Week of May 21, 2007

Nutrition Wise

Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: Is it true that a recent study proved that garlic might not benefit health after all?

A:  No. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine tested natural garlic and garlic supplements and found that it did not lower blood cholesterol in any meaningful way. However, including garlic in the diet still offers a variety of health benefits. Even if garlic doesn’t reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, other studies suggest that natural antioxidant compounds in garlic keep the LDL from converting to its oxidized form. (Oxidized LDLs damage blood vessels and promote development of atherosclerosis.) Garlic also seems to inhibit blood platelets from clumping, leading to the formation of clots, which puts us at risk of a heart attack or stroke. Garlic’s antioxidant compounds may also offer protection from cancer development. As antioxidants, they protect DNA from damage that can start cancer formation, and they also trigger enzymes that deactivate carcinogens before cell damage occurs. Finally, don’t minimize the significance of garlic’s ability to make our food taste delicious without adding fat, salt or significant calories.

Q: What does the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) guideline encouraging “minimally processed foods” mean?

A:  Minimally processed” vegetables, grains and beans are not prepared commercially or at home with large amounts of added fat, salt or sugar. Foods minimally processed are also subject to minimal refining, which removes nutrients and fiber. To minimally process dishes at home means flavoring your brown rice or vegetables with herbs, lemon juice, garlic and spices instead of using sodium-laden mixes or high-fat sauces. AICR’s advice aims to maximize your consumption of cancer-fighting nutrients and other substances while minimizing unhealthy additions to your diet. Also, by choosing whole grains in preference to refined grains, you gain far more than just extra fiber. Although AICR’s minimally processed guideline refers to the plant foods that should make up at least two-thirds of your plate, limiting processed meats such as sausage and hot dogs is also good advice.

Q: Do enzyme supplements to prevent gassiness really work?

A:  People who get an uncomfortable amount of gas from dried beans, peas and other vegetables may find help in supplements that contain the enzyme called alpha-galactosidase. When digestive enzymes do not break down certain carbohydrates in these foods, they ferment in the gut, forming gas. Dried beans, peas and lentils are excellent sources of fiber, protein and a variety of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, so if you’ve been avoiding them because of gas, such products may be worth a try. Follow directions carefully; you need to consume the enzyme supplement at the same time as the food in question and can’t add it to the food while it cooks. You can also lessen gassiness of beans by rinsing canned beans well. When soaking dried beans drain the water before cooking. The products aimed at bean consumption won’t help people whose gassiness is due to lactose intolerance. But lactase tablets that break down the lactose carbohydrate in milk products can be useful for those people.

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AICR’s Nutrition Hotline is a free service that allows you to ask a registered dietitian questions about diet, nutrition and cancer.  Access it online at or by phone (1-800-843-8114) 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET Monday-Friday.  AICR is the only major cancer charity focused exclusively on the link between diet, nutrition and cancer. It provides education programs that help Americans learn to make changes for lower cancer risk. AICR also supports innovative research in cancer prevention and treatment at universities, hospitals and research centers.  It has provided more than $78 million for research in diet, nutrition and cancer.  AICR’s Web address is

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