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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.
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])