“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” ~Mahatma Gandhi
In my post last week on the many benefits of bread, I promised that I would share with you more in-depth information on the particular health benefits of bread. As I discussed in my last post, many people have given up bread in the erroneous belief that grains are unhealthy. Nothing could be further from the truth (unless, of course, you have an allergy to grains).
I enjoy bread and consider it to be an important part of my diet. But I would never consume the refined, processed creations that masquerade as bread in grocery stores and restaurants. There’s no question that those types of bread products are detrimental to your health.
“How can a nation be great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?” ~Julia Child
The trouble with wheat is that most people consume it in unhealthy forms. This isn’t the fault of the grain, or of bread, but of what we have done with it. We’ve done the same with many other foods—for example, rancid, refined polyunsaturated fats and refined sugars, which include mostly white sugar from sugar cane and high fructose corn syrup. Commercial bread often contains all of these unhealthful ingredients, along with preservatives, artificial coloring, and dough conditioners to make the process of kneading faster and cheaper. To add insult to injury, because all of the nutrients have been stripped out of the whole grain, a handful of synthetic nutrients are added back to the dough. Various B-vitamins including folic acid are frequently added to commercial breads, which for many people with methylation issues adds further to the unhealthy aspects of commercial bread.
Now let’s talk about the health benefits of REAL whole-grain bread created from freshly ground grains and made in the traditional way.
“The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight.” ~M.F.K. Fisher
This might come as a surprise, but research shows that whole grains contain a wealth of phytochemicals that are equal to or higher than those found in vegetables and fruits.
Whole Grains Are A Good Source Of Protective Phytochemicals
In studies at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) International Conference on Food, Nutrition and Cancer conducted at Cornell University, researchers have found that whole grains contain many powerful phytonutrients whose activity has gone unrecognized because research methods have overlooked them.
For years, scientists have been measuring the antioxidant power of a wide array of phytonutrients. But their focus has been on the “free” forms of these substances, which dissolve quickly and are immediately absorbed into the bloodstream. The “bound” forms, which are attached to the walls of plant cells and must be released by intestinal bacteria during digestion before they can be absorbed, have been overlooked until recently.
Phenolics, powerful antioxidants that work in multiple ways to prevent disease, are one major class of phytonutrients that have been widely studied. Included in this broad category are such compounds as quercetin, curcumin, ellagic acid, and catechins.
When Dr. Rui Hai Liu and his colleagues at Cornell measured the relative amounts of phenolics in common fruits and vegetables like apples, red grapes, broccoli and spinach, they found that phenolics in the “free” form averaged 76% of the total number of phenolics. In whole grains, however, “free” phenolics accounted for less than 1% of the total, while the remaining 99% were in “bound” form.
The scientists concluded that because researchers examine whole grains with the same process used to measure antioxidants in vegetables and fruits—focusing on the content of “free” phenolics—the amount and activity of antioxidants in whole grains has been vastly underestimated.
Despite the differences in content of “free” and “bound” phenolics in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, the total antioxidant activity in all three types of whole foods is similar. For example, the Cornell researchers measured the antioxidant activity of various foods, assigning each a rating based on a formula (micromoles of vitamin C equivalent per gram). Broccoli and spinach measured 80 and 81 respectively; apple and banana measured 98 and 65; and of the whole grains tested, corn measured 181, whole wheat 77, oats 75, and brown rice 56.
The Cornell findings may help explain why studies have shown that populations who eat diets high in fiber-rich whole grains consistently have a lower risk of colon cancer, while short-term clinical trials that have focused on decreasing colon cancer risk using fiber supplements yield inconsistent results. The explanation is most likely that these studies have not taken into account the interactive effects of all the nutrients in whole grains—not just their fiber content, but also their many phytonutrients. As far as whole grains are concerned, Dr. Liu believes that the key to their powerful cancer-fighting potential lies in the whole package.1
Phytosterols In Whole Grains
Phytosterols, which are structurally similar to cholesterol, are found abundantly in whole grains. These beneficial compounds have cardiovascular benefits, including lowering serum cholesterol levels.2-5 Phytosterols have also been shown to enable more robust antitumor responses, including boosting immune recognition of cancer, influencing hormonal dependent growth of endocrine tumors, and altering sterol biosynthesis. In addition, phytosterols have effects that directly inhibit tumor growth, including the slowing of cell cycle progression, the induction of apoptosis, and the inhibition of tumor metastasis.
