Refined Grains Increase Heart Risks

We’ve all seen the ads for breakfast cereals claiming that they are a heart-healthy breakfast. But a new study has found that refined grains, like those found in cereal,

The study examined people from 21 countries. There were more than 137,000 people in the study, none of whom had heart disease beforehand. The study checked in with people every three years and took place over 16 years. The research found that eating more than seven servings of refined grains a day increased a person’s risk for early death by 27 percent, heart disease by 33 percent and stroke by 47 percent. The researchers included all foods made from refined flour, like pasta, white bread, crackers and baked goods. The foods varied a lot because the people were from 21 countries worldwide where diets were vastly different. People who ate higher amounts of refined grains also had higher blood pressure.  

The good news is, whole grains did not have the same health impact. Strangely, white rice also didn’t harm people. White rice has the same effect on blood sugar as table sugar. As that is the case, you would think it would have been shown to harm the heart in this study, but it didn’t. Because it’s terrible for blood sugar and offers no nutritional perks, you should still consider swapping it for brown rice. But at least you don’t have to worry about this specific problem. While white rice may not harm you, brown rice can be helpful. It has been linked to better blood pressure and cholesterol.

Whole grains are things like oats, whole wheat, rye and barley. “Whole grains have all components of the grain intact, which means they have more fiber and vitamins, and have a lower glycemic index than refined grains,” explains Dr. Mahshid Dehghan, principal investigator at the Population Health Research Institute at McMaster Univ.

It can be hard to give up refined grains — they are in almost everything. As well as being in so many things, they are delicious. But this study shows that it could be worth cutting them out. “I always encourage choosing whole grains over refined grains as often as possible,” said dietician Breanna Woods. “For clients who eat a diet heavy in refined grains, I recommend starting with a goal to make 50 percent of the grains they eat whole grains. Then I work with them to increase that amount from there.”

By making gradual trades, you will be doing your heart and overall health a favor! And, when you can’t do a one-for-one swap, try something new — swap your breakfast pastry for eggs or noodles for veggies. It doesn’t have to be every time; just cutting down could be beneficial!   

Banner image: Yeh Xintong via Unsplash
February 24, 2021
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