Another Reason to Keep Eating Whole Grains

November 15, 2011 in Diabetes, fiber, Whole Grains by Joyce Bunderson

Did you know that there are still lots of unanswered questions regarding the benefits of fiber in the diet as related to colorectal cancer? It’s certainly an issue worth understanding; as colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer – accounting for about 9.7% of all cases of cancer – about 1.2 million new cases annually. Science has figured out a couple of things about colorectal cancer; one of the biggest is that its risk factors are environmental – that is caused by what we eat, drink, and how we exercise. It’s pretty clear to scientist that red meat, processed meat and alcohol are convincing dietary risk factors for colorectal cancer. But the dietary fiber as related to colorectal cancer question has been bouncing around for decades.

Researchers from England and Holland conducted a new study.  (They collaborated between Imperial College London, the University of Leeds, and Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands.)  It was published in the British Medical Journal. This study provided more specific answers to questions about fiber and colorectal cancer. The researchers evaluated data that included over 1.7 million participants from 21 major studies. With such large numbers the researchers had the statistical power to clarify a number of questions that have been perplexing researchers in past studies. One of the principal questions that needed to be answered was if different types of fiber are associated with colorectal cancer risk.

It is so nice when a journal publishes the entire article with all the citation links for free to the public. You can read the entire report at the BMJ link. You may not be a science/statistics geeks like Vic (Dr. Grandpa) and I are, so I’ll tell you in a very brief way what they learned and what matters to you in your real life.

The bottom line is that; as related to colorectal cancer, this huge review of research found a lower risk of colorectal cancer and the intake of dietary fiber, cereal fiber and whole grains. They did not find significant statistical evidence for the lower risk from fruit, vegetables, or legumes. The researchers found an 18% increased risk of colorectal cancer in those who consumed less than ten grams a day of dietary fiber. In addition, they found that for each 10 additional grams of fiber in the diet, that 18% risk of colorectal cancer dropped 10 percent.

Having read the preceding paragraph, I hope you won’t stop eating fruits, vegetables and legumes. Keep eating them, as there are other components in these foods, in addition to fiber’s role as related to colorectal cancer. Don’t forget that dietary fiber is not just about colorectal cancer; it is important, but not the whole fiber story. Numerous other studies (see the citations in the BMJ link) have found a relationship of fiber to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease; Type 2 diabetes; infectious and respiratory diseases; weight management and some other cancers. In addition, higher intakes of dietary fiber and whole grains also protect against weight gain (see 2003 Harvard study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition).

What to do?

  • Cut back on the volume and frequency of consumption of red meat and processed meats.
  • Include whole grains in your diet daily.
  • In addition to whole grains, choose other fiber-rich whole foods more often to reap significant healthbenefits.
  • Learn to identify food processors that are using processed grains (enriched flour, wheat flour, unbleached flour, rice flour – to name a few common impoverished sources of grain). Learn to see through their trickery in making it appear that they use whole grain, when they just add a little – or none -- into the processed mix.  Be aware when they add cheap processed fiber, rather than the natural fiber in whole grains, to sway you to accept their products.
  • Add up a day or two of the foods you consume to discover if you’re getting enough fiber in your diet. Use this free fiber calculator.
  • Since some whole grains take longer to cook than processed grains, cook a batch and store in the freezer or refrigerator, depending upon when you will use it. We frequently eat brown rice; so it’s almost always in the refrigerator. Scoop into a microwaveable dish and heat – fast as minute rice – use the same process for wheat berries. Pre-cooked wheat berries are especially versatile in adding to salads, soups, and casseroles; but, you are much more likely to use it when you have pre-cooked, even frozen a batch. Then you can get at it quickly when you need it.

If you shun processed foods, choose only whole grains, and eat lots of fruits and vegetables, it’s easy to get plenty of fiber in your diet without taking any fiber supplements. The benefits of supplemental fiber are still questionable, as the research looked at natural fiber found in whole foods, not processed supplement fiber. I calculated one of my days using the free fiber calculator linked above and discovered that I had eaten over 32 grams. Note: a man’s fiber would likely be even higher, as they generally eat larger servings than I would. Interestingly, the positive effects of the BMJ review were found with real whole grains; not impoverished grains with added fiber. Brown rice, popped corn, whole wheat, barley, quinoa, oats, corn, and rye are only some of the choices. It is worth the effort to begin replacing the processed grains in your diet. Begin using whole grains today; you’ll be surprised how delicious whole wheat muffins, pancakes, oatmeal and brown rice are.