Despite the popularity of such grain-eschewing diets as the Paleo and the gluten-free craze, a new study has found that people who eat a whole grain-rich diet live longer.
Eating more whole grains may decrease people’s risk of death by up to 15%, particularly from heart disease.
Much of that benefit probably comes from the bran, which is the fibrous coating that processing removes from whole wheat and brown rice.
Bran intake alone was linked with up to 6% lower overall death risk and up to 20% lower cardiovascular disease-related risk.
Listen in as John P. Higgins, MD, discusses diets rich in whole grains and how eating them can help you live longer.
RadioMD Presents:Train Your Body | Original Air Date: January 20, 2015
Host: Melanie Cole, MS
Guest: John P. Higgins, MD
MELANIE: Can eating more whole grains help you reduce cardiovascular disease? Really? Is there that close of a connection between whole grains, which some people say don’t eat because they’re carbohydrates and all, and cardiovascular disease? Well, quite possibly says my guest, Dr. John Higgins, Sports Cardiologist at the U.T. Science Center in Houston.
Dr. Higgins, tell us about this latest study about whole grains and reducing total mortality risk. That’s huge.
DR. HIGGINS: Yes. Oh, this is a big deal, Melanie. This was a very large study as well. It was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine. They actually had a very large group of individuals--about 74,000 women and 43,000 men--who they followed since the mid-1980s through to the 2000s. They found that those individuals--and, you know, they had surveys on them every couple of years and they checked exactly what they were eating—that every one ounce serving, or about 28 grams, of whole grains was associated with a 9% reduction in cardiovascular deaths and a 5% reduction in all-cause mortality as well as in some of the groups—in the men, in particular—reduction in colorectal cancer. So, this is a big deal, Melanie.
MELANIE: Well, it certainly is. Now, let’s talk about what are whole grains because people don’t even really realize what it is and they see “whole wheat” on the bread or they see “whole wheat” pasta or multi-grain, so talk about what this even means when people are thinking about what they’re going to buy at the store today.
DR. HIGGINS: Sure, Melanie.
Well, there are three types of grains that are out there. They are the whole grains—and these are really kind of more of the old school type of grain that are not really processed much at all. So, they are almost like directly how they are grown. They’re basically just harvested. So, these are the things like brown rice, oatmeal, rolled oats, whole grain barley, cornmeal, whole wheat bread, for example, whole wheat pasta and wild rice. So, they seem to be the best.
The second group are what we call the refined grains and these are things like cornbread, corn tortillas, pita bread, white bread. So, what they’ve done is, they’ve taken the whole grains and they’ve processed them a little bit and changed them—taken some of the things out of them—to make them a little bit more tasty for some people that don’t like the whole grains.
Then, finally, there are the fortified refined grains where they actually take out some of the stuff that people don’t find palatable, but then, they add back in certain vitamins and things. What are some of the things that are being removed? So, a great example of this is rice. So, brown rice, we know, is a great whole grain and the husk of the rice contains some really, really important things—not only fiber, but also B vitamins. Now, if you take that husk off, you get white rice and some people just prefer it. It’s a little bit softer and easier to chew for some people. But, you’re missing out on some of those important fiber components as well as some of the vitamins. So now, there is a type of white rice which is fortified with extra B vitamins fiber, etc., etc.
But, you know, the best one, if you can do it, Melanie, is, of course, the whole grains like the wheat flour, the whole wheat flour, the oatmeal and the brown rice. We’re talking about 1 ounce or 28 grams per day as being a positive effect and, in fact, if you look at the recommended guidelines for most adults, they recommend that you probably shoot for about, you know, 5 or 6 ounces per day. So, an example of that would be maybe 2 or 3 slices of whole grain bread, 1-2 cups of unprocessed cereal and then maybe a cup of brown rice per day.
MELANIE: Okay. Now, you’re talking in ounces. Now, that doesn’t seem like a lot to me, Dr. Higgins, but then there are these people who say, “You know, eating three slices of bread is way too much carbohydrates for the day.” Or, “Pastas are bad for you at this point.” Or, you know, some of the newer whole grains on the market, the quinoas and, you know, the wheat berries and all these different things. People don’t even know what to do with those.
So, what do you say to those people that say, “You know, that’s too much carbohydrates altogether. That’s too much of that stuff that you should be eating at all anyway.”
DR. HIGGINS: Yeah. No, that is a good point, Melanie, and I think I was just listening to your session earlier on in this hour and I think that the important part about diet is to do things in moderation and have balance in the diet. So, the important part of the study was that it was 1 ounce or 28 grams per day of the whole grains that was sufficient to get a benefit and it did appear that taking a little bit more of this would give you a little bit more benefit. But, the most benefit seemed to come out of only having 1 ounce or 28 grams per day.
So, my take on this, Melanie, is for people to make sure that their servings of food have some sort of grain in them at least once or twice per day. And I think the three quarter rule where they talk about three quarters of your plate should have some sort of grain, vegetable and/or fruit and then maybe one quarter of your plate having some protein—whether it be soy or lean, fish, etc. I think that’s a reasonable thing to do for people.
And the amazing thing with the grains are a lot of people say, “Well what is in them? How do they do this?” Well, the whole grains—we know they have high fiber levels and we know fiber has been associated with improved cardiovascular health. They lower the LDL cholesterol. They lower your blood pressure. People fill up and feel full faster with whole grains, Melanie. So, they actually tend to be associated with lower weight and weight loss. They help to regulate the blood sugar levels and also whole grains often will contain calcium, Vitamin B, C and other essential minerals and nutrients like selenium, potassium, magnesium.
There’s also been an association with a reduction in inflammatory markers and we know that inflammation is really, really important for producing cardiovascular disease in the long run. So, I think there are a lot of things that are in them, but I do agree that in balance and as a part of a diet any time you do things to an extreme, I think it can be detrimental to your body. So, going to an all protein diet or an all grain diet, I don’t think that’s the way to do it. I think it’s having this as a part of your daily diet looks like it’s going to be good in the long run for you.
MELANIE: And not only that, the study talks about the cardiovascular disease, but you’re also talking about colorectal cancer and the fiber that’s in whole grains and multi-grains.
So, if you would, in the last minute or so, Dr. Higgins, wrap it up and kind of recap for us what those words mean that they see on the package of bread or pasta: whole grain, multi-grain, whole wheat. Kind of give a little re-wrap on that.
DR. HIGGINS: Well, I think the important thing when you are shopping for your sources of carbohydrates, just be aware of the fact that if it does mention whole grain or whole wheat, in general, in front of the product—whether it be bread, cornmeal, or rice, you are probably on a winner for getting your fix of your whole wheat and grain for the day which will not only improve the overall function of your body, but it will also reduce the bad things that you’re taking in. It will reduce your LDL cholesterol. It will improve your overall health and your cardiovascular health. And, importantly, if you do have a choice between whether it be a whole grain substance versus something next to it on the shelf which is a refined or fortified, you’re probably better off with the whole grain. We also know that if you’re eating more grain, you’re going to be eating less saturated fat and other things in the diet that are bad for you and you’re going to probably be exercising.
MELANIE: And be healthier. That’s right. So, that’s the way to have the healthy lifestyle and it might just reduce your mortality risk.
This is Melanie Cole. You’re listening to Train Your Body. Stay well.