whole grains, cardiovascular disease, carbs, grains, fiber, healthy diet

Getting a lot of push back on carbs and whole grains?

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death for men and women.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 4 deaths in the US are due to CVD.1 The disease affects  heart and blood vessel function. Plaque builds up in the arteries, causing them to narrow and reduce blood flow to the heart. This decrease in blood flow is the cause of heart attacks and strokes. Smoking, eating an unhealthy diet, and not getting enough exercise all increase your risk of CVD.1

To reduce this risk, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends a diet of health-promoting foods, including whole grains. They can be consumed alone or as an ingredient in crackers, breads, cereals or baked goods.

The AHA suggests the following whole grains for a heart-healthy diet:2

  • whole-wheat graham flour
  • oatmeal
  • whole oats
  • brown rice
  • wild rice
  • whole-grain corn
  • popcorn
  • whole-grain barley
  • whole-wheat bulgur
  • whole rye

How much do I have to consume?

A study published in the British Medical Journal found that increased whole grain intake reduced the risk of CVD. Reductions in risk were observed up to an intake of 210–225 g/day (7–7 ½ servings per day) for most of the outcomes. Intakes of specific types of whole grains, including whole-grain bread, whole-grain breakfast cereals, and added bran, as well as total bread and total breakfast cereals were also associated with reduced risks of cardiovascular disease and/or all-cause mortality, but there was little evidence of an association with refined grains, white rice, total rice, or total grains.3

Why are  whole grains the magic bullet?

Much of the research has pointed to dietary fiber as the main component of whole grains that has health benefits. However, recent studies point to phytochemicals in whole grains as playing a role in increasing anticancer activities, and protecting against Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.4 Phytochemicals are non-nutritive substances produced by plants to protect themselves. Avenasosides and avenanthramides are phytochemicals found in oats. Both have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that are beneficial in the reduction of CVD.5

The beneficial health effects of whole grains may go beyond fiber and nutrition. More research in the area of phytochemicals is needed.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Heart Disease.” 28 Nov. 2017, www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm.
  2. American Heart Association. “Whole Grains and Fiber.” 11 Oct. 2016, http://bit.ly/2AZj74K.
  3. Aune, D., et al.  “Whole Grain Consumption and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease, Cancer, and All Cause and Cause Specific Mortality: Systematic Review and Dose-Response Meta-Analysis of Prospective Studies.” The BMJ, British Medical Journal Publishing Group, 14 June 2016, https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i2716.
  4. Zhu, Y., and S. Shengmin. “Phytochemicals in Whole Grain Wheat and Their Health‐Promoting Effects.” Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, vol. 61, no. 7, 1600852.
  5. Sang, S., and Y. Chu. “Whole Grain Oats, More Than Just a Fiber: Role of Unique Phytochemicals.” Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, 2017, 61, 1600715. https://doi.org/10.1002/mnfr.201600715

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