Choosing Whole Grains for Your Health During Cancer Prevention Month

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Fiber is one of the most important nutrients for our body, and whole grains provide some of the highest sources of fiber in our diet. Fiber and whole grains are especially important for those undergoing cancer treatment, as well as cancer survivors. Whole grains, such as whole wheat, brown rice and quinoa, can be easily found in every grocery store and health food store. Below we will explore the benefits of whole grains and fiber and provide easy suggestions on how to increase your intake.

Cancer Prevention

Whole grains and fiber are a significant factor in cancer prevention, including preventing cancer recurrence.  Research has shown that both can reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer by promoting healthy bacteria in the gut and providing the body with cancer-fighting antioxidants.1 Since February is Cancer Prevention Month, you can reduce your risk of cancer by switching to whole wheat bread and pasta and trying new (to you) whole grains, such as barley and amaranth.  

Heart Health 

Eat oatmeal for your heart! Recent research has shown that cancer survivors have an increased risk of heart attack and heart disease, and oats and other whole grains have been shown to lower heart disease risk and decrease cholesterol levels.2 The American Heart Association recommends that at least half of the grains in your diet be whole grains and to aim for 25 grams of fiber daily for heart health.3 Whole grain cereals, whole wheat tortillas and even air-popped popcorn can count towards your daily goal!

Digestive Health

Fiber and whole grains are crucial for digestive health.  Without adequate fiber food would not move through your digestive system in timely manner, which could result in constipation and other bowel issues.  If you are not used to eating a good amount of fiber, make sure you take it slow.  If you add too much fiber into your diet too quickly, it could result in gas and bloating.  It is important to gradually increase your fiber intake to prevent discomfort.  It is also necessary to increase your water and fluid intake because fiber works best with adequate fluids.  Without enough fluids a sudden change in fiber intake can actually cause more discomfort.  Remember fiber and fluids always go together!

If you are undergoing cancer treatment, digestive health is crucial.  Monitoring your fiber and whole grain intake can make your side effects more tolerable and help you get through your treatment with a stronger digestive system.  Certain medications and treatments can cause constipation or diarrhea.  As mentioned above, it is important to increase your fiber and fluid intake if you are experiencing constipation.  If you are experiencing diarrhea, certain types of fiber are recommended while other types are not.  Soluble fiber, which is present in oats, apples, barley, beans and citrus fruits are encouraged because they absorb fluid in the bowel, reducing the frequency of diarrhea.  Insoluble fiber–such as wheat bran, most vegetables and nuts–on the other hand, should be avoided if you have diarrhea because it can increase bulk in the stool and may cause increased diarrhea.  

Weight Maintenance

Not only are fiber and whole grains important for disease prevention and digestive health, they are an important part of weight management.  Being overweight or obese increases your risk of eleven different types of cancer, as well as increases the risk of recurrence for the cancer survivor. 4, 5 Fiber keeps you full longer, so it can help prevent “grazing” in between meals and decrease the amount of food you eat at one sitting.  Using whole grain bread or bun for your sandwich or incorporating oatmeal with nuts into your daily routine are simple and nutritious ways to boost your fiber intake.

Putting it into Practice

Getting adequate fiber is easier than you think!  If you aim to include whole grains and more dietary fiber at each meal, plus two snacks daily, you can meet your fiber goals and be one more step towards cancer prevention.  Besides whole grains, other sources of fiber include fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and whole soy products, like tofu.  Not only do these foods contain fiber, they also have antioxidants, phytochemicals, and other nutrients that are essential for good health and higher energy levels during a cancer treatment.  Below is a tasty recipe from The Meals to Heal Cookbook; full of flavor, nutrition and of course, fiber!

Whole Wheat Couscous Primavera

Instead of a traditional rice dish or pasta salad, this couscous salad is a good source of whole grains and fiber, ideal for those suffering with constipation.  The variety of vegetables contain antioxidants, which are also crucial to cancer prevention. To switch things up, you can substitute the whole wheat couscous for other grains, like quinoa, barley or whole wheat bulgur.  This is a perfect side dish to accompany heart-healthy salmon or use it as a light lunch with a vegetable based soup!


