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Breakfast Cereals Play Role in Lower Heart Risk

Studies Suggest Whole Grains and Dietary Fiber in Cereals May Cut Hypertension Risk

Getting Enough Whole Grains and Fiber continued...

That’s a significant deficit since studies have shown that whole grains have many important health benefits.

“Whole-grain consumption has been shown to decrease the harmful effect of the bad fat that you eat on the endothelium, the lining of blood vessels,” says study researcher Jinesh Kochar, MD, a gerontologist and a clinical fellow in medicine Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. “It’s also been shown to decrease the risk of diabetes -- about 40% decreased risk in those who get the recommended amounts of whole grains.”

“I think there’s strong biological data to support what we are seeing in this population-based study,” Kochar says.

Hongyan Ning, MD, a statistical analyst in the department of preventive medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, says fiber has been shown to reduce heart risk in many different ways.

“Fiber has been shown to lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and lower BMI [body mass index],” Ning says. “Our study would seem to show the collected effect of all those benefits.”

Only 17% of the people in Ning’s study, however, got the recommended daily amount of fiber.

Cereals That Measure Up

Breakfast cereals can be an important way to get to the daily goal, as long as they’re high in fiber and low in sugar and sodium.

“We didn’t have any specific information on brands, but we did have categories of cereal -- whole grain vs. refined gain,” says study researcher Jinesh Kochar, MD, a gerontologist and a clinical fellow in medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Kochar’s study found those who reported eating cereals made with refined grains had a slightly lower risk of developing high blood pressure, but it wasn’t statistically significant after the researchers tried to rule out other factors known to influence hypertension risk, like regular exercise, fruit and vegetable consumption and smoking.

Kochar says he wasn’t able to tell how much sodium was in the breakfast cereals study participants were eating, and that might be important since cereal, like all processed foods, can be high in salt.

He also says notes that the study wasn’t designed to show cause and effect, so researchers can only report that they saw an association between cereal and high blood pressure.

“I think the take-home message with this is that whole-grain breakfast cereal consumption, along with certain lifestyle factors, moderation in salt and calories, and getting regular physical activity -- all of those things are likely to reduce your risk of hypertension,” Kochar says.

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