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The Medicare Diet: Best Diet for Colon Cancer in Seniors

Posted on April 19, 2023 by Austin Lang

Your diet plays a major role in managing colon cancer.

That’s why finding a diet plan for colon cancer and/or colorectal cancer is important for your long-term prognosis. Now, you can argue that your diet plays a major role in managing any condition (it’s sort of the thesis of this entire column), but it’s especially important for colon and rectal cancer. What you put into your digestive system determines its long-term health, and a diet full of heavy dairy products, fats and fatty acids, sugars, and other risky foods can cause a real pain in the behind. Still, it’s a little more more nuanced then “stop eating hot dogs.”

In this edition of The Medicare Diet, we go over how to design a colon cancer diet and colorectal cancer diet for seniors, with tips on what to eat, what to avoid, and how to make the dietary change a bit smoother.

Colon Cancer: The Basics

Diagram of colon polyps

Your colon (also known as the large intestine) is the final part of your digestive tract. It’s often comorbid with rectal cancer, which affects the final portion of the large intestine, including the rectum. Like all cancers, colon cancer and rectal cancer occurs when there is an error in cell replication, resulting in the uncontrolled growth of new cells. These cells form a tumor, which can destroy functioning cells and eventually metastasize to the rest of the body. 

Colon cancer and colorectal cancer is most common in older adults, and may eventually be one of the long-term side effects of inflammatory bowel disease, sedentary lifestyles, and unhealthy diets. In particular, low-fiber diets containing large amounts of sugar, fat, fatty acids, alcohol, and red meat or processed meat, can greatly increase your risk of colorectal cancer and your risk factor for many other conditions as well.

Symptoms of colon cancer and other side effects include…

  • A persistent change in your bowel movements, such as chronic diarrhea
  • Rectal bleeding, or blood in the stool
  • Persistent abdominal discomfort
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • A feeling that your bowel is not completely emptied, even after a bowel movement

According to the American Cancer Society, colon cancer is usually discovered through a colonoscopy, in which a device known as a colonoscope is used to examine the colon for polyps: potentially cancerous or precancerous growths. Its treatment is similar to that of other cancers, involving chemotherapy, targeted radiation therapy, anti-cancer medications, and occasional surgery. 

Taking Care of Your Intestines

Water with lemon

A professional dietitian would agree that while diet plays a major role in preventing colon cancer and colorectal cancer, it plays an even larger role in managing the condition (as does maintaining a healthy weight). Since this disease directly affects your digestive tract, your diet can have a direct effect on your recovery process and quality of life. Beyond just reducing the risk of colorectal cancer complications, having colon cancer makes your colon very sensitive, especially to high protein and fatty foods like red meat and dairy products. In addition, targeted treatments might interfere with your body’s ability to absorb nutrients, so a balanced colon cancer diet plan is even more important.

One area of nutrition that is often overlooked when treating bowel diseases is hydration. Specifically, hydration via electrolytes. These include minerals like sodium, calcium, and potassium, and are used to maintain fluid balance in the body. Electrolytes are primarily absorbed through the colon, so cancer treatments can interfere with their uptake. Complicating things further, diarrhea and nausea can also cause dehydration, so keeping up your fluid intake is important. 

Drinking plenty of water is a good start, but supplement that antioxidants and with leafy greens, nuts, legumes, potatoes, and fruit like watermelon, banana, and avocado. These foods all contain large amounts of electrolytes, which can help with hydration. Avoid sugary sports drinks. They’re high in electrolytes, but not meant for regular use. If you are having a bout of diarrhea, use a drink designed specifically for rehydration, like Pedialyte. Drinks like Gatorade are designed to be consumed during or after exercise, and aren’t as efficient as rehydrating in a medical context.

Fiber is also essential to a healthy colon, as it aids in passing food through the intestines, and promotes healthy bowel movements. Soluble fiber is also good for reducing cholesterol, making it even more vital to a healthy diet. You can find fiber in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains. 

Speaking of grains, proper carbohydrate intake can help provide good sources of fiber and nutrients. Avoid simple carbohydrates like sugary foods and white bread: go for whole grains, beans, and fruit instead. Finally, proper protein intake is essential for any healthy diet. Processed meats have been found to increase the risk of colorectal cancer and especially colon cancer in seniors, so skip the bacon. Go for eggs, fish, poultry, legumes, and nuts instead.

Dieting During Treatment

As any decent dietitian will tell you, depending on where you are in your cancer treatment (and what type of cancer you have), your specific dietary needs will differ. Here are some specific tips to keep in mind!

Chemotherapy/Radiation Therapy

An IV for chemo therapy.

During chemotherapy and radiation treatment, following a healthy plan is usually sufficient, but you might experience difficulties with nausea and diarrhea. Consider adding extra fruit to your diet, while drinking plenty of fluids. Ginger has some natural antiemetic properties, so keeping a few ginger candies on hand can help with symptoms.

Chemotherapy can lead to a dulled sense of taste and/or smell, which can affect your enjoyment of foods. Consider adding spices to your dishes, but avoid ones with too much sodium or capsaicin. 

Due to the weakening of your immune system, you also want to avoid undercooked foods or any fruits and vegetables that have not been thoroughly washed.


A mug of clear vegetable broth]

Before surgery, you’ll probably be put on a bland diet for a time. The classic example of this is the BRAT Diet, which consists of bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. However, these four foods alone aren’t enough to nourish your body. Add in things like chicken broth, chicken breast, and fish to help keep things balanced. Avoid nuts, whole grains, brown rice, and red meats.


24-48 hours before surgery, you’ll be put on a clear liquid diet. This means foods like clear broth, gelatin, hard candies, and electrolyte-rich drinks. Avoid anything with red coloring, as this can make it harder to spot polyps and tumors. 


A bowl of oatmeal, bananas, strawberries, nuts, and grains.

During recovery, be sure to eat foods containing fiber, as well as greek yogurt if you can tolerate lactose. If you have a meal delivery benefit, be sure to ask for foods high in fiber, along with lean, white meats and fish. You can find colon cancer friendly recipes here!

It takes more than a diet to stay healthy. A good health plan helps too! Here at MedicareInsurance.com, our licensed insurance agents can help connect you with a plan that meets your needs. Call us today at (800) 950-0608, or enter your zip code into our free comparison tool to begin your search.

About the Author

Austin Lang

Austin is dedicated to breaking down complex topics, like Medicare, in a way that's easy to understand. He graduated with an M.A. from Florida Atlantic University in 2018.

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