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Whole-Grain Cereal Saves Lives

Choosing the Right Breakfast Cereal Could Make a Big Difference

WebMD Health News

Feb. 26, 2003 -- Filling your bowl with a whole-grain breakfast cereal rather than a refined-grain or sugary one might be one of the easiest ways to lengthen your life. A new study shows men who eat about one serving per day of whole-grain cereal are as much as 20% less likely to die from heart disease or other causes than men who rarely eat whole-grain cereals, such as wheat or bran flakes or oatmeal.

Researchers say the findings also highlight the importance of distinguishing between whole-grain and other types of breakfast cereal in the prevention of disease, such heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Although breakfast cereal is a major source of both whole and refined grains in the diet, until now their effect on reducing the overall risk of death hasn't been clarified.

In this study, published in the February issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers analyzed information collected from 86,190 male doctors who participated in the Physicians' Health Study. At the start of the study in 1982, about 19% of the men reported eating about one serving of breakfast cereal per day and about 12% said they ate one or more servings of whole-grain cereal per day.

After an average of five and a half years of follow-up, researchers found that the more whole-grain cereal the men ate, the lower their risk of death from heart disease or any other cause was. For example, men who ate at least one serving of whole-grain breakfast cereal per day had a 27% lower risk of death from any cause compared with those who rarely ate whole-grain cereal.

In addition, men who ate the most whole-grain cereals also had a 28% lower risk of death due to heart disease and a 23% lower risk of heart attack than men who ate the least whole-grain cereal.

These healthy benefits of whole-grain breakfast cereals persisted even after researchers took other heart disease risk factors such as cigarette smoking, high alcohol intake, low physical activity, and high cholesterol into account. After adjusting for these risk factors, whole-grain cereal eaters had an overall 17% lower risk of death, 20% lower risk of heart disease-related death, and 29% reduction in the risk of heart attack.

In contrast, the study found no association between either total cereal intake or consumption of refined-grain breakfast cereals and the risk of death from heart disease or other causes.

Although researchers aren't exactly sure what's behind the healthy benefits of whole grains, they say several factors may be at work. For example, whole grains are thought to help lower cholesterol and blood pressure and improve how the body processes insulin and glucose. Compared with their highly processed and refined counterparts, whole-grain cereals also contain more beneficial micronutrients, antioxidants, minerals, and fiber.

According to the U.S. government's Healthy People 2010 goals, at least three of the recommended six servings per day of grain products should be whole grains.

SOURCE: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, February 2003.

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