Harvard Health Letter

Whole grains associated with longevity, say Harvard researchers

Regularly eating whole grains can help you lower "bad" cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure. A diet rich in whole grains also "is associated with a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and certain types of cancer," says Dr. Qi Sun, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.

In a study published Jan. 5, 2015, in JAMA Internal Medicine, Sun and colleagues reported that eating whole grains may even extend your life. Sun used the diet information of more than 100,000 men and women whose health was followed for more than 20 years. The study found that those who regularly ate whole grains had a 9% lower overall death rate and a 15% lower death rate from heart disease.

How might a regular diet of whole grains achieve such important health benefits? One possibility is that people who eat whole grains are just generally health-conscious. But also, "whole grains contain many beneficial nutrients or compounds, such as fiber, magnesium, vitamins, and phytochemicals," says Sun. He, and the USDA Dietary Guidelines, recommend at least three servings of whole grains per day. Researchers found that even one serving of whole grains per day (28 grams or 1 ounce) lowers overall death risk by 5%. An ounce of whole grains is the equivalent of one slice of whole-grain bread; one cup of ready-to-eat, whole-grain cereal; half a cup of cooked brown rice; or three cups of popped popcorn.

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