Whole Grains Fight Belly Fat

Study Shows Whole-Grain Diet Good for the Waistline and the Heart

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on February 25, 2008

Feb. 25, 2008 -- A diet rich in whole grains may help fight your belly bulge while lowering the risk of heart disease.

A new study shows people who followed a weight loss program incorporating whole-grain breads, cereals, and other foods lost more body fat from the abdominal area than those who ate only refined grains like white bread and rice.

In addition, those on the whole-grain diet experienced a 38% drop in C-reactive protein (CRP), an indicator of inflammation in the body linked to heart disease.

Researchers say the results suggest that incorporating whole grains into weight loss plans may help burn fat as well as reduce the risk of heart disease.

The results appear in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Whole Grains vs. Refined Grains

In the study, Heather I. Katcher of Pennsylvania State University and colleagues divided 50 obese adults with metabolic syndrome into two groups. Metabolic syndrome is a collection of risk factors that increase risk for heart disease and diabetes.

Both groups were instructed to cut calories for 12 weeks. But one group was told to eat only whole-grain products while the other group was asked not to eat any whole-grain foods.

By the end of the study, both groups had lost weight, an average of 8 pounds among the whole-grain group and 11 pounds in the refined-grain group.

Both groups experienced a decrease in body fat, but the whole-grain group lost significantly more body fat from the abdominal region than the refined-grain group. Excessive fat around the midsection is linked to an increased risk of heart disease.

The whole-grain group experienced other benefits. For example, CRP levels dropped by 38% among those who followed a whole-grain diet. No decrease was found among the refined-grain group.

Those in the whole-grain group also increased their intake of dietary fiber and magnesium.

Sources of Whole Grain

Looking for food that is a good source of whole grain? Here are some examples of whole grains:

  • Whole wheat
  • Whole oats/oatmeal
  • Whole-grain corn
  • Popcorn
  • Brown rice
  • Whole rye
  • Whole-grain barley
  • Wild rice
  • Buckwheat
  • Triticale
  • Bulgur (cracked wheat)
  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Sorghum

You can add whole grains at meals and snacks:

  • Snack on ready-to-eat, whole-grain cereals such as toasted oat cereal.
  • Add whole-grain flour or oatmeal when making cookies or other baked treats.
  • Try a whole-grain snack chip, such as baked tortilla chips.
  • Popcorn, a whole grain, can be a healthy snack with little or no added salt and butter.

Whole Grains on Food Labels

When trying to select foods with whole grains, choose foods that name one of the following whole-grain ingredients first on the label's ingredient list:

  • Brown rice
  • Bulgur
  • Oatmeal
  • Whole-grain corn
  • Whole oats
  • Whole rye
  • Whole wheat
  • Wild rice

Foods labeled with the words "multi-grain," "stone-ground," "100% wheat," "cracked wheat," "seven-grain," or "bran" are usually not whole-grain products.

Color is not an indication of a whole grain. Bread can be brown because of molasses or other added ingredients. Read the ingredient list to see if it is a whole grain. Use the Nutrition Facts label and choose products with a higher % Daily Value (%DV) for fiber. The "%DV" for fiber is a good clue to the amount of whole grain in the product.

Show Sources


Katcher, H. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, January 2008; vol 87: pp 79-90.

Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, WebMD director of nutrition.

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