Eating more whole grains may reduce the risk of heart disease

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Experts say older consumers can boost their health in several key areas when they eat more whole grains

A new study conducted by researchers from Tufts University explored how whole grains can impact consumers’ heart health

Their findings showed that middle-aged and older consumers who ate larger amounts of whole grains had better heart health outcomes in key areas, including smaller increases in blood sugar, waist size, and blood pressure. 

“Our findings suggest that eating whole-grain foods as part of a healthy diet delivers health benefits beyond just helping us lose or maintain weight as we age,” said researcher Nicola McKeown. “In fact, these data suggest that people who eat more whole grains are better able to maintain their blood sugar and blood pressure over time. Managing these risk factors as we age may help us to protect against heart disease.” 

Benefits of eating whole grains

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from more than 3,100 participants enrolled in the Framingham Heart Study Offspring Cohort. The team analyzed participants’ diets and heart health outcomes over the course of four-year intervals to determine how whole grains impacted their heart health. 

The study showed that consuming larger quantities of whole grains was associated with better heart health. The opposite was also true -- participants who ate the least amount of whole grains had poorer heart health outcomes. Measures for blood sugar, blood pressure, and waist size followed the same lines. Participants who ate the most whole grains per day had the healthiest levels and those who ate fewer whole grains had less healthy outcomes.

“There are several reasons that whole grains may work to help people maintain waist size and reduce increases in the other risk factors,” said researcher Caleigh Sawicki. “The presence of dietary fiber in whole grains can have a satiating effect, and the magnesium, potassium, and antioxidants may contribute to lowering blood pressure. Soluble fiber in particular may have a beneficial effect on post-meal blood sugar spikes.” 

Comparing whole grains to refined grains

The researchers explained that most consumers are eating refined grains instead of whole grains, and that can have negative consequences on heart health. Whole grains have essential vitamins and antioxidants that are beneficial to the body, whereas refined grains are more sugar-based. The researchers say swapping bleached bread products for whole grain cereals or pastas can have long-term benefits on consumers’ heart health. 

“The average American consumes about five servings of refined grains daily, much more than is recommended, so it’s important to think about ways to replace refined grains with whole grains throughout your day,” McKeown said. 

“For example, you might consider a bowl of whole-grain cereal instead of a white flour bagel for breakfast and replacing refined-grain snacks, entrees, and side dishes with whole-grain options. Small incremental changes in your diet to increase whole-grain intake will make a difference over time.”