This month is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month. When I think of prevention of bowel cancer my first thoughts are fibre, fibre, fibre!! Most research undertaken in the prevention of this cancer indicates those people eating the most fibre have the lowest bowel cancer risk with those eating the least amount of fibre having the highest bowel cancer risk. The fibre foods generally studied are all natural foods such as fruit, vegetables, seeds and grains – not foods with artificially added fibre.
There is also evidence eating a lot of red meats such as lamb, pork, veal and beef and processed meats such as sausages, salami, bacon and ham, pate and corned beef increases the risk of bowel cancer. It is believed cooking methods may also increase the risk of cancer especially when cooking at a very high temperature. Obesity can cause many health problems and once again research has shown there appears to be a connection between obesity and cancer of the large bowel (colon cancer), particularly in men. It’s also believed consuming fish at least 3 times a week can lower our risk of bowel cancer. Alcohol intake and smoking also plays a major part when looking at bowel cancer risk.
So, what can we do to increase our fibre and help prevent this cancer which is becoming increasingly prevalent in Australia. In fact, bowel cancer is the third most common internal cancer after breast cancer and prostate cancer.
There are many types of fibre which can often be confusing when trying to choose the best fibre for good health. Fibre is in fact the undigestible carbohydrate found in our food. All plants contain fibre however not all fibre is the same and can be categorised by how easily they dissolve in water.
Many may have heard the term ‘water soluble fibre’ which means the fibres have a high water-holding capacity which enables them to form gels. Water soluble fibres are found in foods such as oats, barley, legumes, citrus fruits, linseeds, chia seeds and psyllium. On the other hand, you may have also heard of the term ‘water insoluble fibres’ which obviously means the fibres do not dissolve in water. Insoluble fibres are found in wheat, wholegrain cereals and vegetables.
Both forms of fibre are important in our diet and provide benefits to the digestive system by assisting to maintain regularity. Having said that, water soluble fibres do have some additional benefits to heart and gastrointestinal health. Many also find the insoluble fibres such as wheatbran, to be very harsh on the bowel.
A very commonly used soluble fibre is psyllium. Psyllium assists in gastrointestinal health softening the stool plus increasing the weight and size of your stool. This makes the stool easier to pass therefore placing less pressure on haemorrhoids and decreasing constipation. Using a soluble fibre such as psyllium may help improve symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome such as constipation, abdominal pain and diarrhoea.
Chia seeds have also become very popular of late. I love chia seeds - they are one of the best forms of soluble and insoluble fibres. They are one of the richest plant-based sources of omega 3 – higher in omega 3 fatty acids than salmon, contain more calcium than milk and are even higher in antioxidants than blueberries. No wonder they are known as a great superfood.
Rice bran is another soluble fibre, not that well known however extremely beneficial for bowel health. Although rice bran is rich in fibre it also contains both pectin and beta-glucan, both believed to be helpful in lowering cholesterol. Unlike many brans, it is gluten free which is helpful for those suffering from gluten intolerances.
Oatbran is another popular bran which is not only beneficial for bowel health but is also understood to aid in lowering cholesterol.
Flaxseed meal is not only a great water soluble fibre, it is high in omega 3 fatty acids. It also contains a group of nutrients called lignans which have potent antioxidant and estrogen properties. Lignans are believed to help prevent breast and prostate cancer, as well as other types of cancer.
It has been found that high total dietary fibre intake, particularly water soluble fibre, has been linked to lowering blood cholesterol thus lowering the risk of coronary heart disease. Coronary heart disease is associated with a build up of cholesterol-filled plaque in the coronary arteries. These arteries become hard and narrow and a complete blockage of a coronary artery can lead to a heart attack.
Interestingly dietary fibre and particularly water soluble fibre such as those fibres mentioned above can also help improve blood sugar levels by slowing down the absorption of sugar. This may therefore assist someone suffering from Type 2 Diabetes which is characterised by constant high blood sugar levels.
When increasing fibre in our diet it is suggested to do this slowly to avoid bloating and cramping. It is also important to drink more fluids otherwise we may become constipated. The fibre absorbs water to make the stool soft and bulky.
For further information on fibre or any health topic call into see Bev and the team at Go Vita, Your Health Shop at 5 North St, Batemans Bay or phone on 44729737. Tune in to Bev on Go Get Healthy every Wednesday at 12.30pm on 2EC.