Eat Whole Grains for Heart Health Benefits

Healthnotes Newswire (June 21, 2007)—While it’s common knowledge that we’re supposed to eat whole grains every day, it’s not always clear why, even to healthcare professionals. New research, published in Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases, connects increased whole grain foods in the diet with decreased risk of cardiovascular events, such as a heart attack or death from heart disease.

The authors of the study found that, among more than 149,000 participants, those who ate at least 2.5 servings per day of whole grain foods had a 21% lower risk of a cardiovascular event compared with those who ate 0.2 servings or less per day. The authors based their findings on an analysis of seven previous research studies that included information about people’s diet and heart health. According to the authors, eating an abundance of whole grains may help prevent cardiovascular events by improving insulin, cholesterol, and blood pressure regulation, all of which are related to heart disease risk. Eating whole grains may also reduce inflammation and have a direct health-promoting effect on blood vessels.

Make it a point to get those grains

One would think that eating more whole grains would be a fairly simple habit to adopt, but according to the study’s authors, data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999–2000 found that only 8% of US adults eat three or more servings of whole grains per day, and as many as 42% of adults eat no whole grains or less than one serving per day. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 recommends a total of six ounces of grains per day and recommends that at least three ounces or more come from whole grain foods.

A grain is considered “whole” when the entire seed of the plant is used; refined grains are stripped of the fiber- and nutrient-rich bran and germ portions. When buying bread, cereal, and other grain products look for information on the label that indicates the use of whole grain such as whole wheat, whole oats, brown rice, barley, and others. Try brown bread and rice instead of white at restaurants that offer a choice.

When asked about the bottom line regarding the benefits of whole grains and heart health, Philip Mellen, MD, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of General Internal Medicine at Wake Forest University, had this to say: “We know from the research to date that whole grains appear to protect against the risk of several [cardiovascular] risk factors including diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Therefore, the risk of having events such as a heart attack or stroke may be reduced by increasing our whole grain food intake.” Mellen suggests attempting to eat whole grains with every meal.

(Nutr Metabolism Cardiovasc Dis 2007 Apr 24 [e-pub ahead of print])

Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, Web sites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.

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