Eating ‘Junk Food’ Can Raise Your Colon Cancer Risk


By Ibironke Taiwo. Freelance Health Writer, with medical review and editorial support from The DLHA Team

Colon cancer risk. Healthy vs junk food

Colon cancer risk, Healthy Vs Junk food




  • ‘Junk food’ is processed food that contains high levels of fats, salt or sugar, and lacks nutrients such as fibre, vitamins and minerals. Examples within the African context include instant noodles, sausages, burgers, red meat, pastries, fried chips (potato and plantain), fried dough, sugary beverages, etc.
  • Research has shown that junk food contain high levels of pro-inflammatory agents that cause colorectal cancer as well as other chronic diseases like obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, etc.
  • Avoiding alcohol and eating food that are high in vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants like fruits and vegetables daily can help to reduce your junk food intake and so reduce your colon cancer risk.





The relationship between junk or processed food and an increased risk of colon cancer is of great concern in the field of public health. These categories of foods are usually categorized by their high level of unhealthy nutritional factors such as unhealthy fat, sugar, and processed ingredients, all of which have been linked to the occurrence of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and colon cancer. 


Therefore, it is important to understand the impact of junk food on your colon. Keep reading as this conversation aims to explain what junk foods are, the link between junk food and colon cancer, and lifestyle factors that help limit the impact of junk food on your health.



What Is Junk Food?


According to a government public health website, 'junk food' is food that contains high levels of fats, salt or sugar, and lacks nutrients such as fibre, vitamins and minerals.

These kinds of foods hardly contain dietary fibres, proteins, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other important forms of high value nutritional products. The words “junk food” was adopted in Westen culture as far back as the 1950s.


People are likely to consume junk food food because it is quite common, convenient, easily accessible with attractive commercials and packaging, and often comes at relatively cheap prices. 


The following are examples of junk food with the African context.

  • Sugary breakfast cereals
  • Instant noodles
  • Sugary drinks
  • Candy, sweets and chocolates
  • Processed meat
  • Packaged snacks 
  • Burgers and pizzas
  • Cakes and biscuits
  • Alcoholic drinks
  • Snacks such as potato or plantain chips, etc.


It can be quite a difficult task to differentiate between healthy food and junk food, especially for foods in packs, but not to worry, all you need to do to know whether a food is junk or not is to:

  • Check the nutritional content, watching out for essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, fibre, and antioxidants, all of which are not present in junk food.
  • Watch the impact of the food on your health and note whether it is contributing to your digestive health and growth or not.
  • Check the ingredients used in making the food you eat. Healthy foods are usually minimally processed or unprocessed, which makes them able to retain their natural state and nutritional value. Junk food, on the other hand, undergoes processing and often contains additives, preservatives, colours, and artificial flavours.



What is the Link Between Junk Food and Colon Cancer?


First of all, you should understand the importance of your colon. The colon (ascending, transverse, and descending) is the largest part of the intestine of the digestive system. It helps to absorb water and electrolytes from partially digested food coming from the small intestine and carries the remaining waste, called stool (poop), to the rectum.


According to a study, colon cancer is known to be the second leading cause of cancer death worldwide, and diet, particularly ultra-processed food is a major risk factor. As a result of the high sugar, oil, preservatives and refined starch content of these foods, they alter the gut microbe composition in an unfavourable way, thereby contributing to the increased risk of weight gain and obesity. These conditions are also risk factors for colon cancer.


Apart from the poor nutritional value of junk food, they also contain some contents, like additives such as dietary emulsifiers and artificial sweeteners, which have been found to increase the pro inflammatory potential of the gut microbiome (a group of microbes such as bacteria that helps with digestion, destroys harmful bacteria, and helps control your immune system), thereby promoting colon cancer.


Still, from the same study, it was deduced that men who ate junk food more have a 29% higher risk of developing colon cancer compared to women. The reason for this is not known.



How Do You Know That You Have Colon Cancer?


The occurrence of colon cancer can be suspected from certain observations (signs and symptoms), such as:

  • Changes in bowel habits such as constipation or diarrhoea (passing loose stool)
  • Rectal bleeding with bright red blood
  • Blood in the stool
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss


It should be noted that the symptoms of colon cancer may not surface right away. Also, most of the symptoms can also be caused by other health problems such as haemorrhoids, infection, irritable bowel syndrome, or inflammatory bowel disease, which is why it is important to get checked up when any of these conditions occur to rule out cancer or seek treatment early.



