One of the odd things I've learned during my time working on a health-focused magazine is people sometimes like to read about certain things but they won't tell you they like reading about them.

I'm thinking, specifically, about poo.

Everyone will read a story called: "What your poo says about you".

When it comes to things poo-related, we are all a bit squeamish. We probably need to get over it, if we are going to do better at beating our most common cancer. Bowel cancer kills as many Kiwis as breast and prostate cancers combined - more than 100 people each month, four times the road toll.


New Zealand has the highest rate of bowel cancer and bowel cancer death in the developed world. This is even more tragic when we know it is curable in more than 75 per cent of cases, if caught early.

My father was one of those who caught it early and as a result he's alive and kicking - and cancer-free - today.

His diagnosis, though, means my sister and I need to be extra vigilant. We need to be on the lookout for any odd symptoms in the poo department, and take care with how we eat and live.

There's a strong link between diet and our risk of bowel cancer. Eating well can put the odds in our favour. It makes sense that a healthy plant-based diet is a good baseline. Fibre is important - not only plenty of it, but a good range, too.

One of the problems with the current trend of giving up grains (hello, Paleo people) is the risk of limiting the range of fibre. Veges are great, but we need the different types of fibre from whole grains, beans and legumes. They all perform different important tasks in our guts.

I've heard cancer experts point to our love of red meat as one reason for New Zealand's high bowel cancer rate. Although not the sole reason, for some of us, this will be worth looking at.

There is a link, as reported by the World Cancer Research Fund, between high intakes of red and processed meat and an increased risk of colorectal cancer.

The WCRF recommends we consume no more than 500g of cooked red meat per week.

New Zealanders on average eat about 400g a week.

To stick to that level, keep the portions down (around 125g per serve is recommended) and include meat-free days in the week. And cut back on bacon, ham and salami. Keep an eye on your alcohol, get some exercise and you're on the right track.

Lastly, don't be squeamish: if you notice anything weird like pain, blood, or a change in your bowel motions over several weeks without returning to normal, get it checked. Sitting on your symptoms could be fatal.

Niki Bezzant is editor-in-chief of Healthy Food Guide magazine.