Eat Whole Grains for a Longer Life


A new study found that those who eat a diet rich in whole grains live longer. According to a large, new long-term study from the Harvard School of Public Health, eating more whole grains could decrease a person’s risk of death by up to 15 percent; especially those caused by heart disease.

A significant amount of this benefit likely comes from the fibrous coating that processing takes away from brown rice and whole wheat (bran).  A 6 percent lower overall death risk and up to 20 percent less cardiovascular disease-related risk has been linked to bran intake alone.  Qi Sun, senior author of the study and assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition at HSPH stated, “This study further endorses the current dietary guidelines that promote whole grains as one of the major healthful foods for prevention of major chronic diseases”.

Researchers included that the findings: “also provide promising evidence that suggests a diet enriched with whole grains may confer benefits toward extended life expectancy”.  The federal government’s most recent dietary guidelines recommend eating at least half of all grains as whole grains; the Harvard School of Public Health recommends getting a quarter of calories from whole grains daily.

There are a wide variety of beneficial nutrients found in whole grains, from magnesium to fiber, vitamin E, and plant-based compounds called phytochemicals, which are stripped from white rice and refined white flour.  Grains such as whole oats and wheat, brown rice, farro and barley help your body regulate blood sugar, cholesterol and fat, help prevent DNA damage, reduce inflammation, and maintain blood vessel health. While eating more whole grains has been connected with lowering the risk of major chronic diseases in the past, evidence regarding whole grains and mortality has been limited until now.

Data from more than 74,000 women from the Nurses’ Health Study and more than 43,000 men from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study was viewed by Harvard researchers and colleagues.  The groups completed questionnaires about their diet every two or four years, from the mid 1980’s-2010. Researchers compared participants’ mortality data with whole-grain intake, adjusting for a variety of factors such as age, BMI, smoking, physical activity and diet (excluding whole grains), over approximately 25 years.

Findings presented that whole grain consumption was connected with up to a 15 percent decreased risk of cardiovascular disease-related mortality and up to a 9 percent decreased risk of overall mortality.  Overall death risk decreased by 5 percent, and by 9 percent for cardiovascular disease-related death for each serving of whole grains (measured as 28 grams daily).

According to the study, eating whole grains instead of refined grains and red meats is likely to lower mortality risk.  Replacing just one serving of refined grains for whole reduced cardiovascular disease-related deaths by 8 percent; replacing one serving of red meat for whole grains lowered the same risk by an astonishing 20 percent!


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