Eat Whole Grains and Live Longer?

Medically Reviewed

Want to live longer and healthier? Eat plenty of whole-grain foods, say British and Harvard researchers.

The health benefits of consuming whole-grain products—such as lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity—are well known. But the new studies take things a step further, associating whole-grain consumption with an increased lifespan and identifying you how much whole grains you need to eat daily to reduce your risk of chronic disease.

Harvard researchers, publishing in the June 2016 issue of Circulation, found that people who ate four servings, or about 70 grams, of whole grains a day had a 22 percent lower risk of premature death than people who ate little or none. They also had 23 percent and 20 percent lower risks of dying from cardiovascular disease and cancer, respectively.

One serving, or 16 grams, of whole grains is equivalent to one slice of whole-grain bread; a 1-ounce wholegrain muffin; 1 cup of dry, whole-grain cereal; or a half-cup of cooked whole-grain pasta, oatmeal, or brown rice.

In the second analysis published in June 2016 online in BMJ, British researchers found that eating 90 grams a day of whole-grain food (equal to two slices of bread and one bowl of cereal or to one-and-a-half pieces of pita bread), compared with eating none, was associated with a lower risk of death from diabetes, infectious disease, respiratory disease, cancer, and stroke, as well as from all noncancer and nonvascular causes combined.

They also associated eating whole grains with a reduced risk of dying prematurely and of developing cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease. Notably, researchers saw the greatest benefits in people who went from no whole-grain intake to two servings a day.

If you want to jump on the whole-grain bandwagon, how can you tell whether a product is whole grain? If you see the words “100% whole grain” on the package, or if the first ingredient is “whole wheat” or “whole” followed by the name of another grain such as barley or corn, then it’s mostly or totally a whole-grain food.

Certain grains, such as brown rice, rolled oats, oatmeal, buckwheat, bulgur, quinoa, millet, and amaranth are always considered whole and don’t need to include the word “whole” to reflect that.

Learn more about The Risks of a Low-Carb Diet and The Surprising Benefits of Phytochemicals.