1 cup uncooked whole wheat couscous 

1 tablespoon olive oil

1⁄2 cup chopped fresh or frozen broccoli 

1⁄2 cup chopped cauliflower

1⁄2 cup chopped carrots

1⁄2 cup chopped cremini mushrooms 

1⁄2 cup chopped zucchini

1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved 

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1⁄4 cup basil pesto 

1⁄4 cup grated Parmesan cheese 

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Fresh basil, cut into ribbons


1. Cook the couscous according to the package directions.

2. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots. Sauté for about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and zucchini and sauté for another 5 minutes. You may need to add a splash of water and cover the pan to cook the vegetables more thoroughly. Add the tomatoes and garlic, if using, and sauté for another minute.

3. Add the cooked couscous, pesto, half of the cheese, and the lemon juice. Toss in the pan until well combined. Remove from the heat and add the basil. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese before serving.

Excerpted from The Meals to Heal Cookbook by Susan Bratton and Jessica Iannotta, MS, RD, CSO, CDN. Copyright © 2016. Available from Da Capo Lifelong Books an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

The benefits of whole grains and fiber are plentiful for both the cancer patient and cancer survivor.  For the cancer patient, fiber can be the difference in the tolerance of treatment-related side effects that impact the digestive system.  For the cancer survivor, it can improve the overall nutrition and health.  Making a small goal to increase your intake can make a significant difference in your health and energy level.  No matter where you or a loved one are on in a cancer journey, you can always make improvements to your fiber intake, while decreasing your risk of heart disease, preventing recurrence and improving your digestive health.


  1. AICR’s Foods that Fight Cancer: Whole Grains. American Institute for Cancer Research. Accessed January 9, 2018.
  2. After Cancer Treatment, Higher Risk of Severe Heart Attack. WebMD. Accessed January 16, 2018.
  3. Whole Grains and Fiber. American Heart Association. Accessed January 9, 2018.
  4. Obesity and Cancer Risk. American Institute for Cancer Research. Accessed January 16, 2018.
  5. Obesity and Cancer. National Cancer Institute.  Accessed January 16, 2018.

If you enjoyed this recipe there are plenty more in our Meals to Heal Cookbook–written to meet the unique needs of cancer patients and caregivers and offering 150 recipes to make eating less stressful, more convenient, and simply more enjoyable. Created by oncology-credentialed registered dietitians, these delicious, nourishing, easy-to-prepare dishes are full of the nutrients you need to maintain strength during treatment. Loaded with essential nutrition info and recipes coded by common symptoms and side effects (including fatigue, nausea, digestive issues, mouth sores, taste and smell aversion, and others).

Susan Bratton

Founder and Chief Executive Officer

Susan founded Savor Health in 2011 after a career on Wall Street where she represented and focused exclusively on early and growth stage healthcare services and insurance companies. During her tenure on Wall Street, Susan was a member of the healthcare groups at firms including Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, Robertson Stephens and Wasserstein, Perella & Co. Susan brings to Savor Health over 25 years of industry experience in healthcare and business as well as expertise in strategy, finance and management. She is actively involved in a number of industry associations including Women Business Leaders in Healthcare. She also serves on the Advisory Board of HCap, the national leading venue for healthcare providers and capital to meet and is the Secretary for Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committee. In addition to her role as CEO of Savor Health, Susan speaks nationally on the role of proper nutrition in the cancer patient at industry association meetings as well as advocacy group summits and other oncology meetings. Her work in oncology extends beyond Savor Health and speaking on the role of nutrition to her volunteer work at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in pediatrics and as a runner for Fred’s Team to raise money for research at Memorial Sloan Kettering. Susan earned a B.A. from Duke University and M.B.A. from the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business.

Jessica A. lannotta

MS, RD, CSO, CDN, Chief Operating Officer

Jessica is a registered dietitian and certified specialist in oncology nutrition (CSO). She studied nutrition at Cornell University and completed her dietetic internship at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center. She obtained her Master’s degree through the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Jessica has worked in inpatient and outpatient oncology settings since 2001 in the North Shore-LIJ Health System. Jessica is in charge of all operations including clinical and culinary operations ranging from menu development to evidence-based website content, relationships with registered dietitians and social workers and developing processes and protocols for intake, management and outcomes analysis of patients.

Savor Health is a trusted cancer nutrition expert that patients, caregivers and healthcare enterprises rely on for safe, effective and evidence-based nutrition information and programs. Savor Health is working to put an end to the one third of cancer deaths due to severe malnutrition by providing cancer patients and survivors with individualized disease-specific nutrition solutions through nutritional counseling, menu planning, customized recipes and a 150 recipe cookbook – Meals to Heal.


To learn more about Savor Health please visit

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