Cancer Cells, Enzymes in Fruits and Vegetables, and Wheat Germ

Cancer Cells, Enzymes in Fruits and Vegetables, and Wheat Germ

Q: Is it true that everyone develops cancer cells that don’t show up in standard tests?
Q: I heard that cooking destroys enzymes in vegetables and fruits, but if we eat these foods raw the enzymes enhance growth of healthy cells. True?
Q: Is wheat germ as nutritious as some people claim? Is it better than wheat bran?

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

Q: Is it true that everyone develops cancer cells that don’t show up in standard tests?

A: Cancer develops in a series of stages, beginning with change in the DNA of one cell. If the change in the DNA is not repaired and becomes permanent, it is referred to as an initiated cell. An initiated cell is not a cancer cell. Many scientists suggest that we could all have some initiated cells in our bodies, but currently available tests cannot detect them. The important point is that we don’t all develop cancer; research shows that initiated cells may never develop into cancer or be destroyed. For most types of cancer, there may be 10 to 20 years or more between formation of an initiated cell and the further DNA changes that allow the cell to develop into a clinical cancer. That’s why diet and lifestyle are so important to lower risk of cancer. A healthy lifestyle reduces exposure to carcinogens that cause initial damage to DNA and increases the body’s ability to inactivate DNA-damaging carcinogens. A balanced diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans also contains nutrients and plant compounds that slow or stop the development of initiated cells and promote the self-destruction of cancer cells that may form.

Q: I heard that cooking destroys enzymes in vegetables and fruits, but if we eat these foods raw the enzymes enhance growth of healthy cells. True?
A: Heat can destroy enzymes (proteins that trigger, regulate, and speed up chemical reactions) that are found in fruits and vegetables. But that’s okay, because we don’t really need most of them, anyway. Plants need enzymes to stimulate the changes in texture and sweetness that are part of the ripening process. For the most part, the enzymes that matter to us are the ones produced in our bodies. Some of these (the “protein-digesting” enzymes) occur in our intestinal tracts, where they break down the enzymes in foods. In fact, only two kinds of vegetables (garlic and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower) contain enzymes that seem to influence human health. These enzymes produce the cancer-fighting compounds that have made garlic and cruciferous vegetables the focus of so much study. Yet these vegetables can still provide cancer-protective benefits. Simply chopping garlic and letting it stand for 10 minutes before cooking it allows enough time for its enzyme to produce the protective compound. Also, as long as you cook cruciferous vegetables in small amounts of water and are careful not to overcook them, you’ll still get the beneficial compounds. When it comes to preparing vegetables and fruit in general, the most nutritional benefits come from eating them raw or cooking them briefly, just until tender, by steaming, microwaving or stir-frying with minimal amounts of fat. Most importantly, eat a lot of them.

Q: Is wheat germ as nutritious as some people claim? Is it better than wheat bran?

A: Wheat germ and wheat bran are both good choices for the same reason that whole grains are better than refined grains. Wheat germ, from the center of the grain, is an excellent source of vitamin E and the B vitamin folate and provides good fiber content, too. Wheat bran, the outer layer of the grain, is extremely high in fiber and a good source of magnesium (but it is not a source of vitamin E). Both can be added to baked goods and casseroles. Wheat germ can also be sprinkled on dishes like yogurt, salad or cooked oatmeal to add nutrition and a pleasantly nutty taste. As long as you include at least three or four servings of whole grains in your diet every day, don’t feel compelled to use separate wheat bran or wheat germ, however. They are just two of many foods that can add nutrients and cancer-fighting compounds to your diet.

Reprinted with permission from the American Institute for Cancer Research www.aicr.org