Wheat Germ and Bran, Supplements for Gas, Breastfeeding

Q: What’s the difference between wheat germ and wheat bran?
Q: Do supplements to prevent intestinal gas really work?
Q: I know that breastfeeding is best, but how long should it continue?


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

Q: What’s the difference between wheat germ and wheat bran?
A: Both the germ and the bran are nutritious parts of whole-grain wheat that are removed when wheat is refined to make white flour. Wheat germ is the central core of the grain. It is an excellent source of vitamin E, zinc and the B vitamin folate. Just a quarter-cup supplies more fiber than a slice of most whole-wheat breads. Because of its polyunsaturated fat content, however, wheat germ should be stored in the refrigerator to prevent it from becoming rancid once the container has been opened. Wheat germ that has had its fat removed does not need to be refrigerated; this type of wheat germ is lower in vitamin E. Wheat bran, on the other hand, is the outer shell of the whole-wheat kernel. Bran provides over 6 grams of fiber in a quarter-cup and is an excellent source of magnesium and iron. Note that one is not nutritionally superior to the other. Better still, you benefit from both wheat germ and wheat bran when you choose whole-wheat foods.

Q: Do supplements to prevent intestinal gas really work?
A: Supplements (such as Beano) that contain the enzyme alpha-galactosidase may help prevent gas caused by eating beans and certain other foods. When digestive enzymes do not break down the complex carbohydrates in these foods, they ferment in the large intestine, forming gas. Yet dried beans, peas and lentils – often categorized as “gassy foods” – are excellent sources of fiber, protein and a variety of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. If you’ve been avoiding these foods because of gas, gas-reducing supplements may be worth a try. Remember to follow the package directions carefully. You need to consume the enzyme supplement at the same time as the food; the products cannot be added to the food while it cooks. Also note that these supplements are only designed to break down particular carbohydrates. They will not have any effect on gas resulting from lactose (dairy) intolerance. Alternatively, in place of supplements you can also reduce gas from beans by rinsing canned varieties with water or discarding the water used to soak dried beans before cooking.

Q: I know that breastfeeding is best, but how long should it continue?
A: There’s no universal answer to that question. Experts do agree, however, that a minimum of six months of exclusive breastfeeding is best. After a baby reaches six months of age, it’s important to add additional foods (cereal, fruits, vegetables) to meet the infant’s changing nutritional needs. The American Academy of Pediatrics, recognized as a leader in infant health issues, recommends continuing breastfeeding until a baby is at least one year old. The World Health Organization, which addresses the concerns of the global community, advocates breastfeeding up to age two and beyond as a precaution for infants raised in less developed countries with water and food-safety concerns. In general, the longer a baby is breastfed, the lower the chances that infant will develop allergies later in childhood or as an adult. This applies to both food and environmental allergies. Moreover, the immune benefits that pass from a mother’s breast milk to her child – those that lower the risk of ear inflammation and infection, as well as digestive system upsets –are extended with longer breastfeeding. Experts believe that breastfeeding also plays a convincing role in lowering a woman’s breast cancer risk and this effect is probably enhanced with longer lactation periods. The much lower cost of breastfeeding compared to formula feeding is a consideration for many families as well. Finally, breastfed infants typically have slower growth patterns, an outcome that is beneficial to a child’s long-term health. If you’re considering breastfeeding, it is important to have a good support team on hand. If questions or problems arise, speak with your infant’s pediatrician or request a referral to a lactation specialist.

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

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