The bran of wheat is one of the richest sources of dietary magnesium, which is a critical nutrient for cardiovascular health and cancer suppression. It is also is one of the nutrients in which people are often lacking. Magnesium is needed in more than 300 biochemical reactions in our bodies, including muscle function, nerve function, healthy heart rhythm, body temperature regulation, strong bones and teeth.
Beta-glucans In Whole Grains
Beta-glucans are not found in animals, but in the starchy endosperm of whole grains (specifically barley and oats), and several medicinal mushrooms (reishi, coriolus, shiitake, etc.). Beta-glucans are well known for their ability to enhance and modulate the immune system and induce innate immune responses, which protect us from attack by pathogenic microbes. The immunomodulatory effects of beta-glucans are known to be inconsistent and variable, probably due to differences in the degree of branching, polymer length, and tertiary structures among beta-glucans.6
Beta-glucans also contribute to the glucose and insulin regulating ability of whole grains. For example, Dutch researchers used a crossover study with 10 healthy men to compare the effects of cooked barley kernels and refined wheat bread on blood sugar control. The men ate one or the other of these grains at dinner and were given a high glycemic index breakfast (50g of glucose) the next morning for breakfast. Those fed the whole grain barley dinner had 30% better insulin sensitivity the next morning after breakfast.7
Scientists at the Functional Food Centre at Oxford Brookes University in England have also found barley to be beneficial. They fed healthy subjects chapatis made with between 0g-8g of barley beta-glucan fiber. They found that all amounts of barley beta-glucan lowered the glycemic index of the breads, with 4g or more making a significant difference. And in the U.S., USDA scientists studied the effects of 5 different breakfast cereals on insulin response. They found that consumption of 10g of barley beta-glucan significantly reduced insulin response.8 In yet another study, USDA researchers fed barley flakes, barley flour, rolled oats, oat flour, and glucose to overweight middle-aged women. They found that peak glucose and insulin levels after barley consumption were significantly lower than after consumption of glucose or oats. Particle size did not appear to be a factor, as both flour and flakes had similar effects.9
What about bread as a source of beta-glucan? It appears that although the total content of beta-glucan is reduced compared to pure barley, the solubility (what we absorb) of beta-glucan in barley bread is much better than the solubility of the whole grain. Thus, barley bread meets the recommended daily needs to achieve the health benefits attributed to barley beta-glucan.10
Tocotrienols In Whole Grains
Tocotrienols are a group of minor dietary constituents that are naturally occurring analogues of vitamin E (tocopherols). These important compounds are constituents of grains (wheat, barley, oats, and rice) and oils extracted from olive and palm fruit.
Although they are minor dietary constituents, tocotrienols are powerful antioxidants that protect the body from attack by free radicals and DNA damage. In fact, tocotrienols exhibit up to 60 times more powerful antioxidation properties in lipid biological systems than alpha-tocopherol. Cellular uptake of tocotrienols is up to 70 times higher, as its distinct chemical structure readily allows rapid absorption by body cells and organs.11-13
Summary of Benefits of Tocotrienols:
- Most powerful antioxidant of the vitamin E family.
- More effective at accumulating in cells compared to other tocotrienols.
- Most effective member of the vitamin E family for reducing endothelial expression of adhesion molecules, thereby preventing the accumulation of inflammatory cells within the arterial wall.
- Inhibits the excessive aggregation of blood platelets much more effectively than vitamin E or other tocotrienols.
- Inhibits cancer through multi-targeted signal transduction suppression.
- Lowers LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
- The most potent tocotrienol to activate anticancer effects.
- Most potent tocotrienol in inducing apoptosis (cell death) of human breast cancer cells. Delta-tocotrienol was twice as potent as gamma-tocotrienol.
- Significantly potentiates the anti-tumor effects of chemotherapy without increasing toxicity.
According to tocotrienol.org, rice bran has 23.6 mg of alpha-tocotrienols and 34.9 mg of gamma-tocotrienols per 100 g. Barley has 67 mg of alpha-tocotrienols and 12.0 mg of both beta- and gamma-tocotrienols. Palm oil is the richest source of tocotrienols, but after that comes rice bran, barley, and annatto, which contains specifically the delta-tocotrienols in great amounts.