Factors in Junk Food That May Increase Your Colon Cancer Risk


Unhealthy diet is considered to be one of the leading risk factors for colon cancer as a result of certain nutritional components.


Sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup found in soda drinks, candy, cereals, and packaged foods comes in the form of a complex sugar called disaccharides. These are broken down into simpler units called monosaccharide, a more suitable form of sugar for the body. Through this process, a large amount of sugar is able to enter the body. Excess sugar contributes to obesity, which is a significant risk factor for colon cancer.


Processed meat is classified as a carcinogen, an agent that promotes the development of cancer. Processed meats such as bacon, hot dogs, and meat spreads contain chemical additives and preservatives that are dangerous to the lining of your colon, thereby leading to inflammation and an increased risk of colon cancer.



Lifestyle and Dietary Factors You Can Change To Lower Your Colorectal Cancer Risk


The risk of colon cancer can be reduced by:

1. Consuming a healthy diet, such as foods rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. These contain the appropriate nutrients like vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are beneficial to your health and help reduce the risk of colon cancer.

2. Maintaining a healthy weight. Overweight, or obesity, is a risk factor for colon cancer; therefore, you should try as much as possible to maintain a healthy weight by consuming a balanced diet and engaging in regular exercise.

3. Reducing junk food consumption because of its high risk association with olon cancer causation.

4. Limiting alcohol intake and quitting smoking, as these two have been known as risk factors for different types of cancer, including colon cancer.

5. Engaging in regular physical activity to maintain a healthy weight.

6. Undertaking regular medical check-up. This can help detect any abnormality at an early stage, when treatment is most effective.



Practical Tips For Reducing Junk Food Consumption and Lowering Your Colon Cancer Risk


Being intentional about your diet and lifestyle can regulate and reduce your consumption of junk food and the risk of colon cancer. When this is coupled with consistency, you will achieve good dietary health. Below are some tips to help reduce junk food consumption.


1. Pay attention to the ingredients on food packages and ensure that you purchase foods low in sugar, saturated fats, and processed ingredients.

2. Eat African (high fibre, high carbs, high vegetables diet) and consume more home-cooked meals. Doing this will ensure that the ingredients in your food are controlled to suit your dietary requirements.

3. Stock up and consume healthy snacks such as fruits, nuts, yogurt, and vegetables.

4. Plan your meal; it wouldn’t be a bad idea to draft a timetable for your meal for the day. With this, the temptation to grab fast food or junk food can be avoided.

5. Replace your carbonated or sugary beverages with water, herbal teas, or infused water.




In view of the high risk association between junk food and colon cancer, the best way to curb colon cancer is to limit the consumption of junk food and substitute it with a healthy diet containing lean protein, whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. Also, adopting healthy lifestyles such as exercising, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, maintaining a healthy weight, and undertaking regular medical check-ups can help reduce your risk of colon cancer.



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2. Harvard School of Public Health. Drinking sugary beverages associated with colon cancer risk. [Internet. 2021 Aug. 20]. Accessed April 19, 2024. Available from:

3. Aleksandrova K, et al. Combined impact of healthy lifestyle factors on colorectal cancer: a large European cohort study. BMC Med. 2014 Oct 10;12:168. doi: 10.1186/s12916-014-0168-4. Available from:

4. Moore E. How to stop eating junk food:10 tips to control your cravings. Healthline. [October 12, 2017]. Accessed April 20, 2024. Available from:

5. Bouvard V, Loomis D, Guyton KZ, Grosse Y, Ghissassi FE, Benbrahim-Tallaa L, Guha N, Mattock H, Straif K; International Agency for Research on Cancer Monograph Working Group. Carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat. Lancet Oncol. 2015 Dec;16(16):1599-600. doi: 10.1016/S1470-2045(15)00444-1. Available from:

6. Datelinehealth Africa. Eat African and lower your colon cancer risk. [Internet. 2019 Sept. 7]. Accessed April 24, 2024]. Available from: 


Related Reading:

Colon cancer: Symptoms, Causes, Risk factors

Colon Cancer: Diagnosis and Treatment

Colon Cancer: Screening and Prevention

Eat African and drop your colon cancer risk



Published: April 24. 2024

Updated with more prevaence data: March 20, 2014

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