Nutrition Articles

The Unbounded Power of Whole Grains

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Using a new method, researchers have discovered that whole grains like corn, whole wheat, oats and brown rice can have as much–or more–antioxidant, anti-cancer activity as vegetables and fruits. Previously, the antioxidant potential of whole grains was underestimated because scientists did not know how to measure it.

In the past, fiber was considered the primary health benefit of whole grains. But now it appears that the antioxidants in whole grains are just as important. In fact, the combination of antioxidants, fiber and other natural substances in whole grains may work together to give you even greater health protection.

Bound to Be Healthful
For years, scientists have been measuring the antioxidant power of natural plant substances called phytochemicals. But they concentrated on the "free" form of these substances. These phytochemicals dissolve easily and are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. The phytochemicals in vegetables and fruits are mostly of this kind.

But researcher Rui Hai Liu, M.D., Ph.D., and his colleagues at Cornell University have now found that the majority of antioxidants in whole grains occur in a "bound" form. These phytochemicals are attached to the walls of plant cells and do not enter the bloodstream until they are released by intestinal bacteria.

The difference in antioxidant composition between vegetables and fruits and whole grains is dramatic. Dr. Liu and his colleagues found that the "free" form of one major class of phytochemicals made up 76 percent of the total amount present in common vegetables. In whole grains, on the other hand, the "free" phytochemicals accounted for less than 1 percent of the total. Ninety-nine percent were in the "bound" form.

A Whole Big Difference
The key to the cancer-fighting potential of whole grains may lie in their wholeness. Each whole grain is composed of three parts: endosperm, bran and germ. When wheat—or any grain—is refined, the bran and germ are normally removed. Although these two parts make up only 15 to 17 percent of the weight of whole wheat grains, most of the protective phytochemicals are in them, as well as the fiber.

Dr. Liu, whose work has been funded by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), believes that his findings may partially explain why diets high in whole grains can help reduce the incidence of colon cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

More importantly, his findings reinforce the need to eat a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans for good health. Different plant foods have different phytochemicals. These substances go to different organs, tissues and cells, where they perform different functions. To ward off disease, your body needs this teamwork produced by eating an abundant assortment of plant foods.

For more information on how you can lower your risk of one cancer associated with whole grain consumption, order AICR’s free brochure Reducing Your Risk of Colorectal Cancer , by calling 1-800-843-8114, ext. 111.

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About The Author

The American Institute for Cancer Research The American Institute for Cancer Research
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is a charity that has contributed more than $70 million for research on diet and cancer. AICR educates Americans how to make dietary changes to lower their cancer risk.

Member Comments

  • Love whole grain bread. Thanks for the article. - 9/14/2013 9:26:37 AM
  • There is a typo in Azure below; the correct address is www.azurestandard
    .com. - 8/19/2012 9:11:06 PM
  • You have to go with USDA certified organic grain in order to get most of the health benefits . . . for example, selenium which is scientifically proven to have a positive impact against cancer, and is touted to be found in grain, IS NOT in conventional grain - it's so reduced in conventional grain as to be insignificant.

    Grains WERE the perfect food . . . before manufacturing plants made processed foods out of them, and before man messed with them genetically and otherwise.

    Don't eat processed foods, because regardless of whether or not they're made with whole wheat or whole grains they are nutritional trash. And don't eat conventional grains.

    To get reasonable prices on organic grains without growing your own, order in bulk from Azure Standard, www.azurrestandar
    d.com. Learn to cook from scratch instead of eating processed foods (this is a process), learn to grind your own flour from whole grains (this is super easy, just google it there are a million bloggers who will show you how), and bake your own bread from scratch (again this is fast and easy once you get the hang of it and there are a million bloggers who will love to show you how, they already right at this moment have instructions and even videos on their blogs for you to teach you how) - THEN and only then is it healthy bread, healthy oatmeal, healthy whole grains, etc. It's easier and faster than you think. Just another lifestyle change to navigate, and one that is well worth it. You will never go back to eating nutritional trash again.

