Do phytates fight cancer?

Jennie writes:

“I read a book on plant-based diets that which cliams that the phytates in whole grains kill cancer cells. Do whole grains really fight cancer?”

Ironic, isn’t it? In some corners of the nutrition world, the phytates in grains and legumes are reviled as “anti-nutrients.” In other circles, they are heralded as cancer killers.

In fact, both are true. Phytic acid in nuts, whole grains and legumes can bind to minerals like calcium and magnesium and reduce absorption of these minerals.  This effect can be greatly diminished by soaking, sprouting, or cooking these foods. But if you’re not soaking or sprouting your grains, don’t worry.  It’s unlikely to lead to mineral deficiencies.

In fact, the health benefits of phytic acid from whole grains and legumes appear to be much more significant than any downside.  In addition to building strong bones, lowering cholesterol, and removing heavy metals from your body, phytates may help prevent cancer (colon cancer in particular).

It’s worth pointing out that there are a lot of things that kill cancer cells.  But killing cancer cells in a petri dish and impeding the progression of cancer in a living organism are two entirely different things. Phytates are not effective chemotherapy. But they have been found to reduce the effects of actual chemotherapy in cancer patients.

Probiotic Tea: Is this for real?

Josh writes:

Tea with probiotcsThis Thanksgiving, my grandmother had a lemon ginger tea from Bigelow, which had probiotics in it. I was surprised to see a dry tea that did not need refrigeration but still claimed to have probiotic properties. The tea was delicious. Even if the probiotic element might be questionable, would it be harmful to consume the tea anyway?


A. Probiotics are hot these days and adding some to your product is a sure way to increase sales. But does tea made from these tea bags contain any beneficial bacteria?

Actually, it does! Bigelow has selected a special strain of probiotic known as Bacillus coagulans. This particular strain is highly tolerant to heat as well as extremes in pH balance. As a result, it can survive both boiling water and stomach acid!

OK, so the bugs actually make it to your gut. But do they do anything for you once they get there? Possibly, yes.

Consuming bacillus coagulans on a daily basis may have positive effects on digestive function, including reduced gas and bloating after meals. (Ginger’s not bad at this, either.)  The probiotics might also have modest anti-inflammatory and immune-stimulating properties–although these have not been linked to any specific health outcomes such as a reduced risk of colds.

The tea is certainly safe to consume and the probiotics might add some modest benefits above and beyond the herbs. Enjoy it in good health!

Onyx Sorghum: Superfood or Nutrient Zapper?

Photo by Jennifer Blackburn for the National Sorghum Producers

Q. I’ve been seeing ads for Onyx Sorghum, specifically its use in certain cereals. This supposed “miracle” grain apparently contains a lot of antioxidants. However it looks like the high tannin content might affect iron absorption. Could this whole grain fit into a healthy and balanced diet or might it do more harm than good?

A. Sorghum is a whole grain that we’ve hearing more about lately.  Onyx (or black) sorghum is a special type of sorghum that is a dark red or black color intead of the usual pale beige.  It was created by plant geneticists at Texas A&M, who used traditional cross-breeding techniques and not genetic modification to create the richly hued grain.

As with berries and other plants, the pigment that gives onyx sorghum its distinctive color also happens to be rich in antioxidants. However, some of those antioxidants are in the form of tannins, bitter compounds that are also found in tea, coffee, wine, and other plants.  Tannins, in addition to acting as antioxidants can interfere with the absorption of iron and other minerals. Do the benefits outweigh the potential downsides?


Continue reading “Onyx Sorghum: Superfood or Nutrient Zapper?” >

Is the 30-Day Nutrition Upgrade Right For Me?

Still not sure whether the 30-Day Nutrition Upgrade program is for you? Here are answers to some of the questions I got about the program this week. If others are wondering, maybe you are too! And if you have a question that I haven’t answered here, feel free to email me.

Q. I can’t make the live kickoff session. Can I watch it the next day?

Q. I’m not ready to start the program right now. Can I just register when I’m ready to start and watch the recording then?

Q. I have a vacation/work trip/special celebration coming up.  Won’t this interfere?

Q.  I live in Europe/England/Australia/etc.  Is the program geared around things only available in the States or is it suitable globally?

Q. What foods do I have to give up to succeed with this program?

Q. My diet is already pretty healthy. What do I have to gain from this program?

Q. I’m pregnant/breast-feeding. Would it be safe for me to do this challenge? Will I have trouble getting the calories I need?

Q. I’m vegan/vegetarian. Will this program work for me?

Q. Can I do the challenge if I don’t use Facebook?

Q. How do I know this will be worth the money? Continue reading “Is the 30-Day Nutrition Upgrade Right For Me?” >

Are flavored waters OK to drink?

Laila writes:

“I’ve noticed that flavored carbonated waters have become very popular. Many are tasty and its feels like a healthy alternative for soda. Is there any concern about drinking them regularly, other than cost?”

The carbonation itself is not a problem. (See Is Carbonated Water Bad For You?) And as long as the beverages are not sweetened or artificially sweetened, there’s nothing to fear on that front.

The one potential fly in the ointment is that the fruit essences used to flavor the waters can be acidic enough to harm tooth enamel.  An occasional glass is not a concern–especially as an alternative to soda. But sipping on flavored waters all day long could potentially do a number on your teeth.

Using a straw and rinsing your mouth with plain water (or chewing a piece of sugarless gum) after enjoying a glass of flavored water can help by quickly restoring the pH in your mouth to a more tooth-friendly level.

Pros and Cons of Pea Milk

“My family recently replaced our lowfat milk with pea milk.  We’re trying to do our part for the environment and the advertising suggests that pea milk is much healthier than dairy. I’d love to know the health benefits and drawbacks of pea milk.”

If they come up with any more nondairy milk options, they’re going to need a second aisle for them at my grocery store!

One of the latest entrants into this category is a beverage made from yellow peas.  Like soy milk, pea milk boasts more protein than most other nondairy milks. With 8 grams of protein per serving, it’s comparable to cow’s milk. Legumes such as soybeans and yellow peas a also a relatively complete source of protein, although not quite as complete as dairy. Continue reading “Pros and Cons of Pea Milk” >

I started eating healthy and gained weight

Laurie writes:

“In the last year I’ve changed my diet and added back good fats like avocado, nuts and seeds (which I used to avoid due to fear of fat). I also started making kefir and yogurt. I feel SO much better. However, the added calories have slowly added pounds. So my question is….How do we fit in all the healthy foods we need to be eating and still limit calories?”

You’re not the first to have this dilemma, Laurie! Nuts, seeds, and avocados are all healthy foods but it is possible to get too much of a good thing.  Continue reading “I started eating healthy and gained weight” >

Are the calcium RDAs a dairy industry conspiracy?

Kate writes:

“I am a [lacto]vegetarian, and I make sure to get 3 servings of dairy every day. However, I still technically fall short of the recommended amount of calcium. I have a conspiracy theory that the dairy industry has undue influence on the [USDA], and that the calcium requirements are higher than they need to be. I am interested in hearing your thoughts on how accurate the RDA for calcium is, and any tips for getting the needed level on a vegan or vegetarian diet (without resorting to supplements or fortified foods).”

I can see how Kate gets there. The USDA is the government agency responsible for generating our nutrition guidelines. But it is also the government agency responsible for promoting the welfare of our nation’s dairy farmers. Is it possible that the desire to promote milk consumption has prompted the USDA to inflate the recommended amount of calcium? Continue reading “Are the calcium RDAs a dairy industry conspiracy?” >