Doctor’s Orders: Eat More Whole Grains to Live Longer

Swap refined grains for oatmeal (Keith Beaty/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Swap refined grains for oatmeal (Keith Beaty/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Whole grains are one of the best types of foods to help prevent chronic disease. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health have found that eating whole grains may help you a live longer life. While there has been prior evidence that whole grains are an excellent addition to your diet, this study adds to the current dietary guidelines for whole grains, which is to eat about 3 to 5 servings of whole grains daily.

What is a whole grain? All grains start as whole grains. Whole grains are the entire seed of a plant. The seed is made up of three parts: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. The bran is the multi-layered outer skin of the seed. It contains antioxidants, vitamin B and fiber. The germ is the embryo which contains vitamin B, protein, minerals, and healthy fats. And the endosperm provides the germ’s food supply and essential energy for growth. It contains carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals.

Why are whole grains healthier than refined grains? First, whole grains contain all three parts of the seed. Refined grains on the other hand do not contain the bran and germ, but only the endosperm. By removing the bran and germ, the grains are left with only 25 percent of a grain’s protein. A number of essential nutrients are lost as well. While processing whole grains does add back some nutritional value, whole grains still remain healthier as they provide more protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Freshly-harvested grains lie in a tractor's trailer on a farm (Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images).

Freshly-harvested grains lie in a tractor’s trailer on a farm (Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images).

Whole grains, such as brown rice, quinoa and whole oats, are known to have significant health benefits. Eating whole grains can reduce your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, some cancers, and promote growth of healthy bacteria in the colon. However, only 10 percent of Americans eat the daily recommendation of at least three servings a day.

In the study, the researchers looked at two larger studies in which all participants were healthy and did not have heart disease or cancer. The results showed that people who ate at least 28 grams of whole grains a day had a 9 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease and a 5 percent lower risk of death from any cause, compared to people who ate little or no whole grains. People who replaced one daily serving of refined grains with whole grains reduced their risk of dying by 8 percent, and people who replaced one daily serving of red meat with whole grains reduced their risk of dying over by 20 percent.

People who ate more whole grains also exercised more frequently, ate a moderately healthy diet, smoked less, and drank less alcohol, compared to people who ate little or no whole grains.

The researchers also noted that the part of the whole grain that had the largest health benefit and effect on reducing risk of death from heart disease was the bran.

So get more whole grains in your diet today. And if you’re eating mostly refined grains, swap them out for whole grains. Some of the best sources of whole grains include whole oats or oatmeal, whole grain bread, whole rye bread, whole grain pasta, whole wheat flour, brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, and buckwheat.

Additional benefits of whole grains:

  • Helps the body regulate blood sugar, fats and cholesterol
  • Lower glycemic index
  • More beneficial nutrients such as fiber, magnesium, and vitamin E
  • More nutritious than white bread and white rice
  • Helps prevent DNA damage and reduces inflammation in the body
  • Keeps the blood vessels healthier

Dr. Samadi is the chairman of urology and chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital and professor of urology at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine. He is a medical correspondent for the Fox News Channel.

Doctor’s Orders: Eat More Whole Grains to Live Longer