Protect your heart with this common food

By: Dr. Victor Marchione | General Health | Monday, June 08, 2015 - 04:30 AM

Eat whole grains to protect heartTo live a long healthy life, food plays a main role. We know that fast-food and too much sugar are bad for us, and lean protein and vegetables are ideal.

But there’s one food item that can actually reduce mortality – whole grains.

Although bleached and white breads are not good for us, whole grains on the other hand offer us many nutritional benefits. Whole grains contain all the essential nutrients from the grain and have undergone little to no processing.

When foods go through processing and refining, many of the nutritional benefits become lost or devalued, so keeping the grain intact is essential for good health. In fact, a single serving of whole grains can help lower your risk of dying – of cardiovascular disease in particular – by up to 10 percent. That’s according to new research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Looking into whole grains and cardiovascular disease

Harvard School of Public Health recently examined the health data of more than 2.7 million people: About 74,000 women from the Nurses’ Health Study and more than 43,000 men from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. They completed questionnaires about their diet every two or four years between the mid-1980s and 2010.

Researchers adjusted for a variety of factors, such as age, smoking, body mass index, physical activity and overall diet except for whole grains. Over 25 years, they compared participants’ whole grain intake with mortality data.

They learned that for every daily serving of whole grains you eat – roughly 28 grams – your risk of death declines by as much as 5 percent. What’s more, that same kind of healthy eating every day decreases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease by as much as 10 percent. Even swapping refined grains and red meats with whole grains can help lower mortality, according to researchers. All it takes is replacing one serving of refined grains or red meat each day with one serving of whole grains.

Swapping out refined grains could mean an 8 percent lower mortality; swapping out red meat could lead to a 20 percent lower mortality. On the other hand, researchers found no link between eating whole grains and lowered cancer-related deaths.

Previously, eating more whole grains was linked to a lower risk of chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, but there haven’t been many studies on whole grains and mortality.

Whole grains versus refined grains

So why is consuming whole grains considered healthy eating? Well, whole grains fill you up without ever increasing your blood sugar and insulin levels. Generally, whole grains are made up of fiber, magnesium, phenolic acids, and other nutrients and phytochemicals. They’re quite different from refined grains like the ultra-processed ones you find in white bread, crackers and pretty much all snack foods.

Ways to eat more whole grains and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease

Of course, oatmeal isn’t the only path to healthy eating. You can also try brown rice, whole grain bread and pasta, and quinoa. But if you really want to get the healthiest whole grains and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, consider purchasing unprocessed grains, not those mixed or baked into other foods. That means whole rolled oats instead of sugary instant oatmeal. Basically, as I’ve mentioned, the less processing or preparation your whole grains have undergone, the better.

Interestingly, Harvard School of Public Health backs the current dietary guidelines that promote whole grains as one of the major healthful foods for prevention of major chronic diseases. Based on existing health research, your goal should be three or more servings, about 28 grams, daily.

So if you can add a big bowl of oatmeal, quinoa, or bulgur to your everyday diet, you’ll be on the right track to healthy eating and possibly a longer life.


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