The good news: Overall colorectal cancer deaths have been declining in the United States, thanks to early detection, plus superior medication and treatment. The bad news: Colon cancer rates are up 17% among those under 50, an age group not typically screened for this deadly disease. Fortunately, there’s mounting evidence that certain foods may help to minimize colorectal inflammation, believed to precede the cancer itself. Most recently: Compounds found in bananas could help halt this process – reducing levels of inflammatory proteins by 57% , in one lab study.

This may help explain why preliminary research shows that frequent banana consumption may be linked to a 72% lower risk of colorectal cancer. In addition to inflammation-fighting phytochemicals, bananas’ fiber helps promote regularity. One large banana also provides 25% of your daily vitamin B6 — shown to help inhibit DNA breaks, and thus may reduce the kind of genetic “errors” which can lead to cancer.

What else to include in your colon-protection diet? Fresh pineapple, which could counter ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disorder which greatly increases colorectal cancer risk. Cruciferous veggies like cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts contain compounds which may disrupt colon cancer cell division. Eating these vegetables might even suppress tumor growth — even given a hereditary cancer risk, according to animal research.

For optimum protection, eat less red meat: Studies show those with a high meat intake were up to 40% more likely to develop colorectal cancer.

Bonus: Regular consumption of bananas in the first two years of life could significantly lower your child’s leukemia risk, shown in preliminary research.

Published August 1, 2009