File under the “kind of knew this already, but weren’t really paying that much attention” category: Eat whole grains to live longer.
For those of us who’ve turned 50 and want to make one change in our diet that will extend our lives: The time has come to eat whole grains to live longer. That’s the answer. That means staying away from white bread and other refined carbohydrates that raise our blood sugar and make us susceptible to type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases.
If you want proof, look no further than a new long-term study done by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The study showed eating more whole grains is associated with up to 15 percent lower mortality for cardiovascular disease.
Even bran, which a component of whole grains foods, recorded a 20 percent lower cardiovascular disease mortality, says Qi Sun, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition and senior author of the study.
“It’s a very critical age during midlife when people reach 50 for changing your diet for a healthy lifestyle,” Sun says. “With those chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease, the risks go up. It’s a very critical life window for intervention, and eating whole grains will reduce the risk for developing those diseases. It’s never too late for a healthy lifestyle and diet and for people to replace refined carbohydrates.”
Sun says existing dietary guidelines already promote whole grains to help prevent chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, but the link of evidence between whole grains and mortality had been limited.
Researchers looked at data from more than 74,000 women and 43,000 men who filled out questionnaires about their diet every two to four years between the mid-1980s to 2010, Sun says.
The researchers took that data and adjusted for age, body mass index, physical activity, smoking and overall diet, excluding whole grains. They then looked at a whole grain diet with mortality over 25 years to reach the results they did.
Not only did a whole grain diet lower cardiovascular disease mortality up to 15 percent, it lowered overall mortality by 9 percent, Sun says. For every serving of whole grains (28 grams per day), overall mortality dropped by 5 percent and cardiovascular disease mortality dropped by 9 percent, he says.
Replacing refined grains with whole grains cut cardiovascular disease mortality by 8 percent. What had the biggest impact was swapping out read meat with whole grains, Sun says. That lowered the cardiovascular mortality by 20 percent.
Sun says eating whole grains helps people from contracting colorectal cancer.
Whole grains are a source of fiber and have many beneficial nutrients such as magnesium and vitamins, Sun says.
What’s the reason for the benefits?
“I think in comparison with refined grains—white bread and sugars—whole grain foods are low in the glycemic index in that after you eat whole grains foods, your blood sugar levels wouldn’t increase dramatically and wouldn’t trigger the dramatic release of insulin levels,” Sun says. “For refined carbohydrates, your blood sugar levels typically increase dramatically and rapidly release insulin. The blood sugar levels also drop dramatically because of the insulin actions. That type of glycemic response is associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and developing cardiovascular disease.”
Sun says grocery stores provide plenty of options for people to eat more whole grains. There are whole grain breads, cakes, pasta and whole grain flour. Other foods with whole grains includes brown rice and popcorn, he says.
Five servings a day is recommended, and Sun says people should eat as many as possible.