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Whole Grains and Your Heart

Charlyn Fargo on

Since the prevalence of the Atkins and keto diets, carbs have gotten a bad rap. The truth is, the right carbs, just like the right fats, improve your overall diet. New research finds they may even help you lose weight -- and help your heart.

Cardiovascular disease is the underlying cause in approximately one out of every three deaths in the United States. And while there are many contributing factors, diet is certainly one of the most important. Several observational studies have found that greater whole grain consumption is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and even death.

But here's the problem -- most Americans consume less than one serving of whole grains daily. A serving, by the way, is a slice of whole wheat bread or a half cup of brown rice.

In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition on July 13, 2021, researchers found that older adults who ate at least three servings of whole grains every day experienced smaller increases in waist size, blood pressure and blood sugar compared with those who consumed less than one-half serving per day. Researchers used data collected from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Framingham Heart Study.

Researchers measured the waist sizes of adults in their mid-50s over a four-year period and found those who ate at least three servings of whole grains daily added only a half inch to their waist size. By comparison, adults in the "low-intake" group added one inch, on average.

In addition, study participants, on average, had blood pressure readings of approximately 125 over 75, but those who consumed at least three servings of whole grains daily measured, on average, 122 over 74.

 

"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," study coauthor Nicola McKeown said in a press release.

And because weight and Type 2 diabetes can be contributing factors to heart disease, this study matters. The bottom line is adding at least three servings of whole grains to your meals each day can make a difference. Your heart -- and your waistline -- will be glad you did.

Just what is a whole grain? Think brown rice, quinoa, barley, whole-wheat bread and high fiber cereals like oatmeal -- foods that have fiber because they contain the entire grain (the germ, bran husk and endosperm). When grains are refined -- making white flour from wheat, for example, or making white rice from brown rice -- the process removes the outer husk and bran layers and sometimes the inner germ of the grain kernel. Because the bran and germ portions of the grain contain much of the dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals, the nutrient content of the whole grains is far superior to that of refined grains.

Some food manufacturers add iron, thiamin, riboflavin, folate and niacin back to white flour through enrichment, but typically they don't add back the dietary fiber and nutrients such as vitamin B6, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and zinc, which are lost in processing.

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