Whole grain foods and cardiovascular risk factors

Melanie Thomassian Health Pro
  • The importance of eating a diet rich in whole grain foods has again been highlighted by the results of a recent study. The study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicates that individuals following a weight loss program incorporating whole grain breads, cereals, and other foods lost more body fat from the abdominal area, than those who ate only refined grains, such as white bread and rice.


    The twelve-week study looked at 50 obese adults (25 male, 25 female) with metabolic syndrome. Participants were randomly assigned to receive dietary advice either to avoid whole grain foods or to obtain all of their grain servings from whole grains. All participants were given the same dietary advice in other respects for weight loss (reduced by 500 kcal/d).

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    Study findings:

    • Body weight, waist circumference, and percentage body fat decreased significantly in both groups over the study period.
    • There was a significantly greater decrease in percentage body fat in the abdominal region in the whole-grain group, compared to the refined-grain group.
    • C-reactive protein (CRP) decreased 38% in the whole-grain group independent of weight loss, but was unchanged in the refined-grain group. (CRP is an indicator of inflammation in the body linked to heart disease).
    • Total, LDL, and HDL cholesterol decreased in both diet groups.
    • Dietary fiber and magnesium intakes increased in the whole-grain group but not the refined-grain group.

    Researchers concluded that reduced calorie diets (less 500 kcal/d) are an effective means of improving cardiovascular disease risk factors with moderate weight loss, but that consuming whole grains showed significantly greater decreases in percentage body fat in the abdominal region.


    Considering the fact that excessive fat in the midsection is linked to an increased risk for heart disease, the findings of this small study are encouraging: adding more whole grain foods to the diet is definitely something everyone can do.


    Whole grains versus refined grains 


    Most of the grain's goodness is concentrated in the outer bran layer and germ of the seed, so whole grains can contain up to 75% more nutrients than refined cereals. Refined grains have been milled a process which removes the bran and the germ. Unfortunately, this process removes the fiber and other beneficial nutrients. Most refined grains will have B vitamins and iron added after processing; however fiber will not be added.

    What are the key sources of whole grain foods?

    If you want to add more whole grain sources to your diet, here are a few ingredients to look out for on food labels:

    • Brown rice
    • Buckwheat
    • Bulgur (cracked wheat)
    • Millet
    • Muesli cereal
    • Multi-grain, seeded or mixed-grain bread
    • Popcorn
    • Quinoa
    • Sorghum
    • Soya and linseed breads
    • Spelt
    • Whole cornmeal
    • Whole grain barley
    • Whole grain crackers
    • Whole oats/oatmeal
    • Whole rye
    • Whole wheat flour
    • Wild rice

    You may also want to use the "Nutrition Facts" label to compare different products, opting for those with a higher % Daily Value (%/DV) for fiber.

  • How to add more whole grains:

    • Have wholegrain breakfast cereal each morning, or as a healthy snack any time of day.
    • Substitute some of the white flour in recipes for whole wheat flour or oatmeal when baking.
    • Popcorn can be a healthy, whole grain snack if eaten with little or no added salt or butter.
    • Swap white rice for brown rice.
    • Add whole barley to casseroles and curries.

    Melanie Thomassian is a dietitian and author of Dietriffic.com, an online resource for credible healthy eating tips for busy people.

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Published On: March 06, 2008