cancer, but most of them lack supporting science. Leading cancer organizations do not recommend vitamins or dietary supplements to reduce your risk of cancer or cancer recurrence. Below are some supplements that have some evidence of effectiveness and no evidence of harm. You can share this with your doctor and ask about whether you should consider any supplements along with a healthy diet. Do not begin using any of these vitamins or supplements without discussing with your medical team.

  1. Beta-Glucans. Beta-glucans might lower blood cholesterol by preventing the absorption of cholesterol from food in the stomach and intestines (when taken orally). When injected, beta-glucans might stimulate the immune system by increasing chemicals which prevent infections. Early research suggests that taking a specific product containing beta-glucans, inositol, and digestive enzymes reduces pain, bloating, and gas, but not other symptoms of IBS. By increasing the immune system, beta-glucans might decrease the effectiveness of medications that decrease the immune system.
  2. Magnesium. Research shows that eating more foods with magnesium in them is linked to a reduced risk of colon and rectal cancer. Other research suggests that magnesium might reduce colon cancer risk, but not rectal cancer risk.
  3. Garlic. Research shows that eating more foods with garlic is linked to a reduced risk of colon and rectal cancer. Other research suggests that garlic might reduce colon cancer risk, but not rectal cancer risk.
  4. Turmeric. Early research suggests that taking a specific product containing turmeric extract and Javanese turmeric extract might stabilize some measures of colon cancer, but it should be avoided during chemotherapy, radiation, or blood-thinning therapies. There is also early evidence that taking curcumin, a chemical found in turmeric, daily for 30 days can reduce the number of precancerous colon glands in people at high risk of cancer.

Recipe Spotlight: Slow-down smoothie


  • 1/2 cups milk or nondairy milk
  • 1 large banana
  • 1/2 cup oatmeal
  • 1/2 Tbsp. smooth natural peanut butter
  • sprinkle of cinnamon

Directions: Blend together until smooth.

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