When "carbs are bad" turned into "gluten is bad" it meant many more people stopped eating the food group that may actually help us live longer.
Most American adults eat about one serving of whole grains a day, considerably less than the three or more daily servings recommended by the current Dietary Guidelines. The health benefits of whole grains are well known, but people persist in rejecting what they think are "starchy carbohydrates." Whole grains are considered too fattening and mistakenly all lumped together with processed and refined grains, like white bread or white rice.
Or whole grains are shunned because they contain gluten, the proteins found in wheat and other grains.
Fact: Whole grains are a good source of multiple nutrients, including fiber, vitamins, mineral, and phytochemicals.
Here's a new reason you shouldn't avoid whole grains: A study published Monday in the journal Circulation adds to the solid science linking whole grain consumption with the specific health benefit of lowering the risk of death.
Researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston looked at 14 long-term studies of self-reported whole grain intake and overall death rates. The Harvard researchers were strict in the studies they selected — out of 400 only 12 met the criteria.
The findings were based on the collective self-responses of about three quarters of a million people found a definite link between number of servings of whole grains consumed daily, and the risk of death.
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The findings: For people who reported eating three servings of whole grains a day — each serving is about 16 grams — the overall rate of total deaths declined by 20 percent over the course of the research; a reduction in 25 percent for cardiovascular deaths and 14 percent for cancer-related deaths was also noted.
How much is a serving? A half-cup of cooked brown rice, cooked oatmeal, or cooked whole grain pasta or one slice of 100 percent whole grain bread.
While this study looks at the risk of death, earlier studies document strong associations between whole grain consumption and contributions to disease prevention for illnesses including type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.
The connection between whole grains with obesity is mixed, and most likely is related to inconsistencies in portion control. Controlled servings of whole grains can contribute to a successful weight loss effort because the high fiber content promotes fullness, but it's often very easy to eat too many calories because portions are simply too big and we "eyeball" a serving.
How to increase servings of whole grains without loading on calories:
1. Swap other sources of refined and processed grains for whole grains. It's the bartering system — to replace refined sources with whole grains — not add them on.
2. Read a package label and look for the word "whole grain" on the nutrition label. A rich brown color doesn't always mean it's a whole grain food — that can come from added coloring.
3. Look for the serving size to make sure you're including the food as part of a healthy, calorie-controlled eating plan.
Some of the top sources of whole grains include:
Whole wheat (bread, pasta)
Cracked Wheat (bulgur)
And remember that the quality of ALL of the carbohydrate, fat, and protein choices you make contribute to good health. It's the combination of multiple healthy food choices over time that matters most to support a long, healthy life.