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Among all the choices you have, making the switch to whole grains is a pretty easy one that comes with enormous benefits for your heart. Most simply, this means eating whole grain bread rather than white bread, and brown rice instead of white rice. But there is also a whole host of interesting whole grains to try that includes oats, barley, corn, rye, buckwheat, millet and quinoa. Quinoa, in fact, gives you a bonus boost of protein.

Making the switch to whole grains is a pretty easy one that comes with enormous benefits for your heart.

Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease recommends six or more servings of whole grains a day to help reverse heart disease. There are many ways that whole grains impact our heart health. They help to manage cholesterol, blood pressure and weight, especially in regards to central adiposity, which is the accumulation of fat in the lower torso and the abdominal area that contributes to a higher risk of developing diabetes and heart disease.

Changing from refined to whole grains has also been shown to limit inflammation, decrease triglycerides and insulin levels, and promote healthy digestion. They provide essential nutrients such as energy-boosting complex carbohydrates, B vitamins, selenium, magnesium, iron and Vitamin E, along with health-promoting phytochemicals and protective antioxidants.

Here are some of my favorite heart-healthy reasons to eat whole grains:

1. They are High in Fiber

Whole grains are naturally high in fiber and rich in nutrients. The recommended daily fiber intake to promote good health for women is 21-25 grams and 30-38 grams for men. Most Americans only consume half of the recommended amount, which limits the health benefits. Whole grains can make a significant contribution to getting more fiber. Studies show that those who consumed whole grains have reduced rates of chronic disease and better success with weight management.

2. They Keep Lipids Low (Cholesterol and Triglycerides)

Whole grains contain two types of fiber, soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber, which is rich in whole grains like oats, barley, and rice bran, is the type of fiber that has been shown to reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels and slow down the release of blood sugars into the blood stream. This in turn stabilizes blood sugar and prevents a high insulin response. Striving for about 14 grams of soluble fiber can positively impact cholesterol levels. Insoluble fiber, high in most whole grains such as whole wheat and whole grain cereals and bread, has also been associated with slowing the progression of heart disease in high-risk individuals and reducing cardiovascular risk. Getting more fiber from whole grains has been shown to successfully reduce insulin and triglyceride levels after a meal.

3. They Lower Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is a significant risk factor for heart disease, and it’s something that is very much within our control by shifting to a plant-based diet that is high in fiber and low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Whole grains help to lower blood pressure. A 12-week study of 233 healthy, middle-aged volunteers, showed that the group who eat whole grains had significantly reduced systolic blood pressure and pulse pressure compared to the control group who continued to eat refined grains. Researchers at the University of Aberdeen concluded that this blood pressure decrease lowered the incidence of coronary artery disease and stroke by 15-25% respectively.

4. They Help to Decrease Inflammation

Inflammation has been linked to heart disease along with several other chronic diseases. Putting out the fire of inflammation can be a key factor in reducing the risk and preventing the progression of cardiovascular disease and other diseases.

There are many recent studies showing the influence of whole grains on decreasing systemic inflammation. One study completed at the University of Nebraska explored the mechanisms behind the anti-inflammatory effects of whole grains. Researchers found that even eating whole grains for a short period of time altered bacteria in the gut that was associated with improving of inflammation. Another study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), along with Louisiana State and SUNY Buffalo, followed 259 healthy women for two years to evaluate if whole grain consumption lowered levels of CRP (C-Reactive Protein, a bio-marker for inflammation that is increasingly accepted as a good predictor of both Type 2 Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease). They concluded even small amounts of whole grains lowered the inflammation marker, C-reactive protein.

5. They Keep Your Weight in Check

Obesity is another risk factor of heart disease that can be reduced. People who eat whole grains have been shown to have lower incidence of obesity and better success with weight management than those who eat refined grain products. Whole grains have fewer calories and are packed full of nutrients. This means being able to eat more and feel full for a longer duration with fewer calories. In a twelve-week study, those who eat whole grains lost more weight (3.6kg vs 2.7kg) and saw a more significant decrease in body fat (3% reduction vs 2.1%) compared to those who eat refined grains. Cholesterol levels increased 5% in the refined group, highlighting the heart benefits of choosing whole grains instead of refined.

Here are some more facts about whole grains.

What’s your favorite kind of whole grain or whole grain recipe?

Contributed by

Carra Richling
Registered Dietitian

Eat well, be well!

Better Health Begins With You...

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