By now you’ve probably heard that when it comes to carbohydrates, whole grains are better for our health than refined ones. But why? According to new research published in the Journal of Nutrition, eating at least three servings of whole grains in a day can have a lot of benefits over time—particularly in regards to heart health. Here’s what they found.
Studying the effects of whole grains.
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For this study, researchers wanted to look at the effect of whole grains on certain risk factors for heart disease (waist size, blood pressure, blood sugar, triglycerides, and “good” cholesterol).
They looked at data from 3,100 middle-aged people who had participated in the Framingham Heart Study Offspring Cohort. These participants recorded their grain consumption over the course of roughly 18 years and also had health exams to assess the aforementioned risk factors throughout the research.
The risk factors were tracked over the course of the study, with researchers looking for associations between grain intake—and in the end, whole grains definitely came out on top.
The benefits of whole grains.
The current recommendation for grain intake is at least three servings of whole grains per day, and in this research, people who ate that recommendation saw greater benefits than those who didn’t:
- Waist size: Those meeting or exceeding the recommended whole grain intake saw less of an increase in waist size than those eating less than a serving of whole grains per day. And participants eating more refined grains, on the other hand, saw a greater increase in waist size.
- Blood sugar: Participants who weren’t eating as many whole grains saw a greater increase in blood sugar levels on average, compared to those with a high whole-grain intake.
- Blood pressure: Similar to blood sugar, blood pressure levels were also lower on average for those eating their whole grains compared to those not hitting the daily recommended amount.
As study co-author Caleigh Sawicki, Ph.D., explains in a news release, there are a few reasons whole grains may influence heart disease risk factors and, in turn, help maintain heart health.
“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,” she says. “Soluble fiber, in particular, may have a beneficial effect on post-meal blood sugar spikes.”
The bottom line is, meeting the recommended amount of whole grains on a regular basis may help with risk factors associated with heart disease—and it’s probably a smart choice to swap out refined grains.
As study co-author Nicola McKeown, Ph.D., notes, “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.”
So go ahead—reach for some heart-healthy carbs. Whether it be a whole-grain cereal for breakfast or a whole-grain bowl for dinner, these fibrous and mineral-rich foods deserve a spot on your plate every day.