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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.

Q and A

Q: Are there health benefits to caffeine?

A: Caffeine does help people feel less tired and can increase energy levels. Additionally, a healthy amount of caffeine may also improve mood and brain function, help boost your metabolism, speed up reaction times and even help with memory. However, too much caffeine can lead to caffeine dependency, anxiety, insomnia, digestive issues and fatigue once it leaves your system. So how much is the right amount? Healthy adults should aim to have no more than 400 mg of caffeine each day. This will reduce the likelihood of negative side effects like jitters, fast heartbeat or muscle tremors.

RECIPE

'Tis the season for farmers markets everywhere. One vegetable you typically can find is fresh green beans. (My mom would sit all of us kids at the big kitchen table and we'd all snap the ends from the day's harvest). Here's a quick weeknight recipe that pairs fresh green beans with chicken. It's from Eating Well's Anti-Inflammation magazine.

LEMON-GARLIC CHICKEN WITH GREEN BEANS

Servings: 4

1 pound chicken breast cutlets

 

1 teaspoon salt, divided

1/2 teaspoon ground pepper, divided

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

6 cups green beans (about 1 pound), ends trimmed

4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme, plus leaves for garnish

1/4 cup unsalted chicken broth

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

Lemon wedges for garnish

Sprinkle chicken with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken, turning once, until it reaches 165 degrees, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and green beans to the pan. Sprinkle with the remaining salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally until tender-crisp, about 2 minutes. Stir in garlic, lemon zest and thyme; cook, stirring until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add broth, wine and lemon juice and return the chicken and any juices to the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced by half, about 1 minute more. Serve topped with pine nuts, more thyme and lemon wedges, if desired. Serves 4 (3 ounces chicken and 1 cup green beans each).

Per serving: 296 calories; 27 grams protein; 11 grams carbohydrate; 16 grams fat (2 grams saturated); 63 milligrams cholesterol; 4 grams total sugars (0 grams added); 4 grams fiber; 652 milligrams sodium.

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Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian with SIU Med School in Springfield, Illinois. For comments or questions, contact her at charfarg@aol.com or follow her on Twitter @NutritionRD. To find out more about Charlyn Fargo and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

 

 

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