Whole Grains Decrease Bowel Cancer Risk

7th September 2017

Eat more whole grains

More good news for whole grains. Eating whole grains such as whole-wheat bread or whole grain rice can reduce colorectal (bowel) cancer risk, a new report today has revealed – by World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, after breast, prostate and lung cancers.


Wholewheat bread and grains


This report is part of the Continuous Update Project (CUP), an ongoing programme to analyse global research on how diet, nutrition, physical activity and weight affect cancer risk and survival. Among experts worldwide this is a trusted, authoritative scientific resource, which underpins current guidelines and policy for cancer prevention. As part of this programme, worldwide research has been analysed to produce this updated report on colorectal cancer. The new report includes 99 studies, involving 29 million adults, and over a quarter of a million cases of colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer risk

Foods associated with a decreased risk of colorectal cancer in the report includes:

  • Whole grains: eating around three servings (a total of 90g) of wholegrains a day, such as brown rice or wholemeal bread, reduces the risk of colorectal cancer by 17%. This is the first time AICR/WCRF has specifically linked whole grain intake with lower cancer risk and adds to the evidence that high fibre foods decreases the risk of this cancer.
  • Dairy products: consuming dairy products probably decreases the risk of colorectal cancer.

It was also found that people who are more physically active have a lower risk of colon cancer compared to those who do very little physical activity.

There is also more limited evidence that lower risk of colorectal cancer is associated with consuming foods containing vitamin C (e.g. oranges, strawberries, spinach), fish, vitamin D (from foods containing vitamin D and vitamin D supplements), and higher intakes of fruit and vegetables.

Factors identified that may increase the risk of colorectal cancer include being overweight or obese, consuming two or more alcoholic drinks daily, regular consumption of processed meats and eating more than 500g (cooked weight) of red meat weekly (equivalent of about 71g per day).

Average red meat consumption in the UK for adults is currently around 65g per day (equivalent of 455g per week), with women eating about 47g per day (equivalent of 329g per week). Meat is a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals and can be enjoyed as part of a healthy, balanced diet. For any high consumers of red and processed meat though, the Department of Health advises they cut down to 70g a day (less than 500g per week).

Interested to know more? Read the full report here: Diet, nutrition, physical activity and colorectal cancer 2017


Five key ways to reduce your risk of bowel cancer

WCRF estimates that about 45% of bowel cancer cases could be prevented in the UK each year through healthy lifestyle changes.

Susannah Brown, Senior Scientist at WCRF, said: “Bowel cancer is common, but almost half of cases could be prevented by people taking positive steps to help reduce their risk, such as eating more whole grains. Maintaining a healthy weight is also important for preventing bowel cancer, as well as for reducing the risk of many other chronic diseases, including 10 other common cancers.”

Here are five positive steps reported to reduce your risk:

  1. Eat fibre and wholegrain foods
  2. Keep a healthy weight
  3. Be active
  4. Limit alcohol to at most two drinks per day
  5. Stop smoking


Get inspired! Check out our whole grain recipes for ideas to help you get more whole grains into your diet.

Oatcakes with Banana Walnut and Honey      
Whole Grain Goodness