Whole Grains 101

whole grains 101

Health Studies on Whole Grains

Whole grain bread is healthy.

Every day, more and more studies show the benefits of whole grains. We regularly post new studies here, where you can browse through them at random. Or, you can use our filters to hone in on a specific question, such as "Does barley reduce the risk of diabetes?" or "What's the research about whole grains and hypertension?"

Filter the studies below by selecting a grain and/or a disease/condition, then click apply.


Replacing Potatoes with Whole Grains Can Lower Gestational Diabetes Risk

Healthy food choices can be an important way to help prevent gestational diabetes, a type of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. To learn more about types of foods that might be helpful or harmful, Harvard researchers analyzed the diets and health outcomes of over 15,000 women. They found that replacing two servings per week of potatoes with whole grains lowered the risk of gestational diabetes by 12% (compared to 10% for replacing potatoes with legumes, and 9% for replacing potatoes with other vegetables).
British Medical Journal. 2016 Jan 12;h6898. (Bao W et al.)

Whole Grains for Breakfast Linked with Higher Test Scores in Elementary Students

Whole grains are a classic centerpiece to the morning meal for many families, but students may especially benefit from this practice. Researchers collected data from nearly 700 elementary school students in Kansas (average age = 7.5) to see how eating breakfast relates to standardized test scores. They found that while breakfast eaters scored significantly higher in all test areas, what the students ate made a big difference. Greater servings of whole grains were significantly related to higher scores in reading comprehension and fluency and math, while fruit juice was significantly correlated with lower math and reading comprehension and fluency scores.  
Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2015 Dec 23:1-8 [Epub ahead of print] (Ptomey LT et al.)

Gluten Free Diet Has No Effect on Non-celiac Athletes

A common belief among athletes is that going gluten-free might help performance. To investigate this popular belief, Australian scientists randomly assigned 13 competitive cyclists without celiac disease to a 7 day gluten containing diet or a 7 day gluten free diet. The cyclists then went through a 10 day washout period, before trying the other diet, serving as their own controls. There was no significant difference in time trial performance of the athletes on either diet, nor were there significant differences in markers of inflammation or intestinal injury.
Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2015 Dec;47(12):2563-70.

Whole Grains Linked with Weight Loss in Children

In many parts of the developed world, approximately one third of children are overweight or obese, putting them at higher risk for health complications down the road. To determine which foods are most closely linked with excess weight gain in children, researchers analyzed the three-day food records and BMI of over 4,600 British children at ages 7, 10, and 13. Potato chips were most closely linked with excess weight gain in children, along with butter and margarine, battered or breaded fish, processed meats, French fries and roasted potatoes, desserts, and sweets. On the other hand, whole grains were the only food group to be consistently linked with weight loss, suggesting that whole grains may be particularly important for children struggling with their weight.
Health Affairs. 2015 Nov;34(11):1940-1948. (Dong D et al.)

Replacing Butter, Sugar, or Refined Grains with Whole Grains Cuts Heart Disease Risk

Harvard researchers followed over 120,000 adults for 24-30 years, tracking their diet and health records. The scientists found that replacing 5% of daily calories from saturated fat (like butter, cream, and red meat) with whole grains is associated with a 9% lower risk of heart disease, but replacing saturated fat with refined grains or added sugars does not lower heart disease risk. Additionally, they found that replacing 5% of daily calories from refined grains and added sugars with whole grains or polyunsaturated fats (found in fish, nuts, seeds, and safflower oil) can also significantly reduce heart disease risk. The researchers concluded, “Our findings provide epidemiological evidence of the current dietary guidelines, which recommend both “replacing saturated fatty acids with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids” and “replacing refined grains with whole grains.””
Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2015 Oct;66(14):1538-48. (Li Y et al.)

Whole Grains, Especially Oats, May Lower Cholesterol

Even modest reductions in cholesterol are thought to help prevent heart disease, so heart healthy diets are an important area of research. To determine the link between whole grains and cholesterol, scientists analyzed the results of 24 randomized controlled trials (totaling 2,275 participants). They found that eating whole grains is associated with lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and total cholesterol, with no significant effect on HDL (“good”) cholesterol or triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood). Whole grain oats specifically seemed to be linked with the greatest cholesterol lowering effects compared to other whole grain foods. The length of the study was also associated with positive changes in cholesterol, indicating health benefits are greater for those who make whole grains a regular part of their daily lifestyle.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2015 Sept;102(3):556-72. (Hollaender PLB et al.)

Carbs (Like Whole Grains) Vital to Early Human Brains

Whole grains are important to our brain health today, but new evidence suggests that they were also vital to our brain development millions of years ago. Researchers in Europe and Australia examined diet’s role in the development of early humans, and found that carbohydrates (such as whole grains, root vegetables, and other starchy plant foods) were “necessary to accommodate the increased metabolic demands of a growing brain.” While most depictions of early human foods emphasize hunter-gatherer diets full of meat, the scientists argue that cooked starches permitted “the acceleration in brain size increase from the Middle Pleistocene onward.”
The Quarterly Review of Biology. 2015 Sept;90(3):251-268. (Hardy K et al.)

Whole Grain Intake Linked with Lower Stroke Risk

It is estimated that up to 80% of strokes can be prevented, so food choices to protect against strokes are an important area of research. Scientists in China analyzed six large prospective studies following over 247,000 people to see how whole grain intake related to stroke risk. Those eating the most whole grains had a 14% lower risk of stroke than those eating the least whole grains. The authors concluded that “higher whole grain intake has a protective effect on stroke.”
International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Medicine. 2015 Sep 15;8(9):16978-83 (Fang L et al.)

Whole Grains May Prevent Early Death

Whole grains (like rye, oats, and whole wheat) have a strong history in traditional Scandinavian cuisine, but as in other regions, the food landscape is changing and refined grains have replaced some traditional foods. To see how eating whole grains relates to mortality, researchers analyzed the diets of over 120,000 people in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.  The scientists found that those who ate the most whole grains had significantly lower risk of death from all causes. When analyzing individual whole grains, the researchers found significantly lower mortality rates in those who ate the most whole grain breakfast cereals, whole grain bread, oats, rye (only statistically significant for men), and whole wheat. These findings support existing evidence that whole grains may contribute to longevity.
British Journal of Nutrition. 2015 July 23:1-16. (Johnsen NF et al.) [Epub ahead of print]

Gluten Free Foods Are Not Healthier

While most whole grains are naturally gluten free (like quinoa, millet, and rice), many gluten-free packaged foods are made with refined, starchy flours, such as potato flour or white rice flour. To see how gluten free products stack up, researchers analyzed the nutrition on over 3200 food products in Australia, comparing the health of gluten free items to items containing gluten. Gluten free products were found to have significantly less protein across all major food groups, and gluten free pasta was found to be significantly less healthful than regular pasta (based on the Australian government’s “Health Star Rating”). Other than that, the researchers found no significant health differences between gluten free (GF) and gluten-containing products, concluding that “the consumption of GF products is unlikely to confer health benefits, unless there is clear evidence of gluten intolerance.”
British Journal of Nutrition. 2015 Jun 29:1-7. [Epub ahead of print]. (Wu JH et al.)

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