The unexpected correlation between whole grains and waist size

According to a new study, you don’t have to be afraid of bread anymore. While you might already know that eating whole grains rather than processed bread can lower your blood sugar and help your heart, a recent study from Tufts University just verified that whole grains can decrease your waist size.

What’s the story with grains?

Grains are, believe it or not, a hard seed. It’s eaten whole or ground into a fine, easily consumable powder. While substances like wheat, rye, barley, rice, or cornmeal all qualify as grain products, how they’re prepared and ingested can make all the difference to your health.

There are generally two types of ways that grains can be prepared: whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains are the more unprocessed of the two, as they include the entire kernel, and aren’t stripped of the bran and the germ. They also have a thicker texture, more fiber, and shorter shelf life. Whole grains can include anything from whole wheat bread to oatmeal or brown rice, which are all high in fiber and have a more earthy taste than their refined counterparts.

Refined grains, on the other hand, have the bran and germ processed out of them to create a lighter, smoother texture. Often they’re re-fortified with vitamins and nutrients, but rarely do they contain the same nutritional benefits that whole grains do. In this category, you’ll find white flour, white bread, and white rice.

Are whole grains really that much better than refined grains?

Life may be complicated, but grains are not: studies show that refined grains, in excess, can irreparably harm your health.

In particular, a February 2021 study found that consuming a high amount of processed grains over the course of your life will result in a 47% increase in one’s stroke risk, a 33% increase in their risk of contracting heart disease, and a 27% likelihood of an earlier death. The products sampled in this study included pasta and white bread, dessert items like cake and cookies, or breakfast cereals and crackers.

On the other side of things, researchers from Harvard found that eating whole grains decreases one’s risk of contracting cancer by 20%. From a different meta-study, participants over the age of 50 were 30% less likely to die of an inflammatory condition, such as asthma, gout, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, or other autoimmune issues.

Some scientists even believe that processed grains contain “anti-nutrients” that prevent the body from absorbing key vitamins and minerals ingested from other foods, and that whole grains prevent the body from initiating a pro-inflammatory response.

How do they impact waist size?

While you may have already known that whole grains facilitate a long, happy life, they can also benefit your exterior as much as they benefit your interior.

The aforementioned 2021 study from Tufts University measured 3,100 participants all in their 50s and above and collected data on their various grain-eating habits in four-year intervals. Surprisingly, the numbers showed that at each four-year check-in, waist size increased up to one inch among those who mostly ate refined grains. Those who stuck with whole grains, however, had only a half-inch waist size increase at most.

As to why this is, researchers have suggested that the fiber in whole grains can prevent spikes in blood sugar, which helps maintain a steady metabolism. One lead researcher on the study tells U.S. News that the nutrients found in whole grains may also act in synergy with the other nutrients ingested in one’s diet and that though it’s still being researched, the interplay between various food vitamins and minerals in one’s gut system could potentially determine their long-term health.

The takeaway

Additionally, though it might seem simple to determine the difference between these two grains, it can get tricky if you aren’t thinking critically about your food choices. Healthline reports that you shouldn’t be fooled by a “whole grain” label on something like a processed cereal, as though it may contain the germ and bran, the extent to which the grain has been pulverized has effectively eliminated all of the nutritional value.

The main takeaway is this: whole grains will provide you with increased longevity and a trim waist. But you still need to use your noodle when you’re picking out grains; if something says that it includes whole grains, but the nutritional information indicates that it’s high in sugar or carbs, leave it on the shelf.