A solid new report appears to verify what has long been assumed: eating a lot of whole grains may cut high blood pressure risk. As usual, it's not quite that simple. Let's look.
Bottom line first
Eating a diet rich in whole grains appears to reduce the risk of middle-aged women developing high blood pressure.
This study in 50 words or less
Researchers studied data from the Women's Health Study, which launched in 1992. Subjects completed diet questionnaires upon entry. The women who ate the most whole grains were slightly (11 percent) less likely to develop high blood pressure over ten years than the women who ate least.
Yes, but. . .
Some pretty big caveats here:
Women recorded their eating habits just once, so if they changed their diets over time the study didn't account for this.
The study at best shows a link, not a cause and effect, between eating whole grains and lower hypertension risk.
Although the study is carefully done, eating a lot of whole grains could be a marker for other healthy behaviors not accounted for here.
The 11 percent reduction was between the groups consuming the most and least whole grains. That turned out to be less than half a cup of whole grains per day for the lowest group, and over 4 cups a day for the highest group. The cutoff point for benefit is unclear.
Subjects were all middle-aged women. It's not known whether these findings apply to men, children and younger women.
So what are you going to do about it?
Follow the DASH diet, an eating plan shown to reduce high blood pressure. DASH, like nearly all healthy eating plans, calls for plenty of whole grains.
High consumption of whole grains has been linked to other cardiovascular benefits, plus better blood sugar control. This study really does little more than prove that high blood pressure is improved too.
Whole grain foods include oatmeal, brown rice, and packaged products that list "whole grains" (not just "multi-grain" or "seven-grain") high on the ingredients list. See these "quick fixes for your family's diet," which include several practical suggestions about how to get more whole grains onto the dinner table.
As with any finding about diet, don't go overboard thinking whole grains are the new "miracle" food that can "cure" blood pressure. This study suggests that whole grains should be a part of a healthy eating regimen to control blood pressure. That diet should be complemented by other lifestyle and medical treatments as recommended by your physician.
Refined grains (white bread, white rice, most pasta) were not linked to lower hypertension risk. And diets high in refined grains have prevoiusly been liked to worse blood sugar and weight control.