Whole grains have been extolled for improving health for years. Eating oatmeal, bran and other grains are known to significantly reduce the risk of heart disease, but new research also indicates that wisely choosing a morning cereal, toast and pasta may actually lengthen someone’s life expectancy.
Those who regularly eat grains, including brown rice, porridge, quinoa and corn, have a lower risk of major chronic diseases, such as coronary problems, type 2 diabetes and other illnesses. Now, they are linked to improving one’s mortality, according to a new long-term study conducted by researchers at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH).
The research study found that the regular consumption of bran, a component of whole grain foods, could be linked to a 6 percent lower overall death risk and up to 20 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), according to results published online in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Furthermore, the data linked eating whole grains with a more than 9 percent decreased overall mortality risk and a more than 15 percent lower risk of CVD-related mortality. In addition, the research team found that for each serving of whole grains consumed on average for a long-term period lead to a dropped the overall death risk further by 5 percent, and for CVD-related death by 9 percent
HSPH researchers examined data gathered on over 74,000 women in the Nurses’ Health Study and over 43,000 men in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. Those who participated in those two long-term research efforts filled out questionnaires every two or four years detailing their dietary habits approximately 25 years from the mid-1980s until 2010.
The researchers compared the participants’ whole grain intake with mortality data. They looked at whole grain consumption and adjusted the data for mitigating factors that would affect results like age, body mass index, smoking, physical activity, and overall diet.
Other experiential findings also showed that replacing just one serving of refined grains or red meat each day for a whole grains serving had a significant impact. Swapping out the refined grains lowered the coronary disease-related mortality risk by 8 percent. Replacing the red meat for had a bigger impact, lowering the CVD risk by 20 percent.
It should be noted that the researchers found no connection between eating whole grains and a lower risk for cancer-related mortality. The study also found that while whole grains in general and bran were healthful, there was no reduction in risk discernable from eating germ, which is another essential component of whole grains.
The findings touting whole grains and carbs will undoubtedly not welcome news to proponents of no or low carb diets, but the researchers emphasize the need for whole grains. Unlike refined carbohydrates, whole grains have beneficial nutrients and phytochemicals found primarily in their outer layers, noted Hongyu Wu, PhD, one of the HSPH researchers. Wu pointed out that the outer layers of the grains are removed during milling processes to produce refined grain products, which is why they are not as healthy for consumption.
The Harvard study “further endorses the current dietary guidelines that promote whole grains as one of the major healthful foods,” noted Qi Sun, a Department of Nutrition assistant professor who served as senior study author. Of course, it depends on how the grains are used. Oatmeal cookies and desserts made with other gains may not have the same ability to lengthen one’s life.
By Dyanne Weiss