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13 Best Foods to Cleanse Your Colon

Not only will these foods help protect your gut—they’re all delicious and nutritious additions to your diet. Check out these wonderful foods that cleanse your colon.

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Do you need to cleanse your colon?

Colon cancer is on the rise in young people—a worrying trend that’s been climbing since the 1990s, according to the National Cancer Institute. Yet experts aren’t exactly sure why, especially because the overall number of cases of colon cancer is down 45 percent in this same timeframe. Yale Medicine reports that today, those under 55 are almost 60 percent more likely to develop the disease. And by 2030, researchers expect colon cancer to be the number one cause of death for people ages 20 to 49. 

“We think the environment, including a worsening diet, is playing a role in this increase,” says Michael A. Valente, DO, a colorectal surgeon at Cleveland Clinic. Still, story after story of younger, healthy people facing colon cancer diagnoses—like this 34-year-old mom, this 24-year-old post-grad, and this 42-year-old yoga instructor—have prompted medical authorities to update guidelines. The US. Preventive Services Task Force lowered the recommendation for colorectal cancer screening to age 45, and Yale Medicine doctors advise that people as young as 20 understand the colon cancer warning signs. (And here’s what women should know about colon cancer symptoms.)

Exotic blends of herbal teas, saltwater flushes, and detoxing supplements all promise to cleanse your colon of toxins and waste, reducing your risk of colon cancer. But the Mayo Clinic explains that there’s no evidence these colon cleansing products do anything beneficial—and they may even have harmful effects like dehydration, infection, and rectal tears. The reasoning is simple: a healthy colon cleanses itself naturally. So, while you don’t need a magic elixir to clear waste from your body, the right foods in your diet can promote long-lasting colon health

While you’ve got your shopping list out, make sure to add these foods experts say lower your diabetes risk

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Your diet can cleanse your colon naturally

Though your small intestine does the heavy lifting when it comes to digesting food, the colon’s function is to suck all the moisture out of that food, Dr. Valente says. “Your colon draws the water back into your system to hydrate you,” he adds. It also stores and helps eliminate waste—and for it to be healthy, you need to put the right foods in, Dr. Valente says. The American Cancer Society agrees, pointing to studies that link diets high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains with a decreased risk of colon cancer

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Cooked brown rice Quinoa bowl, selective focusvm2002/Shutterstock

Load up on quinoa and brown rice

Your focus should be on whole foods that are as close to the state in which Mother Nature made them. Minimally processed whole grains like brown rice, oats, and quinoa, are a great place to start, says Dr. Valente. These are packed with fiber, which is why they’re among the top foods that cleanse your colon eating three servings daily lowers colorectal cancer risk by 17 percent, per a 2017 report from the Harvard T Chan School of Public Health.

A 2020 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reinforces this finding, adding that  the fiber found in whole grains is strongly tied to a lower colon cancer risk.

The great grain debate: quinoa or rice? Here’s what experts want you to know

collection set of beans, legumes, peas, lentils on ceramic bowl on white wooden backgroundAmawasri Pakdara/Shutterstock

Add beans and lentils

Legumes like beans and lentils are also loaded with fiber. People who eat the most fiber from vegetable sources like legumes are 35 percent less likely to have colon polyps—a small clump of cells in the lining of the colon that can develop into cancer—compared to those who eat the least. These legumes may also contain cancer-protective phytochemicals, researchers say. And you can keep things simple by stocking your pantry with canned beans. They’re one of the top canned foods nutritionists themselves buy (along with these 8 other canned products experts recommend, plus two to avoid).

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Supplement with chia

Eating just 2 tablespoons of chia seeds will give you a whopping 10 grams of fiber, as much as 40 percent of your daily needs. (Aim for 25 to 35 grams daily, advises Dr. Valente.) There’s a reason why you want to hit this mark: “Fiber moves stool through your colon and brings toxic chemicals and other substances like cholesterol out of your system,” he explains. Nutrients within fiber may also affect the colon on a cellular level to guard against disease. Check out these other 5 superseeds you should include in your diet.

Assortment of cabbages on old wood backgroundKaraidel/Shutterstock

Load up on broccoli, cauliflower, and kale

Talk about foods that cleanse your colon: some of the best sources of fiber come in veggie form. One study found that eating a serving of cooked green veggies lowered colon cancer risk by 24%. Since it’s not always practical to track fiber by the gram, an easier method is to make sure two-thirds of your plate comes from fiber-rich veggie sources like broccoli, cauliflower, and kale, says Dr. Valente—and learn more about why you should eat them raw.

Fresh salmon steak, lemon, black peppercorn and dill on concrete table. Top view. Scandinavian ingredients for cooking. Overhead view. MasterQ/Shutterstock

Fill up on salmon, sardines, and trout

For people who have colorectal cancer, those who increased their intake of omega-3 from fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and trout had a lower risk of mortality compared to those who avoid fish, finds research published in the journal Gut. This is because omega 3 fats may stop cancer cell growth and even promote the death of colon cancer cells.

Ever wonder if some types of salmon are better for you than others? Dieticians point to your healthiest options.

