In addition to fiber, whole-grain foods like whole-wheat bread, whole-grain breakfast cereals and oats have other protective ingredients that might help lower the risk of heart disease. Harvard researchers learned from the Nurses’ Health Study that women who had the highest intake of whole grains had a 33 percent lower risk of heart disease compared to women who consumed the least.6 The Iowa Women’s Health Study also found a link between whole-grain intake and heart health. In this study of almost 35,000 postmenopausal women, those who ate two servings of whole grains each day had the lowest rates of heart disease.7
The heart-protective effects of whole grains may be due to a number of natural compounds. Whole grains are important sources of vitamin E, zinc, selenium, copper, iron and manganese, and special phytochemicals (from plants) called phenols. All of these natural compounds have antioxidant properties and may offer protection from heart disease.
A food made from whole grains means that it contains all parts of the grain—the outer bran layer where most of the fiber is, the germ layer that’s rich in nutrients like vitamin E and the endosperm that contains the starch. When whole grains are processed into flakes, puffs or white flour, all that’s left is the starchy endosperm. Refined grains offer significantly less vitamin E, B6, magnesium, potassium, zinc and fiber. Use the following guide to help you get more whole grains in your diet.
WHOLE GRAIN REFINED GRAIN
Brown rice Pearled barley
Bulgur Unbleached flour
Kamut White rice
When buying bread, look for the words “whole-wheat flour” or “whole-rye flour” on the list of ingredients. Wheat flour and unbleached wheat flour mean it’s refined.