Just eat it: yet more evidence that food beats supplements

Somehow as we increased our knowledge about nutrition over time , we ended up linking certain foods with specific nutrients. Whole grains became all about fibre, fish about omega-3s, protein foods about protein itself, and citrus about vitamin C. For instance, fibre, omega-3 and vitamin C supplements and protein powder mistakenly became synonymous with the foods themselves. But as nutrition science has evolved, we now know that there’s much more to foods than single nutrients.

Whole grains are a perfect example. While different whole grains may offer assorted types of fibre with a variety of benefits, such as soluble fibre for lowering blood cholesterol and regulating blood sugar and insoluble fibre for regularity, these little nuggets of goodness offer so much more. Besides the vitamins and minerals contained, they also supply a range of phytonutrients, such as saponins, lignans, phytosterols and tocotrienols, to name a few.

Put them all together in one package and you end up with an array of disease-fighting weapons as they provide actions such as anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Whole grains have been linked to protection against ills such as colon cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

But many believe that the whole grain-cancer protection comes down to consuming dietary fibre leading many to think that simply taking fibre capsules or supplements is an easy replacement for the food.
That’s not the case.

In recent research, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, scientists investigated whole grain and dietary fiber intake and risk of colorectal cancer in a large U.S. study of 478,994 US adults, aged 50 to 71 years. The study subjects were followed over a period of 16 years and when the investigators first examined the data after five years, they found no association between whole grains and colon cancer. But after 15 years, there was a definite link.

Those who ate the most whole grains compared to those who consumed the least had a 16% lower risk of these cancers. Dietary fibre (that’s fibre from all sources) didn’t show any benefit however the fibre from whole grains did offer protection. There may be interactions between the fibre and other compounds found in whole grains that might contribute to a defense against the disease.

The scientists also point out that since whole grains are linked to easier weight management and a decreased risk of diabetes, this may also play a role here.

Not all whole grains are equal
While swapping whole grains for refined ones offers a range of health perks, you can up your game even further by selecting less processed whole grain choices. Opting for more intact grain selections, such as whole oats instead of instant oats or whole grain bread made with coarse grains over finely milled, may supply blood sugar benefits. These minimally processed grain products have a lower glycemic index and lead to improved blood sugar regulation.

If you’re ready to expand your whole grain horizons, check out the Oldways Whole Grains Council website for the scoop on whole grain basics from what they are, basic cooking techniques, recipes and health studies.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Categories: Food Trends, Nutrition News, Whole Foods

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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