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For Immediate Release: August 13, 2009

NW: Questions about asparagus as cancer fighter, farro, beer and weight gain

Week of September 21, 2009
Contact: Alice Bender, (202) 328-7744

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

Q: I’ve read that asparagus can fight cancer: Is that true?

A: You may have read a story circulating on the Internet that suggests a daily dose of pureed asparagus can cure cancer. That story has no support in peer-reviewed research journals, and I’ve been unable to find any information on prior publications or background on the expert source of the story. On the other hand, asparagus certainly has value as one part of a plant-based diet that reduces cancer risk. It’s a good source of folate (a B vitamin essential to maintain healthy DNA) and vitamins C and A, as well as antioxidant compounds like glutathione and rutin. Asparagus is low in calories (as long as you don’t smother it in high-fat cheese sauce or butter), so like most other vegetables, it can help to satisfy hunger while promoting a healthy weight, which research now says has major impact on reducing risk of several common cancers.

Q: I’ve heard that farro is a super-nutritious whole grain, but can’t find it in my grocery store. Does it go by another name?

A: Farro is also called emmer. It’s an ancient strain of wheat from the Middle East that became popular in Italy and is now gaining popularity throughout the world. In the United States, farro is usually sold in a form called semi-pearled (sometimes labeled semiperlato), indicating some of the bran layer has been removed to allow faster cooking. Still highly nutritious, it cooks in 20 to 25 minutes. The completely whole grain farro needs to be soaked in water overnight and then cooked for 30 to 45 minutes. Farro’s chewy texture and hearty, nutty flavor are traditionally favored for use in soups and stews, but it can also be great as a side dish, as a meatless main dish mixed with beans or as a change from rice dishes. Farro’s nutritional value is similar to other wheat grains like spelt and wheat berries; it’s slightly higher in fiber and protein than barley and brown rice, and not quite as high-protein as quinoa. Unfortunately, it’s no bargain and usually sold only at specialty stores and over the Internet for three to four times the cost of brown rice. But if you want to add variety to meatless or plant-based meals, you might divert money formerly spent on high-fat meat to grains like this.

Q: I only drink beer two nights a week but can that be causing my weight gain?

A: When looking for eating habits that can lead to weight gain, it’s usually best to look at what you eat and drink on a daily basis, but once or twice weekly treats can have an impact if they’re really high-calorie. How many beers do you drink on each of those twice weekly beer-drinking nights? If you have one or two 12-ounce beers, that totals 300 to 600 calories weekly. That could be responsible for slow creeping weight gain (less than a pound a month), but is unlikely to be responsible for a more rapid gain.

However, larger amounts even twice a week certainly could produce larger weight gain. For example, if each of those nights you have five 12-ounce beers (or one 60-ounce pitcher), that’s enough calories to produce nearly a half-pound of extra body fat each week. If those beers are accompanied by snacks like chips, nachos, pizza or chicken wings, your evening can easily add from a few hundred to a thousand extra calories – then those beer-drinking nights could make you gain a few pounds every month.


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