Do Grains Decrease Colon Cancer Risk?

Do Grains Decrease Colon Cancer Risk?

Q.  After doing some research, I have been trying to reduce my intake of grains. But the big thing in the news this week is a new study finding that fiber from grains reduces the risk of colon cancer and that fiber from fruits and veggies doesn’t have the same effect. Have you looked at this new research? Do you still recommend reducing grains?

A.  Just to be clear, I’m not anti-grain.  Although I suspect that most Americans consume an excessive amount of grain products (especially refined grains),  and I believe that grains are not essential to a healthy diet, I still think that a healthy diet can include grains (especially whole grains).

I have, however, questioned  the dogma on the “benefits of whole grains” on the basis that the research doesn’t really distinguish between the benefits of adding whole grains and the benefits of reducing refined grains. (The two virtually always go hand in hand.)

Does this new study change my position?   Not really.

The researchers still don’t address whether the “significant but modest” reduction in colon cancer risk is due to the increased fiber from grains or to the fact that people who eat more whole grains almost invariably eat fewer refined carbohydrates.  A diet that’s lower in refined carbohydrates will have a considerably lower glycemic load, a factor that’s been linked to reduced risk of colon cancer in other studies.

Perhaps the reason that fiber from fruits and vegetables was not similarly correlated to a change in colon cancer risk is that when people increase their intake of fruits and vegetables they don’t necessarily decrease their intake of refined grains the way they do when they increase their intake of whole grains.

If you wanted to hedge your bets, you could incorporate 3 servings of whole grains into your diet. That’s the level found to offer that  “modest” reduction in risk.  At three servings a day, you’d still be eating a fraction of the 6 to 11 servings of grains that the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend.

6 thoughts on “Do Grains Decrease Colon Cancer Risk?

  1. Thx for answering my question 🙂 I have been feeling much more energetic since I reduced my grain intake so I’m glad to hear your take on this new study.

  2. For what it is worth, I don’t think your stance on whole grains is that unconventional — just less simplistic. But I would like to to correct/clarify the DGA recommendation. In the 2010 DGA “6 – 11 servings of grains” is never mentioned. Rather, the range, scaled by Calories, is 5 oz for 1600 Calories up to 10 oz for 2800-3200 Calories. So, it could be 11 or more for extraordinarily active people, but most fall in the 6 – 8 oz range (1800-2400 Calories).

  3. In my opinion when someone, myself for instance, becomes interested enough in their good health to change from refined flour products to whole grain products they also become aware of how dire the effects of refined sugar products can be to their health. Resulting in a lesser consumption of all grains.

  4. I don’t buy the research. I think unless the research is specific it is just a vague thing to get people’s emotions going. I have stopped eating grains – about 90% and have no intention to go back. When I do eat grain, like when we dine out occasionally, I don’t feel good. Eating should always make you feel good. Eating grains (including corn) just isn’t pleasurable.

  5. Eric,

    You are correct that the 2010 guidelines don’t mention 6 – 11 servings of grain based foods per day, but prior to 2010 they did. In addition, the guidelines stated that you should eat AT LEAST the smallest number of servings from each food group in order to have good nutrition. Many people are still not familiar with the 2010 recommendations. I’m sure Monica is but those numbers are still stuck in LOTS of people’s heads…

    I don’t think I’ve ever eaten even six servings of grain-based foods in a day. I’d be as big as a house if I did!

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