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Whole Grains and Heart Disease Risk
We know from one study that those who eat the most whole grains tend to have a lower Body Mass Index, a lower weight, and a lower waist circumference compared to those who eat the least whole grains.
Whole Grains, Heart Disease, and Diabetes
There's a lot of buzz about whole grains now. Frozen food manufacturers like Weight Watchers and Lean Cuisine make a point of touting the amount of "whole grains" in their foods. Boxes of breakfast cereal, loaves of bread - everybody's getting on the whole grain bandwagon.
Whole grains and belly fat
My patients are often concerned about belly fat, not because of its effects on their health, but because they don't like the way it looks. The truth is that abdominal fat is a good indicator of greater risks to your health.
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I have written many times on research showing that eating whole grains can reduce your risk of heart disease. These studies had not focused specifically on whether this was true for persons over 65. Researchers in Seattle, Washington sought to establish the relationship between fiber consumption and heart disease in elderly persons (JAMA. 2003;289:1659-1666).
Dr. Mozaffarian and his colleagues utilized data from the Cardiovascular Health Study, in which 5,201 persons 65 years of age or older were recruited from Medicare eligibility lists. A food frequency questionnaire from the National Cancer Institute was administered at the beginning of the study. After excluding those with cardiovascular disease and those whose data on fiber consumption was incomplete, they were left with 3,588 persons in the study.
The participants were followed for eight years, during which they received annual physical exams and interim six-month telephone interviews to identify any cardiovascular events (such as heart attack or stroke).
At the close of the study, their analysis showed that after adjusting for such factors as age, sex, smoking status, and level of exercise, those who consumed the highest level of cereal fiber (as opposed to vegetable or fruit fiber) had a 21% lower risk of cardiovascular disease than those who ate the least cereal fiber. This was reduced only slightly (to 19%) when the researchers also adjusted for Body Mass Index, Waist-to-Hip Ratio, and other risk factors such as saturated fat intake.
In this study, the difference in amount of cereal fiber between the highest-consuming group and the lowest-consuming group was modest: about 2 slices of whole grain bread per day. The reduction in risk of heart attack was major, however, with an over 20% reduction of risk. Once again, the research shows that small changes in your diet, like switching to whole wheat bread for sandwiches or whole grain pastas, can make a big difference.
First posted: June 16, 2006