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Heart Disease Health Center

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Whole Grains Get Hearty Support

People Who Eat Whole Grains Are Less Likely to Have Heart Disease, Research Shows
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 11, 2007 -- There's a new report to add to the stack of studies on the heart benefits of whole grains.

People who eat 2.5 daily servings of whole grains are about one-fifth less likely to have heart disease than those who skimp on whole grains, a new research review shows.

But relatively few people have made whole grains a dietary staple, note the reviewers, who included Philip Mellen, MD, of Wake Forest University's internal medicine department.

"We should redouble our efforts to encourage patients to include more of these foods in our diet," Mellen says in a Wake Forest news release.

Mellen's team pooled data from seven studies on whole grains and heart health. Together, the studies included more than 149,000 participants.

Compared with people who ate virtually no whole grains, those with a high daily intake of whole grains (2.5 daily servings) were 21% less likely to have heart disease.

That finding takes other heart disease risk factors into account.

What Are Whole Grains?

Grain kernels consist of three main parts: bran, germ, and endosperm.

Whole grains include all three of those components. But refined flour strips out the bran and germ. That removes fiber and nutrients.

Refined flour does nothing to protect the heart, according to the research review.

Whole grains, on the other hand, lower cholesterol and supply vitamins and antioxidants that may help the heart.

Examples of whole grains include whole wheat, brown rice, oats, millet, corn, buckwheat, barley, amaranth, quinoa (pronounced "keen-wah"), rye, and millet.

Background information cited in the review shows that 42% of U.S. adults ate no whole grains on a typical day in 1999-2000.

"Many consumers are unaware of the health benefits of whole grains," Mellen's team writes. Their review appears online in the journal Nutrition,Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases.

Tips for Eating Whole Grains

Whole grains should account for at least half of your daily grain servings, according to U.S. government dietary guidelines.

Looking for ways to eat more whole grains? Here are some ideas from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's web site:

  • Instead of eating white bread or white rice, eat whole-wheat bread or brown rice.
  • Add whole grains such as barley to soups or stews.
  • Snack on popcorn, which is a whole grain. But don't overload it with butter and salt.

Also, be savvy about food labels. "Foods labeled with the words 'multi-grain,' 'stone-ground,' '100% wheat,' 'seven-grain,' or 'bran' are usually not whole-grain products," states the USDA.

Brown bread isn't necessarily whole grain, either. The brown color may come from molasses or other added ingredients.

Check the product's ingredient list for the word "whole" preceding the grain. Ideally, whole grain will be the first or second ingredient in the list, indicating that the product contains more whole grain than any other ingredient.

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