Your large intestine probably isn't the first thing on your mind on any given day, but understanding the best foods for colon health goes a long way. Although it's all the way down there at the lonely end of your digestive tract, your colon plays a huge role in how you feel, experience life, and view the world.
Without your colon, you'd find it tough to do everything from healing to maintaining healthy bowel movements. Here's why – and how – to choose the best foods for lasting colon health.
Why Colon Health Makes a Difference in Your Quality of Life
For an organ that's an afterthought to most people, the human colon shoulders a heavy burden. Any food that makes it through the first 80 percent of your gastrointestinal (GI) tract without being absorbed ferments in the colon, thanks to the helpful bacteria that live there – producing nutrients like riboflavin and thiamine. This process also generates Vitamin K, which is essential to the coagulation process that lets you minimize blood loss after an injury, as well as being difficult to get from most normal diets.
In addition to absorbing these healthy fermentation byproducts, your colon accomplishes another huge task: this bumpy-looking organ extracts essential salt and water from your stool, solidifying it to make your bowel movements more manageable.
So what can prevent the final one-fifth of your GI tract from doing its job right? As you might expect from such a complex organ, the colon may suffer from a range of infections, functional or structural disorders, and irritations, including Crohn's disease, colorectal cancer, obstructions, prolapse, and bleeding. Anything you can do to reduce your odds of such outcomes is a good move, and your eating habit can help.
8 Best Foods for Colon Health
Having a healthy colon promotes overall digestive health and regularity. What you eat has a huge impact on your large intestine, so it’s important to choose foods that will promote colon health:
1. Fiber-rich foods
Fiber is important for promoting regularity and keeping the digestive system healthy. Foods that are high in fiber include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Dietary fiber can also help prevent and mitigate type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
Fiber helps to keep the digestive system regular. It prevents constipation and bulks up stools to move them through the intestines more easily. Fiber binds to toxins and cholesterol in the gut, helping to remove them from the body.
However, suppose you don’t drink enough water. In that case, fiber can actually cause constipation, so aim for about 25 grams of fiber per day if you're a woman and 38 grams per day if you're a man. Eating too much fiber can backfire by interfering with the absorption of some essential nutrients.
Bottom line: Eat a variety of fiber-rich foods to promote colon health, but make sure to drink plenty of water as well.
2. Probiotic foods
Probiotics are live bacteria that are good for your gut health. They can be found in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Probiotic supplements are also available.
Probiotic foods help restore the balance of good bacteria in the gut after antibiotics or other disruptions. Integration of these foods has improved symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and other gastrointestinal disorders, but these benefits depend on picking the correct probiotic strains, so chat with a Certified Nutrition Specialist first. Another great thing about probiotic foods is that they may boost immunity by preventing harmful bacteria from taking hold in the gut.
The thing to look out for for probiotic foods is that they can cause gas and bloating in some people when they first start taking them. If your immune system is already weak, ask your doctor before starting a probiotic regimen as probiotic foods can throw your gut bacteria out of whack.
Bottom Line: Probiotic foods or supplements may help improve gut health and relieve symptoms of gastrointestinal disorders. Start with a small amount and increase gradually to avoid side effects.
Water is essential for good health, and it’s especially important for colon well-being. Water keeps your digestive plumbing hydrated and flowing smoothly. It is necessary for proper digestion, helps keep the colon hydrated, and prevents constipation. Another great thing about good old water is that it flushes toxins out of the body and prevents them from building up in the gut.
But like all things, drinking too much water – as with many colon cleanses – may cause dehydration, rectal tears, or dangerous changes in your electrolyte balance. People with certain medical conditions like kidney disease or heart failure need to be careful about how much water they drink
Bottom Line: Drink plenty of water every day to promote colon health but don’t overdo it. If you want to do a cleanse, then make sure you're supervised by a reputable practitioner in a controlled setting.
Avocados are a good source of fiber, vitamins, and healthy fats. Some research has concluded they can positively impact your gut's microbial diversity, increasing the abundance of bacteria that break down fiber and create helpful metabolites.
Avocados are a great source of fiber, vitamins, and healthy fats. They promote a diverse gut flora and are so easy to integrate into your diet.
However, they are high in calories and fat. Individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may be advised against eating avocados due to the presence of FODMAPs – carbohydrates that can end up fermenting in the gut because they're hard to absorb.
