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The Best Grains to Fight Cancer

If you’re like most people, you probably eat a good variety of bagels, pasta, and rice, but still only consume the equivalent of one whole grain item a day—far less than the current recommendation to eat at least three servings of whole grain foods each day. With the trend of limiting carbs, this is becoming even more difficult.

The news has been out for quite a while now: eat more fiber rich whole grains and enjoy better health. Consuming bran from whole grains reduces blood levels of LDL, (“bad” cholesterol), promotes healthy detoxification, regulates blood sugar, and prevents constipation and more serious bowel problems like diverticulitis and colon polyps. Lignans found in whole grains may also reduce the risk of breast and prostate cancer. Harvard University investigators found that physicians who consumed whole grain cereal every day lowered their risk of dying over the next several years from any kind of disease by 17%, while those who ate refined cereals, on the other hand, had no such protection! Why are whole grains so much better than their refined forms? Whole grains contribute vitamin E, magnesium, selenium, and zinc— nutrients that are lost forever during the refinement process and not added back when refined foods are enriched. Did you hear that? Refined, white flour products not only convert quickly to sugar, they don’t contain vital nutrients and potentially prompt cancer growth. 

Adding whole grains to your diet can be tricky business. “Rolled oats,” “multi-grain,” and “hearty wheat” are descriptors placed on food labels to help sell products to unsuspecting health-oriented consumers. Ignore the fancy names on the front of the package and look on the back (or side) at the ingredients listing. The first ingredient must be “whole wheat” or “whole grain” for the product to qualify as a whole grain food.

Instant oatmeal, instant brown rice, and vegetable pastas are three notorious grain products that make you think you’re eating healthier because they imply whole grain goodness. They are not healthy for you!

The easiest way to include more whole grains in your diet is to start your day with a hearty, high fiber breakfast cereal. Try Kashi for Good Friends or a natural raisin bran. These brands deliver at least six or more grams of fiber per serving. Steel cut oats are a nice choice too. As you make your way down the bread aisle, remember that brown isn’t necessarily better. Some manufacturers add caramel coloring or molasses to their breads to give them a deep brown color. 

Just as a side note, the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the Food and Drug Administration in January 2011 to ban two types of caramel coloring that react with ammonia, due to cancerous byproducts they contain known as 2-MEI and 4-MEI. This recommendation was based on studies published in 2003 and 2005 by the National Institutes of Health National Toxicology Program that showed the chemicals caused cancer in some mice and rats. 

The Nutrition Facts panel can help you decide which breads are best—look for a product that provides at least 3 grams of dietary fiber per serving and doesn’t contain caramel coloring. Finally, grab a high fiber snack like air-popped popcorn, whole grain crackers, or fruit and bran muffins. Combine all of these whole grain choices with a variety of fruits, vegetables, and legumes and you’ll be well on your way to getting the recommended 25 – 35 grams of dietary fiber per day.

For those of you who experience discomfort after eating high fiber foods, don’t give up. A group of researchers at the University of California found that over time, the bacteria in your digestive tract adapt to accommodate the increase in fiber and produce less gas. You can help to minimize gas and bloating by increasing your fiber intake slowly. Add an additional serving or two of fruits or vegetables, a few slices of whole grain bread, or ½ cup of beans each week. And don’t forget to drink more fluid too. Fiber holds water, making stools softer and easier to pass.

The best grains to fight cancer are any grains that offer whole-grain goodness! Choose more alternative grains like quinoa, millet, amaranth and buckwheat to round out your grain experience.

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