I believe it is obvious that whole grains, including whole grain breads, provide a wealth of beneficial compounds that help to maintain and promote health. Grains truly are the “staff of life,” and when consumed as part of a balanced, healthful diet, provide sustenance for both body and spirit.
- Liu RH. New finding may be key to ending confusion over link between fiber, colon cancer. American Institute for Cancer Research Press Release, November 3, 2004.
- Lau VW, Journoud M, Jones PJ. Plant sterols are efficacious in lowering plasma LDL and non-HDL cholesterol in hypercholesterolemic type 2 diabetic and nondiabetic persons. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Jun;81(6):1351-8.
- European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2009) 63, 813–820; doi:10.1038/ejcn.2009.29; published online 3 June 2009; Thompson GR. Additive effects of plant sterol and stanol esters to statin therapy. Am J Cardiol. 2005 Jul 4;96(1A):37D-39D. Review; von Bergmann K, Sudhop T, Lutjohann D. Cholesterol and plant sterol absorption: recent insights.
- Am J Cardiol. 2005 Jul 4;96(1A):10D-14D. Review; von Bergmann K, Sudhop T, Lutjohann D. Cholesterol and plant sterol absorption: recent insights.
- Dietary phytosterols significantly reduce atherosclerosis, in part by reducing proinflammatory cytokine production. Nashed B, Yeganeh B, Hayglass KT, Moghadasian MH. Antiatherogenic Effects of Dietary Plant Sterols Are Associated with Inhibition of Proinflammatory Cytokine Production in Apo E-KO Mice. J Nutr. 2005 Oct;135(10):2438-44.
- Kenji Ina1,Takae Kataoka, and Takafumi Ando, The Use of Lentinan for Treating Gastric Cancer, Anti-Cancer Agents in Medicinal Chemistry, 2013, 13, 681-688 681.
- Priebe MG1, Wang H, Weening D, Schepers M, Preston T, Vonk RJ. Factors related to colonic fermentation of nondigestible carbohydrates of a previous evening meal increase tissue glucose uptake and moderate glucose-associated inflammation; American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, January 2010; 91(1):90-7. Epub 2009 Nov 4.
- Nutrition Research, July 2009; 29(7):4806.
- Kim H, Stote KS, Behall KM, Spears K, Vinyard B, Conway JM., Glucose and insulin responses to whole grain breakfasts varying in soluble fiber, beta-glucan: a dose response study in obese women with increased risk for insulin resistance, European Journal of Nutrition, April 2009; 48(3):170-5. Epub 2009 Feb.
- Motawei, A.M., Effect of baking process on beta glucan content in whole barley balady bread, Food and Dairy Sci., Mansoura Univ., Vol. 5 (7): 481-490, 2014.
- Saito Y, Yoshida Y, Nishio K, et al. Characterization of cellular uptake and distribution of vitamin E. Ann N Y Acad Sci 2004;1031.
- Chin SF, Hamid NA, Latiff AA, et al. Reduction of DNA damage in older healthy adults by Tri E Tocotrienol supplementation. Nutrition 2008;24(1),
- Serbinova E, Kagan V, Han D & Packer L. Free radical recycling and intramembrane mobility in the antioxidant properties of alpha-tocopherol and alpha tocotrienol. Free Radic Biol Med 1991;10(5).
- Theriault A, Chao JT, Wang Q, Gapor A, Adeli K. Tocotrienol: a review of its therapeutic potential. Clin Biochem 1999;32:309-19.
- Yap SP, Yuen KH, Wong JW. Pharmacokinetics and bioavailability of alpha-, gamma- and delta-tocotrienols under different food status. J Pharm Pharmacol 2001;53:67-7.
- Pearce BC, Parker RA, Deason ME, Qureshi AA, Wright JJ. Hypocholesterolemic activity of synthetic and natural tocotrienols. J Med Chem 1992;35: 526-541 and 3595-606.
- Qureshi AA, Pearce BC, Nor RM, et al. Dietary alpha-tocopherol attenuates the impact of gamma-tocotrienol on hepatic 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl coenzyme A reductase activity in chickens. J Nutr 1996;126:389-94.
