When it comes to protecting your cardiovascular system, you’re probably aware of the importance of eating fruits and vegetables every day, exercising regularly, and getting enough rest. But new research is shedding light on just how important whole grains are if you want to protect your heart.
In a new report published in the Journal of Nutrition, scientists from Tufts University wanted to study the impact that whole and refined grains had on heart health. Previous academic work had found that whole grains were helpful to the cardiovascular system, but little research had compared them to refined grains or identified how many servings of whole grains led to optimal health benefits. The difference between the two grain types is that whole grains are kept completely intact; they don’t have their nutritious bran or germ removed. In contrast, refined grains undergo a manufacturing process that breaks down the grain, taking away vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Refined grains typically have a finer texture and longer shelf life, hence why they’re milled in the first place.
For this study, scientists used data from the Framingham Heart Study Offspring Cohort, which began in the 1970s, to analyze heart health and diet habits of 3,121 participants, who had an average age in their mid-50s. Researchers looked at their whole grain and refined grain consumption for a median timeframe of 18 years, comparing changes every four years.
They reported several promising results. Participants who got at least three daily servings of whole grains per day had lower blood pressure and blood sugar numbers, which decreased their overall risk of heart disease and other heart-related incidents. Even more exciting, researchers also discovered another side effect of getting those whole grains in regularly: People who did saw smaller increases in waist size over the years. In contrast, participants who either had lower daily servings of whole grains or ate mostly refined grains tended to have higher blood pressure and blood sugar numbers as well as more weight gain over the years.
Scientists say that one “serving” of whole grains is equal to roughly half a cup of brown rice or rolled oats or a slice of whole grain bread. What kinds of foods have all of those healthy whole grains to keep your heart healthy? A few options include (but aren’t limited to):
- Brown rice
- Whole wheat bread
- Whole grain pastas
With just a few additions to your diet, you could protect your heart and your waistline at the same time.