Bottom Line: Avocados are a nutritious food that can promote colon health, but their high-calorie count and fat content mean you need to eat them in moderation.
5. Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts, contain compounds like sulforaphane, which may inhibit the development of various cancers like colon cancer. They’re a good source of fiber and vitamins A, C, and K. There's a huge variety to choose from – for instance, if you don't like the more bitter options, you can try bok choy, garden cress or cauliflower
However, Some people may have difficulty digesting cruciferous vegetables because of their high fiber content. Even though some studies have shown that frequent eaters of these foods have lower odds of colorectal or prostate cancer – and they contain compounds thought to help – the association isn't strong enough to be 100 percent certain
Bottom Line: Eat cruciferous vegetables regularly to promote colon health, but start slowly if you’re not used to their high fiber content.
6. Olive oil
Olive oil is a healthy fat that contains numerous substances that may play a role in the prevention or treatment of colorectal cancer. It’s also an easy way to consume vitamin E and monounsaturated fats, which are important for gut health. Good source of vitamin gut-healthy nutrients. Olive oil includes phenolic compounds like oleuropein, oleocanthal, and hydroxytyrosol, which have demonstrated an ability to fight colorectal cancer's spread.
But be warned - olive oil has a lot of calories and the high fat content might pose digestion problems for some people.
Bottom Line: Use olive oil in moderation to promote colon health, but be aware that it’s high in calories and fat.
Nuts are a useful source of fiber, protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. They’re also low in carbohydrates – a good choice for people with diabetes or other conditions that might benefit from carb restriction. Nuts are also a great source of nutrient-dense fiber, protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. Their low glycemic index makes eating nuts a smart choice for people with diabetes but nuts are also high in calories and fat and should be consumed in moderation.
Bottom Line: Eat nuts to promote colon health, but be aware of their fat content. Also, avoid salted, flavored, "gas station" varieties and go for healthy trail mixes instead.
Flaxseeds help your colon thrive by providing fiber, alpha-linolenic acid, and lignans, which are phytonutrients with antioxidant properties. Experimental data seems to show that getting these nutrients from whole flaxseed can reduce your risk of colorectal cancer.
Flax seeds are pretty versatile. Try adding some to your yogurt, oatmeal, or even savory dishes like mashed potatoes. They’re great food for boosting your fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and lignans, and can help relieve constipation.
But some people might find the high fiber tough to digest properly, and if taken without sufficient water, flaxseed may lead to bloating, gas, or diarrhea. It can also interfere with the absorption of some medications, like anticoagulants, blood pressure drugs, estrogens, and diabetes medicine, so talk to your doctor before adding them to your diet.
Bottom Line: Flaxseeds are a small addition that can make for a healthier colon, but be aware they're not for everyone.
How Top Nutrition Coaching Can Help
Whether you're trying to lower your cancer risk, maintain regular bowel movements, reduce inflammation, or simply make healthy food choices, your colon is a logical place to start. With Top Nutrition Coaching, you can find a Registered Dietitian who'll empower you to make smarter choices for lasting colon health – no matter what your goal is.
The colon is pretty complex, and different people may derive distinct health benefits from the same changes – even ones that seem straightforward, like cutting out red and processed meats or taking fiber supplements. Top Nutrition Coaching's nutritionists and dietitians are here to help you pick an option that supports your overall health, beginning with your gut. Build a healthier, more rewarding relationship with food by finding your Certified Nutrition Specialist today.
Achieving better colon health is a holistic journey: In addition to eating a high-fiber, fruit-and-veg-packed diet with ample whole grains, you should be drinking plenty of water, exercising, and periodically getting screened for conditions like colon cancer. Improving what you eat is just one facet of establishing good habits, so don't miss the forest for the trees.
Frequently Asked Questions
What foods strengthen the colon?
Choose fruits and vegetables with ample fiber and drink enough water to get the right vitamins and minerals for a healthier colon.
What foods can help me poop more easily?
Foods with a high fiber content are crucial, but they should also include water. Start with basics like kiwi, apples, beans, pears, rhubarb, and flax seeds.
Can I repair my damaged colon naturally?
Eating foods like probiotics and plant-based fare is a good idea for lasting colon health, but always talk to a clinician or dietitian about any medical challenges you're currently facing.