Fiber and Breast Cancer, Vegetarian Dishes, Sell By Dates

Fiber and Breast Cancer, Vegetarian Dishes, Sell By Dates

Q: Does eating more fiber help protect against breast cancer?
Q: Are the vegetarian dishes hummus and baba ghanouj low in fat?
Q: Are the dates stamped on packages in the grocery store deadlines for selling or using the food?


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

Q: Does eating more fiber help protect against breast cancer?
A: Research has shown mixed results on this question. Some evidence suggests that fiber could be helpful by reducing blood sugar and the resulting surges in insulin levels. (Insulin and insulin-related growth factors may promote breast cancer.) Studies also suggest fiber may bind to estrogen in the gut, resulting in lower circulating estrogen levels. (High estrogen levels are linked to increased risk of some breast cancers.) Other studies have found little or no link between fiber and breast cancer risk. The differences seen in these studies may mean that fiber affects some people more than others. Fiber may provide more protection for leaner or younger women. Also, the lack of effect in some studies could stem from even the “top” fiber consumers not consuming enough. Some studies suggest that we might need to get beyond 30 grams of fiber a day to see reduced breast cancer risk. (The recommended daily intake of fiber for women adults age 50 and under is 25 grams; over 50 is 21 grams.) Regardless of whether fiber itself is responsible, a plant-based diet supplying lots of whole grains, vegetables, fruits and legumes – in conjunction with weight control and regular exercise – is a smart way to lower risk of breast and other cancers.

Q: Are the vegetarian dishes hummus and baba ghanouj low in fat?
A: It depends on how big a portion you eat. Although they are meatless – hummus, made from chickpeas, and baba ghanouj from eggplant – they are excellent reminders that meatless dishes are not always low in fat or calories. Both of these dishes are made with tahini (sesame seed paste), which is as high in fat as peanut butter. Although the good news is that little of the fat is saturated, it means hummus and baba ghanouj are concentrated in calories. Olive oil and sesame seeds may also be included in these dishes, adding more fat. The calories aren’t significant if you use just a tablespoon for dipping, but hummus may contain about 12 grams of fat and 200 calories in a half-cup. Calorie and fat content of baba ghanouj vary widely, but a half-cup can contain 100 to more than 400 calories and 8 to 50 grams of fat. You can make lower-fat versions of both dishes by reducing the amounts of tahini and olive oil, allowing you to eat a larger portion without the calories adding up so quickly.

Q: Are the dates stamped on packages in the grocery store deadlines for selling or using the food?
A: Both types of food product dating are used. Foods that can sit on the shelf a long time without spoiling, such as cereal or crackers, are often stamped with a “use by” date. The “use by” date is about a year from the current time. That means the food’s taste and texture will be best if used by that date; the food is still safe to eat after that, however. Foods that remain safe for a shorter time tend to be stamped with a “sell by” date. The length of time a food is likely to be safe after this date varies. As long as you store these foods at appropriate temperatures, milk and yogurt are generally safe a week beyond the “sell by” date; chicken and ground meat can last just two days in the refrigerator (longer in the freezer); solid cuts of meat last up to five days. Eggs are generally safe three to five weeks after purchase, even though the “sell by” date may be past by then. If there's any doubt about whether a food is “off” from the way it looks or smells, throw it out. However, foods that go bad may look, smell and taste like safe foods. So follow the time guidelines and don't take chances – even if a food seems okay beyond these times.

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