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For Immediate Release: October 14, 2009

NW: Questions about high-fat cheese, diglycerides, breast cancer survivors and soy

Week of September 14, 2009
Contact: Alice Bender, (202) 328-7744

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

Q: What do you suggest for people like me who love high-fat cheese?

A: Regular cheese is high in cholesterol-raising saturated fat – three or four ounces of most full-fat types contain a whole day’s worth – as well as a lot of calories. One strategy is to switch to reduced-fat and low fat varieties; if you don’t like one brand, experiment with others. Another approach is to select regular cheese that delivers more flavor in smaller amounts. A couple teaspoons of freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese can add a surprising amount of flavor to salads and baked dishes. When slicing cheese from a block, try using a cheese plane, as Europeans do; it slides along the surface of cheese and results in a thinner slice than most of us can cut with a knife. If you eat cheese as a snack, put a small amount on a plate and eat it slowly as you savor the taste. Then follow it with a pear, apple or other cheese-compatible fruit. Most of us need to boost fruit consumption and by the time you finish, you will probably be full enough that you will not be tempted to go back for more cheese.

Q: Are diglycerides healthy or unhealthy? And what are they?

A: Experts say that diglycerides (also called diacylglycerides or DAGs) are safe and pose no known nutritional risks or benefits as food additives. They are simply a fat molecule missing one of its fatty acid building blocks. Small amounts are used as emulsifiers, thickeners or binders to keep oil from separating out in foods such as peanut butter and salad dressings. Short-term studies suggest that a special oil in which most of the fat is diglycerides instead of the normal triglycerides may cause our body to burn more fat and calories because of the way it processes diglycerides. These fats are sent directly to the liver to be burned instead of circulating through the body. Studies available so far suggest that substituting one to three tablespoons of such an oil for the oil or margarine you use now might produce small amounts of weight loss per year, or prevent the small yearly gains many adults experience. However, we don’t have long-term studies that establish their usefulness for weight control. For now, evidence doesn’t support these oils as any more effective for weight control than a plant-based diet that limits foods concentrated in calories (including oils) along with regular moderate activity.

Q: As a breast cancer survivor, is a food with soy fiber safe for me?

A: Breast cancer survivors are often concerned about soy because of its isoflavone compounds, which are plant forms of estrogen. These plant forms are much weaker than human estrogen. Natural, whole soy foods (such as soy nuts, edamame and tofu) used in moderation may not pose the risk once feared for breast cancer survivors, though some suggest the precaution of limiting these foods to a few servings a week if their cancer was estrogen-positive. Soy fiber does contain isoflavones but the amount in a serving of cereal or bread that contains soy fiber is small. Most experts agree that it is probably safe and possibly beneficial for breast cancer survivors to include up to three servings of soy foods per day. If you are eating soy foods, you may want to check labels to make sure you are limiting added soy and soy fiber in other foods. Doctors often advise people taking anti-estrogen medication to avoid all soy foods during treatment to make sure that even these weak estrogens could not work against anti-estrogen medications. In those circumstances, it may be prudent to avoid or closely limit the number of foods with soy fiber as well. Survivors should discuss this with their physicians.


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