- Qureshi AA, Sami SA, Salser WA, Khan FA. Dose-dependent suppression of serum cholesterol by tocotrienol-rich fraction (TRF25) of rice bran in hypercholesterolemic humans. Atherosclerosis 2002;161:199-207.
- Mustad VA, Smith CA, Ruey PP, Edens NK, DeMichele SJ. Supplementation with 3 compositionally different tocotrienol supplements does not improve cardiovascular disease risk factors in men and women with hypercholesterolemia. Am J Clin Nutr 2002;76:1237-43.
- Qureshi AA, Sami SA, Salser WA, Khan FA. Synergistic effect of tocotrienol-rich fraction (TRF(25)) of rice bran and lovastatin on lipid parameters in hypercholesterolemic humans. J Nutr Biochem 2001;12:318-329.
- Mensink RP, van Houwelingen AC, Kromhout D, Hornstra G. A vitamin E concentrate rich in tocotrienols had no effect on serum lipids, lipoproteins, or platelet function in men with mildly elevated serum lipid concentrations. Am J Clin Nutr 1999;69:213-9.
- Qureshi AA, Bradlow BA, Brace L, et al. Response of hypercholesterolemic subjects to administration of tocotrienols. Lipids 1995;30:1171-7.
- Theriault A, Chao JT, Gapor A, et al. Tocotrienol is the most effective vitamin E for reducing endothelial expression of adhesion molecules and adhesion to monocytes. Atherosclerosis 2002:160:21-30.
- Yu W, Simmons-Menchaca M, Gapor A, et al. Induction of apoptosis in human breast cancer cells by tocopherols and tocotrienols. Nutr Cancer 1999;33:26-32.
- Guthrie N, Gapor A, Chambers AF, Carroll KK. Inhibition of proliferation of estrogen receptor-negative MDA-MB-435 and -positive MCF-7 human breast cancer cells by palm oil tocotrienols and tamoxifen, alone and in combination. J Nutr 1997;127:544S-548S
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- Shibata A, Nakagawa K, Sookwong P, Tsuduki T, Oikawa S, Miyazawa T. J Agric Food Chem. 2009 Sep 23;57(18):8696-704. delta-Tocotrienol suppresses VEGF induced angiogenesis whereas alpha-tocopherol does not.
- Comitato R, Nesaretnam K, Leoni G, Ambra R, Canali R, Bolli A, Marino M, Virgili F. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2009 Aug;297(2):E427-37. Epub 2009 Jun 2. A novel mechanism of natural vitamin E tocotrienol activity: involvement of ERbeta signal transduction.
- Sunitha V Bachawal, Vikram B Wali, Paul W Sylvester, Enhanced antiproliferative and apoptotic response to combined treatment of g-tocotrienol with erlotinib or gefitinib in mammary tumor cells, Bachawal et al. BMC Cancer 2010, 10:84
- Selvaduray KR, Radhakrishnan AK, Kutty MK, Nesaretnam K. Palm tocotrienols decrease levels of pro-angiogenic markers in human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC) and murine mammary cancer cells. Genes Nutr. 2011 Apr 28.
- Sylvester PW, Wali VB, Bachawal SV, Shirode AB, Ayoub NM, Akl MR.Tocotrienol combination therapy results in synergistic anticancer response. Front Biosci. 2011 Jun 1;17:3183-95.
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- Kannappan R, Gupta SC, Kim JH, Aggarwal BB. Tocotrienols fight cancer by targeting multiple cell signaling pathways, Genes Nutr. 2011 Apr 9.
- Kazim Husain, Rony A. Francois, […], and Mokenge P. Malafa, Vitamin E δ-Tocotrienol Augments the Anti-tumor Activity of Gemcitabine and Suppresses Constitutive NF-κB Activation in Pancreatic Cancer, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3237822/
- Zaiden N1, Yap WN, Ong S, Xu CH, Teo VH, Chang CP, Zhang XW, Nesaretnam K, Shiba S, Yap YL., Gamma delta tocotrienols reduce hepatic triglyceride synthesis and VLDL secretion. J Atheroscler Thromb. 2010 Oct 27;17(10):1019-32. Epub 2010 Aug