What are you Driven to Discover?
I am driven to understand what foods are best for reducing the risk of developing chronic diseases, particularly colon cancer and type 2 diabetes.
What is the impact of your research in your field?
We have shown that consuming even modest amounts of cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli or cabbage, can greatly reduce the risk of colon cancer. We have also shown that a particular type of dietary fiber, those that are viscous when mixed in water, are responsible for most of the health benefits of fiber, such as cholesterol- lowering and improving blood sugar control.
How can people see the impact of your research on everyday life?
People who are pre-diabetic or have type 2 diabetes may see significant benefits of improved blood glucose control rather quickly from consuming sources of viscous dietary fiber, such as oats and barley. They may also experience reductions in serum cholesterol. Both of these reduce the risk of disease.
What drew you to your field of study?
When I first began studying nutrition, I was completely fascinated by the idea that diet could have such a dramatic effect on one’s health. I quickly decided that researching how to prevent a disease was more interesting and satisfying than studying how to treat a disease.
What is your favorite research/lab tool and why?
We often use immunohistochemistry in our studies of diet and colon cancer. With this technique, using a microscope, we can detect changes in specific proteins within a section of colon tissue by using antibodies. This tells us a great deal at the molecular level about how our diets might be reducing colon cancer risk. Also, the microscopic view of these tissues is quite beautiful.
What is your greatest research accomplishment?
Two accomplishments come to mind. First, we have shown that the reduction in serum cholesterol by viscous dietary fibers is highly mathematically predictable, based on the viscosity produced in the gut by the dietary fiber. Second, we have found that red wheat, the type of wheat used in bread making, reduces colon cancer risk rather significantly.
What do you hope to accomplish next?
We are focused on two accomplishments. First, we want to understand how red wheat reduces colon cancer risk. Second, we are exploring whether a new carbohydrate, made by one of my food science colleagues, is a prebiotic; that is, does it produce a health benefit by changing the microflora in the large intestine.