Nutrition experts have long been advising us to eat whole grains, and now epidemiologists have evidence that getting three servings of whole grains daily can reduce the chance of an early death. In fact, two separate analyses published recently demonstrate that eating whole grains for a longer life is effective against a range of diseases.
Should You Eat Whole Grains for a Longer Life?
In one study, the researchers analyzed data from 12 published studies and from several National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. All told, nearly 800,000 people from the US, the UK and Scandinavia were included in the analysis, which covered the time frame from 1971 to 2010.
Such studies can’t establish cause and effect, but the scientists found a convincing 23 percent drop in the death rate due to heart attacks and strokes among people who consumed three or more servings a day of whole grains. People following this dietary pattern also had a 12 percent lower chance of dying from cancer. Each additional serving of whole grains consumed each day appeared to offer a bit more protection.
The other study considered data from 45 studies. It came to very similar conclusions: for three servings a day of whole grains compared to none, the risk of cardiovascular disease was reduced by approximately 23 percent. The risk of dying from cancer was 15 percent lower, while that of dying from any cause was 17 percent less. The specific types of whole grains considered in these studies included whole grain breakfast cereals and whole grain breads, but not white rice or total rice, and definitely not refined grain products.
These scientists, like those publishing in Circulation, suggest that their findings support the advice in the current dietary guidelines. Perhaps that is not so surprising, since members of the faculty of the T. H. Chan School of Public Health of Harvard University were among the collaborators on both papers.
How Do You Choose Whole Grains for a Longer Life?
This recommendation to eat more whole grains has been made before, and it often causes confusion. Food manufacturers like to slap the words “whole grain” on their packages to take advantage of the health halo of whole grains. But such products aren’t necessarily good sources of whole grains. For that, it’s important to read ingredients on the label. Make sure “whole grain” or “whole wheat” is the first ingredient in the list.
You may wish to cook your own bulgur, brown rice, barley or steel-cut oats. Seeds such as quinoa or amaranth can also be good choices. A recent study shows that quinoa consumption can minimize the rise in blood sugar and insulin after a meal (Nutrients, June 16, 2018). If you are buying bread, look for a loaf that is dense and chewy and has whole grain as its primary ingredient.