Whole Grains Help Your Heart

A Little Oatmeal, Brown Rice, or Rye Bread Cuts Heart Disease Risk

From the WebMD Archives

Dec. 29, 2004 -- A small cup of oatmeal, a little brown rice, a slice or two of rye bread: Eating just 25 grams of whole grains a day reduces the risk of heart disease by about 15%, new research shows.

The finding comes from a large study of health professionals at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Other studies have suggested a 20% to 30% decrease in the risk of heart disease when people eat three or more servings of whole-grain foods daily, writes lead researcher Majken K. Jensen, PhD, an epidemiologist with Harvard's School of Public Health.

Jensen and her colleagues analyzed 14 years' worth of diet and health records from more than 27,000 men aged 40 to 75.

Cold breakfast cereal was the main source of whole grains. Men got 33% of their whole grains via cold breakfast cereals; 18% came from brown rice, 17% from dark bread, and 15% from cooked oats.

Bottom line: there's strong evidence to support a link between higher intakes of whole and lower heart disease risk.

In the study, men with the highest daily intake of whole grain (about 40 grams) cut heart disease risk by almost 20% compared with men who on average ate about 3 grams per day.

In addition, 11 grams of bran daily also reduced heart disease risk. The risk reduction was 30% compared with men who added no bran to their diet. While few men in the study ate wheat germ, researchers believe it offers health benefits, writes Jensen.

The only factor that might skew their data, researchers say, is the overall high-fiber diet. The men who ate more whole grain also tended to be those that ate lots of fruits and vegetables, which also lower heart disease. Also, lifestyle factors like exercise and stress reduction, seen more frequently in the men who eat more whole grains, affect heart disease risk.

Whole Grains More Than Just Fiber

Why are whole grains the miracle ingredient? Whole grains have three parts: bran, germ, and the starchy endosperm. Refined grains are stripped of bran and germ. This takes away nearly all the fiber and nutrients and leaves behind nearly all the calories.

All three parts of whole grains provide fiber that keeps arteries healthy. Scientists are finding it is not just the bran and fiber, but all the nutrients in whole grain that provide the most benefit, researchers say.

The best whole-grain foods: Dark breads, brown rice, toasted wheat cereals, and oatmeal. But even foods with lower whole-grain content, like popcorn, add up to good nutrition.

Recently, the FDA approved a health claim for whole-grain foods that contain more than 51% whole-grain ingredients by weight. Jensen says that standard may be too restrictive and exclude many helpful foods that contain whole grains but do not meet an arbitrary threshold, she writes.

Labeling foods simply based on the grams of whole grain may prove to be a good guide for consumers, she concludes.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Jensen, M. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, December 2004; vol 80: pp1492-1499. WebMD Medical News: "Eat Whole Grains, Gain Less Weight."
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