Refined, or highly processed grains, make up a large portion of the world’s diet. From Seattle to Singapore, tens of millions enjoy staples like white rice, white bread, and white flour, not to mention the tasty breakfast cereals, pastries, pies, and donuts we all love.
All of the above food items are examples of refined grain food products. And, while most would agree such foods are usually quite tasty, a new study finds ingesting too many refined grains can put one at a significantly higher risk of both heart disease and death. Maybe it’s worth giving whole-grain bread another try.
Recently published in The British Medical Journal, researchers from all over the world collaborated to compare the influence of refined/whole grain food choices on health/mortality outcomes across 21 countries.
It’s been known for some time now that whole-grain foods like brown rice, barley, millet, and oatmeal are linked to a lower chance of cardiovascular issues and death. It isn’t hard to figure out why either; such whole-grain foods are loaded with more essential nutrients like vitamins, fiber, minerals, and essential fatty acids than any refined grain food.
So, while it’s been very clear for some time that whole grain foods are pretty much always a healthier choice than refined grains, the specific cardiovascular health impacts of a high whole-grain diet have remained unclear. Study authors set out to bring clarity to this topic with their research.
In all, data on 137,130 people between the ages 35 and 70 were included in this project. None of those individuals had shown any prior signs of heart disease. White rice was given a separate category because a large portion of studied adults lived in Asia. White rice is a nearly unavoidable staple of Asian cuisine.
The research team had access to demographic data on each person, including lifestyle habits, education level, medical history, etc. Meanwhile, surveys were used to collect dietary information on usual food choices.
After that, participants’ cardiovascular outcomes and developments were tracked for an average follow-up period of 9.4 years.
Even after accounting for other potentially influential demographic factors, researchers still concluded that a diet high in refined grains (defined as at least 7 servings of 350 grams per day) is linked to a 27% higher chance of death and 33% higher risk of suffering a serious cardiac event in comparison to people eating less than 50 grams of refined grains per day. On top of all that refined grains are also associated with higher blood pressure readings.
While these findings were ultimately observational and thus can not definitively establish a causal relationship between refined grain foods and poor heart health, the fact that these findings remained consistent across 21 different countries should be enough to motivate even the most skeptical of readers to perhaps forgo a few breakfast donuts in favor of some oatmeal every once in a while.
“Reduction in quantity and improvement in the quality of carbohydrate is essential for better health outcomes,” the study concludes.
The full study can be found here, published in The BMJ.