    Remember the divided plate, and to reduce carbs. No I did NOT say low carb. By and large we eat way too much carbs, and can reduce them significantly by half or more, and still be eating more than the recommended amount of carbs. Too much homemade from scratch with organic grains bread, is STILL bad. Follow the divided plate, and increase your consumption of non-starchy veggies and low-sugar fruit. Everything in moderation . . . even organic whole grains. - 8/19/2012 9:07:34 PM
  • SANDIBETTS1
    Thanks for sharing comments--great insight from some and some great ideas. - 5/26/2012 8:07:45 AM
  • They need all those antioxidants to make up for the facts that:

    (1) the insoluble fiber causes too much cell turnover in your colon and what's one of the KNOWN risk factors for cancer? Increased cell turnover; and

    (2) That colon irritation on top of the gluten in the grain is why so many people are miserable with gluten intolerance, celiac disease in particular being *another* risk factor for colon cancer; and

    (3) All that starch that turns so quickly to sugar in the body is the perfect feeder for cancer cells, and the insulin surge you get along with it encourages tumor growth.

    Or you could, you know, stop stressing out your body so much and then you wouldn't need the extra antioxidants. By the way, eating fruits and vegetables (which are *also* carb foods) gives you more nutrition for the same gram weight, AND fiber as well. Plus berries, melons, cruciferous and leafy veggies tend to be much lower in starch and sugar. - 6/25/2011 10:46:17 AM
  • Important news for the gluten intolerant... that brown, black and red rice and oatmeal... is lookin mighty good right now!

    : ) - 6/25/2011 10:31:09 AM
  • contamintion of grains is a scarey thought . mold can will make you very ill . we have to be more careful of use of storing our food supply . - 8/30/2010 1:08:36 PM
  • JAY75REY
    This is certainly good news! - 8/30/2010 1:49:20 AM
  • I love whole grain breads and cereals. Oatmeal is my favorite. Great artical. - 7/8/2010 9:25:55 AM
  • TRAVELSUMMER makes an interesting point regarding mycotoxins dangers and carcinogenic properties. Also, I've been thnking about human consumption of grain from an Anthropoligcal perspective. Human consumption of grain has only been in practice for 10-12,000 years. Before then we ate fruit/vegetabels, meat, and nuts. To be honest, considering the mycotoxin concern and mass instance of celiac disease (gluten intolerance), why shoudln't we all consider a grain free diet? After all, unless your medical doctor provides you with a personal analysis of the bacteria present in your digesitve track, how do you know your body is actually designed to digest grains and take advantage of those "bound-antioxidan
    ts"? - 12/18/2009 3:17:56 PM
  • TRAVELSUMMER
    From what I read in German news media, about 2/3 of the world's grains are contaminated with mycotoxins (mold) at a high level. They just decided to lower acceptable levels in the EU, the US levels are still high, but they can't enforce it anyway. Fresh fruit and vegetables are so much better than grains, I'd be very cautious about eating a lot of grains.
    And yes, mycotoxins are just as dangerous as pesticides, and they do cause cancer (DNA damage), so what are they thinking at this cancer society?? - 12/18/2009 9:48:35 AM
  • Steel Cut Oats are best. - 10/5/2009 2:17:22 AM
  • Great article. It solidifies that whole grains are all around good for you. - 6/9/2009 2:28:12 PM
  • I try to eat all these grains. I love whole wheat bread, oat meal, brown rice, barley,
    I grew up with all this. Then also how can I post what I make in my own kitchen so that I can post the correct amount I eat. I don't go out to eat in all those restaurants mentioned in my nutrition tracker . what can I do? - 2/23/2009 12:01:15 AM
  • I love the steel cut oats. Also like to make my own 7 grain bread, but it is too hard to limit the amount I eat. And oh, what about the butter I want!!! - 1/28/2009 10:06:25 PM

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