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When it comes to keeping all your bodily systems healthy, the fact that refined grains are “out” and whole grains are “in” is no longer new news.
There’s abundant research proving that your risk for heart attack and stroke skyrocket when you indulge in too many refined grains.
There’s also plenty of proof that increasing your intake of whole grains could be the key to preventing both diabetes and heart disease.
And it turns out, there are very specific heart health benefits for older adults who increase their intake of whole grains…
Whole grains slash risk for older adults
The Framingham Heart Study remains one of our most valuable sources of research into heart conditions.
That’s why when researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Center on Aging at Tufts University wanted to examine the outcomes associated with whole- and refined-grain consumption, they turned to the Framingham Heart Study Offspring Cohort (children of the original study participants).
They were able to access data on 3100 people who were in their mid-50s when the data collection — which spanned 18 years — began.
The researchers tracked, checking at four-year intervals, how different levels of whole-grain consumption impacted five major risk factors for heart disease: waist size, blood pressure, blood sugar, triglycerides and HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
Not surprisingly, they found:
- Waist size increased by an average of over 1 inch in the low intake participants, versus about ½ inch in the high intake participants.
- Even after accounting for changes in waist size, average increases in blood sugar levels and systolic blood pressure were greater in low intake participants compared to high intake participants.
Senior study author Nicola McKeown says, “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.
“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 to protect against heart disease.”
What’s so great about whole grains?
“There are several reasons that whole grains may work to help people maintain waist size and reduce increases in the other risk factors. 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,” according to co-researcher Caleigh Sawicki.
Refined grains, on the other hand, are not “whole.” The bran, germ, or both, have been removed through processing. This process gives refined grain products a finer texture and longer shelf life but robs them of their nutritional value.
Reﬁning a grain removes half to two-thirds or more of its nutrients, including a quarter of the protein, leaving the grain a mere shadow of its original self.
A study published in February of this year found that eating seven or more servings of refined grains per day was associated with a 33 percent higher risk of heart disease and a 27 percent increase in the risk of early death.
It’s easy to eat more of the good grains
Brown rice, whole-grain barley and whole-grain couscous are a few of the healthy whole grains you can easily add to your dinner plate in place of white rice or other refined foods.
Other ways to make whole grains a part of your diet:
- Combine whole grains with vegetables. Think brown rice with a vegetable stir fry or a whole-wheat pita stuffed with salad.
- Add high-fiber ingredients. Try adding bran or oatmeal to meatloaf or tossing quinoa or wheat berries into a salad.
- Start with breakfast. Choose a fiber-rich whole-grain cereal, whole-wheat toast or oatmeal.
- Choose a whole-wheat option when shopping for bread, buns, tortillas and pasta.
- Snack on whole grains. Popcorn is considered a whole grain. Or, snack on 100 percent whole-grain or rye crackers.
- A note about deceptive labels: For bread to be labeled “whole wheat,” it needs to contain 100 percent whole-wheat flour. But other labels like “multigrain” or “seven grain” don’t need to follow the same rules. So, check the label and make sure the first ingredient is whole wheat flour or another whole grain flour.
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What’s a Whole Grain? A Refined Grain? — The Whole Grains Council