• By Jane Hart, MD

Eat Whole Grains for Heart Health Benefits

While it’s common knowledge that we’re supposed to eat whole grains every day, it’s not always clear why, even to healthcare professionals. One study now connects eating more whole grain foods with decreased risk of heart attack, death from heart disease, and other cardiovascular events.

As many as 42% of adults eat no whole grains or less than one serving per day

Make it a point to get those grains

The study’s authors found that, among more than 149,000 participants, those who ate at least 2.5 servings per day of whole grain foods had a 21% lower risk of a cardiovascular event compared with those who ate 0.2 servings or less. Eating an abundance of whole grains may help prevent cardiovascular events by improving insulin, cholesterol, and blood pressure regulation, all of which are related to heart disease risk. They may also reduce inflammation and have a direct health-promoting effect on blood vessels.

Eating more whole grains sounds easy, but according to the study’s authors, data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999–2000 found that only 8% of US adults eat three or more servings of whole grains per day, and as many as 42% of adults eat no whole grains or less than one serving per day.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 recommends a total of six ounces of grains per day and recommends that at least three ounces or more come from whole grain foods.

Aim for whole grains with every meal

Philip Mellen, MD, the study’s lead author, suggests attempting to eat whole grains at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, “We know from the research to date that whole grains appear to protect against the risk of several [cardiovascular] risk factors including diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol,” he says. “Therefore, the risk of having events such as a heart attack or stroke may be reduced by increasing our whole grain food intake.”

A grain is considered “whole” when the entire seed of the plant is used; refined grains are stripped of the fiber- and nutrient-rich bran and germ portions. Here are some steps you can take to get more grains:

  • When buying bread, cereal, and other grain products look for information on the label that indicates the presence of whole grain such as whole wheat, whole oats, brown rice, barley, and so on.
  • Try brown bread and rice instead of white at home and at restaurants that offer a choice.

(Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis 2007 Apr 24 [e-pub ahead of print])

Jane Hart, MD

Jane Hart, MD, board certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, OH, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, websites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.

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