The pleasures of perusal
But as I said at the beginning, this is relatively recent knowledge. It is no more that 20 or 25 years, that the western world learned about the benefits of roughage in the diet, and even less since special fiber containing foods were placed on the market.
So you may imagine my surprise when perusing the London Sunday Dispatch of May 27th 1934, in the course of some research that had nothing to do with the subject, I came across a leading article announcing nothing less than, “A new bread for everybody, made
without flour—it is healthy and more economical.” The title was grossly inaccurate, as the new bread was certainly made with flour; but the journalists who write newspaper headlines are not overly concerned with accuracy. They usually have more pressing needs in mind.
The article detailed how a man from Jerusalem, but working out of France, was now producing a “new” kind of bread, that was certainly made with flour, but with all the bran in it. In other words, in the same way as the underprivileged of this world had always had their bread, since dehusking the grain was an additional cost then, considerably greater than it is now.
The article made some reasonably valid claims, such as that the new bread made you more alert and vigorous, claims that only sufferers from chronic constipation can fully appreciate. Some other claims, as for example that Italian dictator Benitto Mussolini was buying his bread in France now, or that the new bread arrived daily by airplane from across the Channel, could not be checked. Still other claims that the outer cover of the grain was treated in a special manner that liberated large stores of proteins, etc, was sheer advertising hype, since this part of the grain is basically useful for its vitamins and minerals, rather than for its proteins.
However, here was evidence that the whole grain contained materials that contributed to vigor and alertness, but all the people concerned appeared to have missed the point by assigning the effect to the extra proteins. Alas, the time for fiber to assume its vital role in our diet, had obviously not come yet.
So, is bran good for you? Well, let us start right. Less than twenty years ago, the choice treatment for irritable bowel syndrome, diverticular disease, and a host of other ailments of the digestive tract, was a bland, boring, low-fiber diet that would exhaust the patience of the best patient in a week. Nowadays, it is exactly the opposite, with at least some bran positively de rigueur. For sufferers from constipation, whole grains and cereal bran are nature’s best medicines, with excellent purgative and stool-bulking efficacy.
The estrogen connection
But bran, especially wheat bran, has the capacity to either speed up the metabolism of estrogens in the female body or dramatically reduce their circulating levels, thus acting as a powerful preventive factor against breast, colon, and other cancers. This capacity of wheat bran is nothing short of miraculous, since it appears to curb estrogen activity even better than low-fat diets. This may be one of the reasons for the renowned low cancer rates in Greek women and the Greek population in general of an earlier generation. They ate a lot of bread, which had its full complement of bran. But wheat bran, though largely absent from our present day breads, including many of the so-called peasant breads, can be purchased and added to the food, either on the morning cereal or in other ways.
Another food that possesses the anti-cancer properties of wheat bran is soybeans. But here it is not the fiber of the food that counts but its protein. The phytoestrogens of soybeans and the mechanism of blocking estrogen cell receptors is one contributing factor. But soybeans appear to possess another factor, which is completely independent of their estrogen content, and not yet clearly understood.
Of laxatives and laxness
If you are not a regular bran eater, and think that bran can help you, introduce the fiber gradually in your daily foods, and drink plenty of liquids. Do not think for a moment that because some fiber is good, more is bound to be better. This is an absolutely false and dangerous presumption in nutrition. Too much insoluble fiber in your diet before your digestive system becomes accustomed to it, can cause intestinal obstructions and pains, explosive diarrhea and other unpleasant symptoms, and end up by turning you off an otherwise marvelous and healthy food supplement. The maximum bran you are likely to need should not surpass three teaspoons per day. But start with one, split in three equal doses, and work up gradually to the full dose in two weeks or so.
Wheat bran can sometimes cause pains in your digestive system, even when it is not taken in excess. It can also cause allergic reactions to some people, and sometimes it may suppress thyroid function. Be aware of these side effects, if you are taking supplements of wheat bran, or if you intend to do so. Remember that oat bran is also very good, and has an additional cholesterol reducing effect. Finally, if the problem you are trying to cure is constipation, try the gentler rice bran. As a laxative, it may be actually superior to even wheat bran.