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Bran

 

Bran, one of the richest sources of dietary fiber, is the indigestible outer husk of wheat, rice, oats, and other cereal grains. At one time most bran was discarded when grains were milled. Then in the 1960s Dr. Dennis P. Burkitt, a British medical officer in Africa, published several scientific reports in which he theorized that bran and other types of fiber could prevent heart attacks, diverticulitis and other intestinal disorders, and cancers of the breast, colon, prostate, and uterus. He developed this theory after observing that these diseases are rare among rural Africans, who consume large amounts of whole grains. Prompted by a number of best-selling books, bran became the fad food of the 1970s, and raw miller's bran was added to everything from bread to such unlikely dishes as meat loaf and baked apples.

 

Since then, much of the enthusiasm for using raw bran has dissipated as researchers have learned more about its health benefits and possible hazards. We also know now that various types of bran have different properties and functions. Wheat bran, for example, is mostly insoluble fiber; although it absorbs large mounts of water, it makes its way through the intestinal tract intact. When used in moderation, insoluble fiber helps prevent constipation by producing a soft, bulky stool that moves quickly and easily through the coon. excessive amounts, however, should not be taken as they can cause bloating and intestinal gas.

 

Does Bran Prevent Colon Cancer ?

Dr. Burkitt had theorized that bran prevented colon cancer by reducing the amount of time required for the stool to travel through the bowel. But studies to document this protective effect have produced mixed results. An Australian study found that women taking large amounts of wheat bran actually had a slightly increased incidence of colon cancer. In contrast, a 4-year study involving 58 high-risk adults with precancerous colon polyps found that those taking wheat bran achieved a reduction in the size and number of these growths.

 

Two 2003 medical studies one on Americans and one on Europeans showed that high intake of dietary fiber is associated with lower risk of colorectal cancer. In the American study, investigators compared the daily fiber intake of more than 3,500 people who had precancerous colon polyps to the fiber intake of about 34,000 people who did not have these growths. They found that the people who ate the most fiber, about 35 g daily, had a 27 percent lower risk of precancerous growths than those who ate the least, about 12 g per day. The association was strongest for fibers from grains, cereals, and fruits. In the European study, researchers examined the link in more than 500,000 people in 10 countries. Those who ate the most fiber, about 35 g daily, had about a 40 percent lower risk of colorectal cancer compared to those who ate the least, about 15 g a day. An editorial accompanying publication of the studies concludes, "Eating a diet rich in plant foods, in the form of fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain cereals probably remains the best option for reducing the risk of colon cancer and for general health protection.

 

It also appears that including wheat bran in a high-fiber diet can help prevent diverticulitis, an intestinal disorder in which small pockets bulging from the colon wall become impacted and inflamed. And because it helps prevent constipation, bran may also be beneficial for persons suffering from hemorrhoids.

 

Diabetics may benefit from oat bran. Oat bran is high in soluble fiber, which is sticky and combines with water to form a thick gel. Some researchers have reported that this type of fiber reduces blood cholesterol levels. It also appears to improve glucose metabolism in diabetics. This benefit, in turn, reduces their need for insulin and other diabetes medications.

 

More recently, there have been reports that rice bran also reduces cholesterol levels. Researchers are not sure, however, whether this benefit comes from the insoluble fiber found in the bran or from the highly unsaturated oil in the rice germ which is not separated from the grain husks during the milling process.

 

All types of bran, as well as other high-fiber foods, play an important role in weight control by promoting a feeling of fullness without overeating. This may provide an explanation for the lowered incidence of some obesity-related cancers and heart attacks among populations whose diets are high in fiber.

 

Possible Hazards

When the benefits of bran were first announced, many people started adding three, four, or even more tablespoons of raw miller's bran to their daily diet. It soon became apparent that this practice could cause bloating and discomfort and also aggravate irritable bowel syndrome. In addition, the phytic acid in raw bran inhibits the body's absorption of calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, and other important minerals. During bread baking, enzymes in yeast destroy much of the phytic acid. The heat present during processing also destroys most phytic acid in high-bran cereals. Thus, these processed products are safer than raw miller's bran.

 

There have been several reports of severe bowel obstruction in people who consumed large amounts of bran, especially if they don't drink enough water. Many nutritionists now advise people to eat whole-grain wheat bread, cereals, and other products that contain bran. Have oatmeal and cereals made with whole oats; substitute brown rice for the white. These foods are more palatable than raw bran, which tastes like sawdust, and are more beneficial.

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