Whole Grain or Whole Wheat Foods Benefit Heart Health

Some new research finds that anyone who regularly eats whole grain or whole wheat foods instead of the refined kind puts on less of the type of fat that's tied to a higher risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The fat, known as visceral adipose tissue (VAT), surrounds the intra-abdominal organs and is associated with the onset of high cholesterol, insulin resistance and high blood pressure - a group of risk factors known to medicine as metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome has become increasingly common in the U.S. and estimates suggest that 50 million (or more) Americans now have it.

This latest research into whole grains and heart health comes from an analysis of dietary surveys and body-fat scans conducted on over 2,800 adult subjects between the ages of 32 and 83 years old. The participants underwent multidetector-computed tomography (MDCT) scans to see how much VAT and subcutaneous adipose tissue (SAT) they had.

The researchers compared the types of fat tissue (both VAT and SAT) to the intake of whole and refined grains, and saw the most striking relationship between intake of whole grains and visceral fat.

Even after they accounted for other lifestyle factors like smoking history, alcohol intake, fruit and veggie intake, percent of daily calories from fat and physical activity, the team found that eating a few servings of whole grains a day was associated with smaller amounts of troublesome VAT.

It seems that the volume of VAT was almost 10% lower in adults who ate three or more servings of whole grains a day and also limited their intake of refined grains to under one serving each day.

In case you're wondering, a serving of whole grains could be a slice of 100% whole wheat bread or a half-cup of oatmeal. A serving of refined grains was considered a slice of white bread or a half-cup of white rice.

Interesting that those subjects who ate three servings of whole grains and several servings of refined grains a day didn't benefit from the whole grain-VAT connection. If the refined grain intake was over four servings a day, whole grains didn't help the volume of fat.

Substituting whole grains for those refined ones seems to be the key.

Beyond possible protection against accumulating a troublesome type of fat, whole grains have vitamins, minerals and high amounts of antioxidants (in amounts near, or over, fruits and veggies) and other natural plant-based substances your body needs. They're a natural source of fiber and are low in fat, and are available in a choice of whole grain breads, varieties of rice, cereal, flour and pasta.

This study builds on earlier research that has linked a higher whole grain intake with a lower risk of metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance. Future work needs to look at whole grain intake and body fat distribution in a larger, far more diverse population. This may help experts find the mechanism that seems to be behind this relationship.

Estimates suggest that nearly 24 million children and adults have diabetes, and 5.7 million people with symptoms remain undiagnosed. Heart disease affects an estimated 17.6 million Americans and is the single leading cause of death in this country. If you're concerned for yourself or someone you love, making simple substitution to whole grain or whole wheat in your diet may well be your best chance for protection.

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