Evidence In Favor of Healthfulness of Whole Grains

I bought a sack of potatoes the other day.  The advertising on the sack proclaimed   these potatoes as “Gluten-Free!”.  As if other potatoes have gluten (they don’t).

In these days of gluten-free this and gluten-free that, the health benefits of grains—especially wheat—are being questioned.

A 2008 review article in a scientific journal confirmed the association between high whole grain intake and reduced incidence of cardiovascular disease.  Heart disease and strokes (subsets of cardiovascular disease) are the first and fourth leading causes of death, respectively, in the U.S.

The article authors, Philip Mellen, Thomas Walsh, and David Herrington, reviewed the scientific literature on the subject and found seven pertinent published observational studies.  Study participants were divided into those with high average whole grain intake (2.5 servings per day) and those with low average intake (0.2 servings a day, or 1 serving every 5 days).  Compared with low intake, participants with high intake had 21% lower risk of cardiovascular disease events, such as heart disease, stroke, and death from cardiovascular disease.

Refined grain intake, such as standard white bread, was not associated with cardiovascular disease one way or the other.

The authors conclude, “There is a consistent, inverse association between dietary whole grains and incident cardiovascular disease…and clinicians should redouble efforts to incorporate clear messages on the beneficial effects of whole grains into public health and clinical practice endeavors.”

I’ll be the first to admit that observational studies don’t prove that whole grains reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.  They identify an association that should lead to additional testing of the hypothesis.  I don’t see any proof on the foreseeable horizon.

If heart attacks and strokes ran in my blood lines (genes), I’d try to incorporate two or three daily servings of whole grain into my diet, assuming I had no good reasons to avoid grains.

That being said, I’m also convinced that many can live long health lives without grains.

Steve Parker, M.D.

References and resources:

Mellen, Philip, et al.  Whole grain intake and cardiovascular disease: A meta-analysis.  Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases, 18, (2008): 283-290.

The Whole Grains Council.  Learn more about the benefits of various whole grains and how to find whole grain products.  Many recipes here, plus links to hundreds of recipes at other websites.

3 responses to “Evidence In Favor of Healthfulness of Whole Grains

  1. ProudDaddy

    It has never been clear to me what the non-whole-grain-eating population ate instead. Let’s assume it was crap. Then couldn’t the studies show that there is an association between eating crap and heart disease and whole grains are neutral?

  2. I would be interested in your take on Dr. Davis’s ‘wheat belly’ critique of grains as precursors to future coronary plaque buildup. I”m currently reading Dr. Esselstyn’s ‘Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease’ and I’m trying to see if and where his protocol and Dr. Davis’ overlap. Both agree veggies and fruit are good, junk carbs are bad. And that’s about where it ends.