Week of November 21, 2011
Contact: Alice Bender, (202) 328-7744

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

Q: Is the bread called white whole wheat really as healthy as regular whole wheat?

A: "White whole wheat" does sound confusing, but it is indeed a whole grain, because it includes the bran, germ and endosperm of the grain. Most bread products are made from red wheat; white wheat is a different variety of wheat. The bran of white wheat is lighter in color and milder in flavor, so for children and adults accustomed to traditional white bread and other refined grains, this lighter whole wheat may be more readily accepted. Fiber, vitamin and mineral content of white whole wheat is similar to red whole wheat, because it still has the healthful bran and germ that are removed in refining grains. That said, white whole wheat might not supply all the health benefits of traditional whole wheat. White wheat's lighter color and sweeter flavor are due to its lower content of natural plant compounds called phenols. Research so far shows this white whole-wheat flour lower in antioxidants than traditional whole wheat, and there could be additional health differences due to its lower phenol content. We also don't know yet whether the fine grind typically used for white whole-wheat flour changes the form of fiber so that it retains its benefits for bowel function and reducing constipation. Is white whole wheat better for you than traditional refined white bread? Certainly. For optimal health, current evidence suggests using it as a transition to become more comfortable with traditional whole wheat or as just one part of overall whole grain consumption.

Q: Does caffeine affect fibrocystic breast disease?

A: Actually, health professionals have stopped using the term "fibrocystic breast disease" and now simply refer to "fibrocystic breasts," since this condition is not a disease and more than half of all women experience these changes in their breasts at some point. Fibrocystic breasts involve hormonal changes during a woman's menstrual cycle that can cause breasts to feel swollen, lumpy and painful. Caffeine, along with chocolate and fats, were hypothesized to increase the risk of fibrocystic breasts, but current research does not support a link. However, some women have reported that limiting these substances reduces discomfort. Most women have nothing to lose from a trial of reducing or avoiding caffeine and chocolate and likewise, reducing fat consumption within a healthy range could be worth a try. With any of these steps, if you don't see any effect, however, there's no reason to continue. One study of Chinese women suggests that consuming more of the omega-3 fat called EPA may be linked with less development of fibrocystic breasts. So following advice for overall health to eat naturally fatty fish regularly could pay off with an extra benefit in this area.

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