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Eat more walnuts

Not only do walnuts supply a couple grams of fiber per ounce (14 halves), but they also contain omega-3 fatty acids in the form of alpha-linolenic acid, which is why Dr. Valente recommends them among the foods that cleanse your colon. Animal research suggests that walnut consumption breeds a healthier gut environment and may reduce the development of cancerous colon tumors. There are also plenty of other health benefits of walnuts you’ll get from eating them.

Greek yogurt in a bowl, downward view with cloth and spoon on a white marbleJeniFoto/Shutterstock

Dish up yogurt

Fermented dairy products like yogurt pack gut-healthy probiotics—and regular consumption is tied to a lowered risk of colon cancer, according to a 2022 review of studies published in Frontiers in Nutrition. Bonus: The probiotics—healthy bacteria—can also help decrease some of the gas associated with eating beans and cruciferous veggies, says Dr. Valente. If you can’t eat dairy, try these probiotic-rich food picks instead or check out this probiotic supplement nutrition pros love..

A small white plate of fried bacon strips on a white painted background.Glenn Price/Shutterstock

The worst foods for your colon

The things you cut from your diet will help protect your colon as well. The American Cancer Society points to red meats like beef, pork, and lamb and processed foods like hot dogs, bacon, and lunch meats with an increased risk of colon cancer.: If you want to include animal protein in your diet, stick to poultry and fish. As for alcohol? Dr. Valente recommends sticking to a drink a day to maintain colon health. 

Ground psyllium in clear capsules is taken as a dietary fiber supplement. At certain dose levels this all natural supplement is taken as a cholesterol reducer.David Smart/Shutterstock

It’s OK to supplement

Don’t expect a colon cleansing supplement to keep your colon in great shape—but a fiber supplement may do the trick. Supplements never make up for a lousy diet, but it can help you maximize your fiber intake if you’re struggling to do so from food alone. Dr. Valente says to just check in with your doctor and make sure you’re also eating vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. (Check out 30 ways to get more fiber into your diet without even trying.)

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Go slow

If you’ve decided to  eat more fiber, add it to your diet gradually, warns Dr. Valente. “The breakdown of food in your colon produces bacteria that release gas,” he says. That can translate to uncomfortable gas and bloating and frequent bowel movements. The experience can be so unpleasant that some people give up on their healthy choices altogether. Start by adding a high-fiber serving of, say, veggies a day for a week; then go up to two a day. Note that you’ll also need to drink more water as you eat more fiber, according to the Cleveland Clinic. If you’re adding a fiber supplement, start with one teaspoon daily; after two weeks, take two teaspoons daily; after a month, you can take the entire suggested serving. Your gut will thank you. Next, find out the health secrets your gut is trying to tell you.

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Sources
People: Michael A. Valente, DO, a colorectal surgeon at Cleveland Clinic Websites: National Cancer Institute: “Why Is Colorectal Cancer Rising Rapidly among Young Adults?” Yale Medicine: “Colorectal Cancer: What Gen-Xers and Millennials Need to Know” UC Health: “Colonoscopies now recommended starting at age 45. As colon cancer in young people increases, a young survivor urges others to act fast” Today: “'How the heck do I have colon cancer at 24?': Man shares story to raise awareness” US Preventive Services Task Force: “Colorectal Cancer: Screening” Mayo Clinic: “Is colon cleansing a good way to eliminate toxins from your body?” American Cancer Society: “Six Ways to Lower Your Risk for Colorectal Cancer” American Insitute for Cancer Research: “New Report Finds Whole Grains Lower Colorectal Cancer Risk, Processed Meat Increases Risk” Mayo Clinic: “Colon Polyps” Cleveland Clinic: “​​Improving Your Health With Fiber”    Journals: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Whole grain and dietary fiber intake and risk of colorectal cancer in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study cohort” (2020) Nutrition and Cancer: “Foods and Food Groups Associated With the Incidence of Colorectal Polyps: The Adventist Health Study” (2011)  Gut: “Marine ω-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid intake and survival after colorectal cancer diagnosis” (2017) Cancer Prevention Research: “Effects of Walnut Consumption on Colon Carcinogenesis and Microbial Community Structure” (2016) Frontiers in Nutrition: “Higher Yogurt Consumption Is Associated With Lower Risk of Colorectal Cancer: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies” (2022)

Jessica Migala
Jessica Migala is a freelance health and fitness writer with more than a decade experience reporting on wellness trends and research. She's contributed to Health, Men's Health, Family Circle, Woman's Day, and O, The Oprah Magazine, among other publications. Jessica lives with her husband and two young sons in the Chicago suburbs.
Leslie Finlay
In addition to The Healthy, Leslie has written for outlets such as WebMd.com, Fodors.com, LiveFit.com, and more, specializing in content related to healthcare, nutrition, mental health and wellness, and environmental conservation and sustainability. She holds a master's degree in Public Policy focused on the intersection between public health and environmental conservation, and an undergraduate degree in journalism. Leslie is based in Thailand, where she is a marine conservation and scuba diving instructor. In her spare time you'll find her up in the air on the flying trapeze or underwater, diving coral reefs.