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Heart Disease Health Center

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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
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

March 22, 2011 -- High intake of whole-grain cereal is linked to a lower risk of high blood pressure and hefty helpings of dietary fiber are linked to a lower risk of heart disease, especially for young and middle-aged adults, new studies show.

Breakfast cereal, in particular, may be an important way to fill up on both whole grains and dietary fiber.

A study that looked at cereal consumption among 13,368 men who are participating in the Physician’s Health Study found that those who ate whole-grain cereals seven or more times a week had a 20% reduced chance of having high blood pressure compared to those who said they didn’t eat any cereal.

Even averaging a single bowl of cereal each week appeared to be protective, dropping the risk of high blood pressure by 11%.

Independent experts agree that cereal can be a top food choice. But they say it’s still important to read labels to make sure you’re not getting hidden surprises.

“Presumably, the ‘whole grain’ cereals that conferred the most benefit in this study provided more nutrient benefits in the form of vitamins and fiber than liability in the form of sodium and sugar. That’s not true of all cereals, however,” says David Katz, MD, MPH, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center.

A second study, of more than 11,000 Americans who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Surveys (NHANES) between 2003 and 2008, found that young and middle-aged adults who reported the highest intakes of daily dietary fiber, averaging 22 to 23 grams a day, were significantly more likely to be at low risk for heart disease, compared to those who ate an average of 9 grams of dietary fiber daily. The same didn’t appear to hold true for adults over age 60, however.

Katz says there are several possible explanations as to why seniors who didn’t eat high amounts of fiber didn’t also have a drop in heart risk.

“The lack of benefit in older people may be of the ‘too little, too late’ variety,” Katz says. “Another possibility is that even if a high-fiber intake helps protect your blood vessels from premature atherosclerosis, the process may yet occur, just slower.”

The studies were presented at the American Heart Association’s Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2011 Scientific Sessions.

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