Eating whole grain breads and rice can reduce waist size, heart disease risk

MEDFORD, Mass. — Eating brown breads or other whole grain foods are not only good for your waist line, but may also defend against heart disease and diabetes, a new study finds. Researchers from Tufts University add older adults who eat at least three servings of whole grains a day enjoy a lower blood pressure and glucose levels.

Whole grains are the entire kernel which haven’t had their bran and germ removed. Along with breads and rice, they are common in porridge oats and brown pasta.

“Our findings suggest that eating whole-grain foods as part of a healthy diet delivers health benefits beyond just helping us lose or maintain weight as we age. In fact, these data suggest that people who eat more whole grains are better able to maintain their blood sugar and blood pressure over time. Managing these risk factors as we age may help to protect against heart disease,” says senior author Dr. Nicola McKeown in a university release.

What makes whole grain so good for you?

Whole grain foods are a rich source of healthy nutrients including fiber, potassium, magnesium, folate, iron, and selenium. Researchers tracked 3,100 people in their mid-50s for more than two decades. They analyzed how whole grains affected waist size, hypertension, blood sugar, levels of harmful fats called triglycerides and “good” (HDL) cholesterol.

During four check-ups, waist size increased by about half an inch among high intake participants, but by over an inch among low intake participants. Results show average rises in blood pressure and sugar levels were also lower among people eating large amounts whole grains. Lower consumption of refined grains, common in white bread and pasta, also cut weight gain and triglyceride levels.

The team also compared changes in the five risk factors across four categories, from less than half a daily serving of whole grains to three or more. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 recommends at least three servings of whole grains each day. A serving is a slice of whole grain bread, one and a half ounces of rolled oats cereal or seven ounces of brown rice.

“There are several reasons that whole grains may work to help people maintain waist size and reduce increases in the other risk factors. The presence of dietary fiber in whole grains can have a satiating effect, and the magnesium, potassium, and antioxidants may contribute to lowering blood pressure. Soluble fiber in particular may have a beneficial effect on post-meal blood sugar spikes,” explains first author Dr. Caleigh Sawicki.

What’s the difference between whole grains and white flour?

The difference in health benefits stem from whole grains being less processed. The outer layer is packed with fiber while the inside is rich in nutrients such as B vitamins, antioxidants, and healthy fats. Milling removes these components from processed products like pasta, leaving only the starch-packed refined grain behind.

“The average American consumes about five servings of refined grains daily, much more than is recommended, so it’s important to think about ways to replace refined grains with whole grains throughout your day. For example, you might consider a bowl of whole-grain cereal instead of a white flour bagel for breakfast and replacing refined-grain snacks, entrees, and side dishes with whole-grain options. Small incremental changes in your diet to increase whole-grain intake will make a difference over time,” Dr. McKeown adds.

The study in The Journal of Nutrition used data from the Framingham Heart Study Offspring Cohort. That report follows people born in one Massachusetts town during the 1970s.

Previous research by Scottish scientists discovered a diet high in whole grains is as effective at reducing blood pressure as certain medications. Whole grains have been a part of the human diet for tens of thousands of years. Common varieties also include popcorn, millet, quinoa, whole rye, bulgur, buckwheat, barley, and sorghum.

SWNS writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.