Other research from the Nurses’ Health Study looked at the link between intact grains and heart disease. Women who reported eating the most intact grain foods, an average of 2.5 servings a day, were 30 percent less likely to develop heart disease than women eating the fewest, about 1 serving a week. Most of the whole grain came from whole-grain breakfast cereals, brown rice, and whole-grain bread. We estimated that eating a bowl of cold breakfast cereal that supplies about 5 grams of ﬁber cuts the chances of heart disease by about one-third. The protective eﬀect was larger in overweight women than it was in lean women. These beneﬁts have also been seen consistently in other long-term studies of heart disease.
THEY IMPROVE GI HEALTH, TOO
Constipation is the number one gastrointestinal complaint in the United States. It accounts for more than two million physician visits a year, and we spend close to $1 billion a year on over-the-counter laxatives. By keeping the stool soft and bulky, the ﬁber in intact grains helps prevent this troubling problem. Two other common GI problems are diverticulosis, the development of tiny, easily irritated pouches inside the colon, and diverticulitis, the often painful inﬂammation of these pouches. Fiber from cereals, as well as from fruits and vegetables, adds bulk to the stool and softens it. Together, these actions decrease pressure inside the intestinal tract and help prevent diverticular disease.
learn more: REFINED GRAINS VS. INTACT GRAINS
UNCERTAIN EFFECTS ON CANCER
Although a number of early studies suggested that whole- grain consumption reduces the chances of developing mouth, stomach, colon, gallbladder, and ovarian cancer, later and larger ones haven’t borne this out. If whole grains ultimately turn out to provide some protection against colon cancer, ﬁber probably isn’t the reason. Recent analyses from the Nurses’ Health Study, the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, and a compilation of large cohort studies from around the world showed that men and women with the highest ﬁber intake did not have lower risks of colon cancer.
Even if whole-grain, high-ﬁber foods have no eﬀect on cancer, their impact on heart disease and diabetes is reason enough to eat grains in this form instead of their stripped- down counterparts.
HOW DO WHOLE GRAINS DO THIS?
It may be almost impossible to isolate the ingredient or ingredients in whole grains that reduce the risks of heart disease and diabetes. A few contenders, though, have been identiﬁed. The ﬁber in whole grains delays absorption of glucose and eases the workload for the insulin-making cells in the pancreas. Fiber helps lower cholesterol levels in the blood. It may also rev up some of the body’s natural anticoagulants and help prevent the formation of small blood clots that trigger heart attacks or strokes. Antioxidants like vitamin E in whole grains prevent cholesterol-containing low-density lipids from reacting with oxygen, a key early step toward the formation of cholesterol-clogged arteries. Phytoestrogens, or plant estrogens, may protect against some cancers. The bran layer of many grains contains essential minerals such as magnesium, selenium, copper, and manganese that may be important in reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
SEPARATING THE WHEAT FROM THE CHAFF
Exactly what is a whole-grain food? This shouldn’t be a trick question, but it is. Part of the problem is our lack of knowledge about the foods we eat. The other is that food makers, eager to promote any health beneﬁts that might sell their products, jumped on the ﬁber/whole-grain bandwagon several years ago and haven’t gotten oﬀ. Stroll the aisles of your favorite grocery store and you’ll see what we mean. General Mills Total is a whole-grain breakfast cereal, Quaker Puﬀed Wheat isn’t. Nabisco Triscuits and Wheat Thins are whole-grain crackers, while Nabisco Wheatsworth crackers are mostly reﬁned wheat. (While you are checking ingredients, be on the lookout for trans fats. These can aﬀect the beneﬁts of whole grains.)
learn more: FAT SUBSTITUTES
Don’t Be Fooled by the Low-Carb Frenzy
Will the low-carb fad truly help people lose weight and keep it off? Will it lead to long-term health? I can’t really say. But one thing is for certain: It has thinned the wallets of those caught up by it and fattened the bank accounts of those seeking to cash in on it.
Food companies and entrepreneurs are rushing to introduce new products before the fad ﬁzzles. You can buy low-carb bread, bagels, cereal, pasta, ice cream, chocolate bars, and beer. There are more than one hundred books and two monthly magazines to teach you how to follow the low-carb lifestyle. Some restaurants list the carbohydrate content of their menu items (though hardly any list what you really need to know—calories). You can even take a low-carb cruise! By one estimate, Americans buy more than one billion dollars worth of branded, low- carb products per year.
And that’s without the blessing of the FDA, which hasn’t been keen on allowing food companies to use the term “low carb” on food labels because it hasn’t been precisely deﬁned. This hasn’t stopped savvy marketers, who bypass this roadblock with terms like “carb smart,” “carb friendly,” and “net carbs.”
Some so-called low-carb products are ones we have been eating for years that are naturally low in carbohydrates, such as salad dressings and peanut butter, dressed up with new labels. Others have been engineered or reformulated to carry fewer digestible carbohydrates. Companies do this in several ways. They can replace reﬁned wheat ﬂour with ﬁber, soy protein, or lower- carbohydrate, higher-protein soy ﬂour; replace sugar with less digestible sugar alcohols, such as sorbitol; or add more fat.
These changes aren’t necessarily bad, although there’s some question about the long-term effects of eating large amounts of sugar alcohols, which are sometimes used as laxatives. But they can be misleading. Many consumers