Fiber: An Oatmeal Cookie a Day Helps Keep Breast Cancer Away?
Eat more fiber. Yawn. How many times over the course of your life have you heard that message? Used to be, fiber–especially insoluble fiber–was thought to be good for the bowels. Period. Now, we know that fiber–both insoluble (“roughage”), and soluble–is a boon not only to your “regularity,” but to your heart and, now, as a breast cancer deterrent.
A massive study in England, involving 35,000 women and conducted over the course of seven years, seems to indicate that pre-menopausal women who eat 30g of fiber a day cut their risk of breast cancer compared to those who eat just 20g a day or less. Researchers at the Leeds University Centre for Epidemiology and Biostatistics, who published their results in the latest issue of the International Journal of Epidemiology, say that women who had a greater percentage of calories derived from protein, and lower intakes of dietary fiber and vitamin C, developed breast cancer twice as often as women eating more fiber. The study involved both pre-menopausal and post-menopausal women, but the preventive effect was noticed only in pre-menopausal women.
What’s going on here? High-fiber foods are often rich in other nutrients that have protective anti-oxidants. In addition, fiber lowers estrogen levels in the body, and many breast cancers are estrogen-receptive, meaning they need estrogen to grow. Thus fiber helps cut off the cancer cells’ food supply. Scientists also know that fiber regulates insulin levels in the body, and it’s thought that high insulin may be a cancer contributor.
So, what’s the to-do? Besides the rather lackluster message to “eat more fiber”? Pre- or post-menopausal, cancer survivor or cancer-free, fiber is flat out good for you. And, contrary to popular belief, fiber doesn’t have to mean a bowl of All-Bran cereal. There’s fiber in fruits and vegetables; apples and strawberries (actually, any berries) are particularly good sources. There’s fiber in crackers; choose something whole-grain, like Triscuits or Wheat Thins. Heck, oatmeal cookies have fiber, and are especially high in the heart-healthy soluble kind. Nuts are a wonderful source of both fiber and healthy oils. Just substituting whole wheat bread for white in your tuna sandwich gives you 6g of fiber, 20% of your daily total. Imagine a bowl of hot oatmeal with sugar, a pat of butter, and milk; a slice of whole-grain toast, spread with crunchy peanut butter and strawberry jam; and a glass of tomato or orange juice. Everything but the little bit of sugar and dab of butter is adding fiber to your diet. Bring your mid-afternoon energy level up with a snack of whole-grain pita spread with hummus. Or enjoy a granola bar and a small handful of salted almonds. There are all kinds of tasty ways to enjoy your daily “dose” of fiber, ways that don’t have “suffering” written all over them.
Oh, and about that oatmeal cookie: I highly recommend Cranberry-Oat Delights, my favorite oatmeal cookie recipe. You can find it in the recipe section at kingarthurflour.com. Oats, dried cranberries, nuts… now, that’s a HECK of a lot tastier than a bowl of wheat bran!