What to eat, drink and do: 3 essential tips for colon health


by Alessandro Fichera, MD

Dec 15, 2023

Digestive health is a crucial aspect of overall well-being, and lifestyle factors, particularly diet and nutrition, play a central role in colon health. Your colon is a part of the large intestine that absorbs water and electrolytes from undigested food, as well as expels waste from the body. Unlike the earlier belief that the intestine was primarily served to just process calories, we now recognize its role in shaping many aspects of health.

As the number of cases of colon cancer continue to rise, it’s important to understand the impact of dietary choices on colon health, as well as look at preventive measures you can adopt to improve your colon health and minimize the risk of colon cancer.

Colon health: What is gut microbiome?

Gut microbiome refers to microorganisms (including “good” bacteria) that live in the gastrointestinal tract, particularly in the colon. Recent evidence has shed light on the pivotal role of the gut microbiome in various bodily functions and conditions, from weight management and mental health to the development of colon cancer.

Unfortunately, the typical Western diet, which is what many Americans eat, is characterized by high fat, low fiber and an abundance of processed foods. This combination can disrupt gut microbiome and create an unhealthy, pro-carcinogenic (cancerous) environment in the intestine. The prevalence of this diet in the last 50 years has led to many health issues , including an increase in colon cancer—particularly in younger individuals who often miss out on preventive screenings.

How does eating fiber impact colon health?

Eating a high-fiber diet is hugely important for colon health. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate found in many plant-based foods. Unlike other carbohydrates, such as sugars and starches, fiber cannot be fully broken down by the human digestive system. Instead, it passes through the digestive tract relatively intact and provides a range of health benefits. High-fiber foods include barley, beans, lentils, oats, nuts, seeds, vegetables and whole grains.

Fiber prevents stool from bulking up in the colon, which reduces the time unhealthy carcinogens interact with the colon lining, as well as regulating blood sugar and lowering cholesterol. Studies have shown a diet rich in fiber and low in processed foods can decrease the likelihood of colon cancer.

3 tips for better colon health

To maintain healthy colon function and decrease your risk for developing colon cancer:

1. Drink water: Being hydrated  has a hugely positive impact on colon health, particularly to prevent constipation. Avoid sugary drinks such as soda and instead, try still or sparkling water.

2. Eat a balanced diet: Adopting healthy nutritional habits, such as a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight, is crucial for colon health and reducing your likelihood of developing colon cancer. I recommend that everyone strive for a balanced diet, featuring fruits, vegetables, water and lean proteins like fish.

3. Get screened: It’s important to pay attention to symptoms  and speak to your doctor about preventative screenings, which should start at age 45 if you have no family history of colon cancer.

Want to speak to a healthcare provider about your colon health? Find a specialist near you.

About the Author

Dr. Fichera is a colon and rectal surgeon. He is the surgery safety and quality officer and the division chief of colon and rectal surgery at Baylor University Medical Center, part of Baylor Scott & White Health.

We make it easy.

Healthcare doesn't have to be difficult. We're constantly finding ways to make it easy so that you can get Better and stay that way.

Better tools make it easier

We all have different healthcare needs. Handle them your way with the MyBSWHealth app. Download the app today and take a hands-on approach to your healthcare.

Text Better to 88408