More Evidence That Whole Grains Are Better Than Refined for Your Heart

A new study suggests an association between grain choice and heart health.

whole grains and heart health

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  • Research presented at the American College of Cardiology Middle East, which involved about 2,000 people, found that higher consumption of refined grains was associated with higher likelihood of poor heart health.
  • Whole grains, like oatmeal, broken rice, and millet, on the other hand, protect heart health.

Advice about eating whole grains has become as commonplace as the prompt to consume more fruits and vegetables. But how much does that “whole” designation really matter? According to research presented at the American College of Cardiology Middle East recently, it makes a big difference to your heart.

Researchers looked at about 2,000 men and women in Iran, most of whom had premature coronary artery disease (PCAD), which limits blood flow to the heart. They used a food frequency questionnaire to evaluate the potential impact of diet on their diagnosis. They found that higher consumption of refined grains was associated with higher likelihood of having PCAD, while whole grain intake resulted in lower likelihood.

The study’s lead author Mohammad Amin Khajavi Gaskarei, M.D., noted in a news release that there are many factors for why people may be consuming more refined grains, such as affordability or cultural norms. But he emphasised that a high amount of eating these kind of grains could be considered similar to consuming a diet containing a breadth of unhealthy sugars and oils.

In terms of why whole grains may protect heart health, a large part of the influence is related to soluble fibre, according to Amanda Kostro Miller, R.D., registered dietitian and medical reviewer at Botanical Institute.

She was not involved in the research, but told Bicycling that this type of fibre—which is lacking or absent in refined grains—has been shown to potentially lower LDL cholesterol, the “bad” kind that the Centers for Disease Control reports can raise risk for heart disease and stroke.

Miller added that the bran in whole grains (which gets stripped out in refined grains) contains many B vitamins as well as minerals, which can also help heart health. Research supports this idea that B vitamins can protect the heart. For example, research in the journal Stroke found an association between adequate intake of vitamin B6 and vitamin B9—also known as folate—and a reduced risk of mortality from stroke, coronary heart disease, and heart failure.

In some cases, B vitamins as well as iron may be added back into a product, but soluble fibre is often not used to boost a refined grain option.

The recent findings are in line with recommendations from the American Heart Association, which notes that in addition to fibre and B vitamins, whole grains also include magnesium, iron, and selenium, which are important for a variety of physiological functions like forming new cells and carrying oxygen in the blood.

Examples of whole grains includes brown rice, buckwheat, millet, oatmeal, barley, quinoa, rye, wild rice, and many others. Choosing options like these will not only be helpful for your heart, Miller said, but they’ve also been shown to lower risk of diabetes, help you feel full longer, and provide a new way to get more diversity in your diet overall.

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