Whole Grains and Good Health

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Fire up the toaster. We’ve got more good news for grain lovers. A recent study suggests that whole grains are not just beneficial in lowering blood sugar, they may also aid in cholesterol reduction and weight control.

Compared to older adults that consume less than a half serving of whole grains daily, those who eat at least three serving of whole grains per day have smaller gains in waist size, blood pressure, and blood sugar based on a study published in the Journal of Nutrition

The researchers evaluated data from the Framingham Heart Study Offspring Cohort for this study, which looks at ongoing research to access long-term risk factors for heart disease.

The data collection started over 20 years ago and reviewed diets and health outcomes of 3100 adults in their mid-50s at the beginning of the study.

Diet questionnaires measuring grain intake daily were completed every four years by subjects from 1991 to 2014. In subjects with low grain intakes, changes in waist size, average blood sugar and blood pressure were higher compared to those consuming more whole grains.

According to the study, middle aged adults (and up) that consumed a minimum of three servings of whole grains per day averaged of a one-half inch of gain in their waists over a four-year period. The adults in the lower intake group gained about 1 inch

Blood pressure readings were also lower in the whole grain-eating group. The whole grain eaters had daily averages of 122 over 74 compared to 125 over 75. In addition, the adults consuming fewer whole grains had an average fasting glucose of 95 mg/dL and those eating more whole grains had levels that were 1% lower.

The study’s co-author, Nicola McKeown, notes that these results indicate that whole grain consumption has health benefits beyond weight control. "Managing these risk factors as we age may help to protect against heart disease," said McKeown, a scientist on the Nutritional Epidemiology Team at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, Massachussets.

Participants with lower refined grain intake had a lower average increase in waist size and a greater drop in triglycerides and blood pressure for each 4-year period. Subjects that ate the lowest level of whole grains had higher blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

The researchers noted that whole wheat bread was the most commonly consumed whole-grain in the subjects as well as ready-to-eat whole grain cereal. Refined grain consumption was primarily refined pasta and white bread.

According to the USDA Dietary Guidelines and US Department of Health and Human Services, adults should aim for three or more servings of whole grains per day. Serving sizes include one slice of whole-grain bread, a half-cup of cooked rolled oats or half-cup of cooked brown rice.

Whole grains are less processed than refined grains and contain more fiber, B vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants which could explain the differences in health benefits. They also contain a small amount of healthy fats.

Americans consume about 5 servings of refined grains per day, which is higher than recommended according to McKeown. Little tweaks to your diet may increase whole-grain consumption over time.

Encourage your clients to get more whole grains with these 5 easy tips:

  1. Replace white bread with whole wheat white bread.This bread is made with a different kind of whole grain wheat than most other whole grain breads and may be more palatable.
  2. Try whole wheat pasta in place of white pasta. It’s got 3x the amount of fiber per serving!
  3. Use brown rice stead of white rice. Studies show that brown rice helps reduce the risk of diabetes.
  4. Eat rolled oats in place of instant oatmeal. Add your own spices like ginger and cinnamon. Rolled oats can cook in the microwave in 2 minutes flat!
  5. Try bulgur, farro, or quinoa in your salad or grain bowl. A half cup serving has over 25% of the Daily Value for dietary fiber.

By Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD


Caleigh M Sawicki, Paul F Jacques, Alice H Lichtenstein, Gail T Rogers, Jiantao Ma, Edward Saltzman, Nicola M McKeown, Whole- and Refined-Grain Consumption and Longitudinal Changes in Cardiometabolic Risk Factors in the Framingham Offspring Cohort, The Journal of Nutrition, 2021;, nxab177, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/nxab177

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