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6. They reduce risk of heart disease.

At least 25 studies have found that people who regularly eat whole grains have a lower risk of heart disease.

"The evidence is quite consistent and convincing that people who eat at least one serving of whole grains a day have a lower risk of heart disease and stroke," reports Mark Pereira, PhD, a nutritional epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School.

In studying the dietary habits of male health professionals, researchers found that for every 10 gram increase in cereal fiber eaten each day, the risk of heart attack was reduced by nearly 30%. A more recent study found this beneficial effect is even stronger in women.

8. They cut cholesterol levels.

Researchers at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago found that adding oats to an already low-fat diet helped women cut their bloodcholesterol by an additional 8 or 9 mg/dL after only three weeks. (That came on top of the 12 mg/dL reduction seen with the low-fat diet alone!)

Antioxidants found in oats cut cholesterol by suppressing the molecules that make blood cells stick to artery walls. When these cells stick to artery walls and cause inflammation, plaque deposits build up and narrow the passageways where blood flows, leading to "hardening of the arteries."

9. They reduce blood pressure.

Eating foods containing barley decreases blood pressure and improves several other risk factors for heart disease, according to a recent study. (Other studies of high-fiber, whole-grain foods have also reported significant reductions in blood pressure.)

The researchers also noticed a decrease in total cholesterol (an average of 21% reduction in those eating lots of soluble fiber, such as that found in barley and oats), and "bad" cholesterol. Levels of "good cholesterol" either increased or did not change.

10. They can decrease your risk of stroke.

A recent Harvard study found that a diet with large amounts of whole-grain foods was associated with a decreased risk of stroke in women.

11. They reduce cancer risks.

More than 40 studies looking at 20 types of cancer have suggested that regularly eating whole grains reduces cancer risk.

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