Author: Doug Cook, RD MHSc CDE
Most of us take our bodies for granted, that is of course, until something is a little off. No truer words than when we’re off our game when it comes to regular bowel movements; for most, a topic they’d rather not think about, again, until there’s a little less movement with the movements. Thinking about bowel health should be more of a priority for men though, considering that colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in men according to the Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada with ninety percent of cases occurring in men after the age of 50.
You may have heard that diet, and how food is prepared, is a risk factor for colorectal cancer and that barbecuing in particular is of concern. Studies have shown an increased risk for bowel disease in those who eat a lot of barbecued meat, fish and poultry. This is because cooking animal proteins at very high temperatures results in charring which causes the formation of carcinogens: heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). However, like many other foods, and cooking methods, moderation is key. The question that is on everyone’s mind is how much is too much? Unfortunately there’s no clear cut answer.
Here’s the great news; barbecuing and charring risk does not apply to vegetables or fruits; by loading up on these, you’ll not only be able to enjoy the taste of great outdoor cooking, you’ll be getting lots of anti-cancer compounds naturally found in plant foods.
What is known is that less exposure means less risk, which includes cooking foods in a variety of ways, not just barbecuing. Other cooking tips include barbecuing meats, fish and poultry at lower temperatures, and flipping the food more often, to help reduce excessive charring. As well, marinades made from antioxidant rich spices such as rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, fennel, and olive oil, can reduce the formation of HCAs by ninety-six percent. Don’t apply your BBQ sauce or reserved marinade until the cooking is nearly done; these sauces are usually the first thing to blacken and start the charring process.
Of note, it’s not clear whether meat consumption is the issue or that a diet higher in meat can often displace foods rich in protective nutrients such as phyto-nutrients and antioxidants including fruits, vegetables, whole grains and pulses (lentils, chickpeas, dried peas & beans). The good news is that you can take full advantage of the best that these foods have to offer without having to become vegetarian simply by including some fruits, vegetables, whole grains and/or pulses at every meal. Try these great recipes to include more vegetables, whole grains and fibre in your diet
When it comes to health, men often take a ‘tough guy’ approach and either push the thought of disease risk out of their minds, or think that ‘if it ain’t broke, why fix it’? When it comes to colorectal cancer however, early symptoms are rare; once symptoms such as bloody stools, excessive gas, bloating, unexplained weight loss, for example are present, bowel disease may be well advanced making check-ups and screening, yes colonoscopies, a must. The good news is that, if caught early, the 5-year survival rate is seventy-four percent, making those very good odds.
The key to taking control is knowledge; knowing the risk factors for colorectal cancer is the first step to taking control of your health. Having inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis greatly increases the risk for colorectal cancer, but this would be monitored closely as part of the routine care for these diseases. Other risk factors include family history of a primary relative such as a parent or sibling, being overweight, advancing age, excessive alcohol consumption defined as more than two standard drinks per day, smoking, diabetes, high intakes of meat and emerging research suggesting low blood levels of vitamin D.