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Gluten Not Related to Heart Disease, but Avoiding Whole Grains Is

Unless you have celiac disease, you might want to rethink that gluten-free diet. In a study of more than 100,000 US adults without celiac disease, followed for more than 25 years, researchers found that eating gluten was not related to heart disease risk. In fact, the researchers caution that avoiding gluten may result in eating fewer whole grain foods, which may in turn pose a risk for heart disease.
BMJ. 2017 May 2;357:j1892. (Lebwohl B et al.)

Inadequate Vegetables, Fruits, Whole Grains, Omega 3’s Linked with Cardiometabolic Death

Researchers created models to estimate the percentage of US cardiometabolic deaths (deaths from heart disease, stroke, or type 2 diabetes), that can be attributed to specific aspects of a poor diet. After analyzing decades of eating pattern data from large, nationally representative surveys (NHANES), the researchers estimated that nearly half of all cardiometabolic deaths can be attributed to poor diet. Specifically, they found that high sodium diets, low nut & seed intake, high intake of processed meats (like sausage or bacon), low seafood omega-3 fats, low vegetable intake, low fruit intake, high intake of sugar sweetened beverages (like soda), and low intake of whole grains contributed the most to cardiometabolic deaths, at about 5.9-9.5% each. The researchers note that the importance of eating more healthy foods (like whole grains or vegetables) is very important, in addition to decreasing less healthy foods (like soda or bacon).
JAMA. 2017 Mar 7;317(9):912-924. (Micha R et al.)

Whole Plant Foods, Not Fads, Best for Heart Health

Magazines and news articles often jump from one “superfood” or fad diet to the next, but not all nutrition advice is backed up by substantial evidence. In this review, researchers analyzed the scientific support for various trending “heart healthy” foods and diets. Eating berries, nuts, extra virgin olive oil, leafy green vegetables, and plant-based diets are all strongly linked with better heart-health based on numerous studies. On the other hand, coconut oil, palm oil, eggs, juicing, and southern diets are linked with potential harm. Additionally, the researchers found no support that gluten-free diets are beneficial for people without gluten related disorders. The authors conclude that “Evidence-based healthy dietary patterns are high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts in moderation, although some may include limited quantities of lean meats (including poultry and seafood), low-fat dairy products, and liquid vegetable oils.”
Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2017 March 7;69(9):1172-87.

Healthier Diet May Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions & Cut Healthcare Costs

Healthy diets nourish both people and the planet, and the savings can be quite impressive. Scientists in California created models to analyze how greenhouse gas emissions and healthcare costs might change if we decrease red & processed meat and refined grains in our standard US diet, and shift to eat more beans and peas, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. The researchers found that opting for the healthier diets can reduce risk of heart disease, colorectal cancer, and type 2 diabetes by 20-40%, saving the US $77-93 billion per year in healthcare. These shifts can also lower greenhouse gas emissions by 222-826 kg CO2, which is equivalent to 6-23% of the US Climate Action Plan’s target. Climatic Change. 2017 Mar 6. [Epub] (Hallstrom E et al.)

Replacing Animal Fats with Whole Grains, Polyunsaturated Fats, or Plant Proteins Linked with Less Heart Disease

Fat is essential to the diet, but certain fats are better than others. Scientists analyzed the eating patterns and health outcomes of more than 115,000 men and women in the Nurse’s Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow Up Study. The scientists found that those eating the most saturated fats (the types of fats found in red meat, butter, and milk) were more likely to get heart disease over the 24-28 year study period. In fact, replacing just 1% of calories from saturated fat with the same amount of calories from whole grains, polyunsaturated fats (found in fish, nuts, and seeds), or plant proteins (such as beans or nuts) is linked with a 6-8% lower risk of heart disease. The scientists conclude that “dietary recommendations for the prevention of coronary heart disease should continue to focus on replacing total saturated fat with more healthy sources of energy.”
British Medical Journal. 2016 Nov; 355:i5796. (G Zong et al.)

Whole Grains & Polyunsaturated Fats Linked with Less Heart Disease

To see how various fat sources relate to heart disease, Harvard researchers analyzed the fat intake and health outcomes of more than 222,000 people across 3 large cohorts. They found that while dairy fat intake in itself was not significantly related to heart disease risk, replacing 5% of calories from dairy fat with whole grains, polyunsaturated fat (found in fish, nuts, and seeds) or vegetable fat was linked with a 28%, 24% and 10% lower risk of heart disease, respectively. Additionally, replacing 5% of calories from other animal fats (such as red meat) with dairy fat was linked with a 6% lower risk of heart disease, indicating that while dairy fat might not be as harmful as red meat, replacing animal fats with plant foods could offer more protection. This supports the evidence that we consume and what we don’t consume both contribute to health outcomes. 
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2016 Aug 24. pii: ajcn134460. [Epub ahead of print] (Chen M et al.)

Whole Grains Linked with Longevity

In a meta analysis, Harvard scientists analyzed the whole grain intake and rates of death for 786,076 adults across 14 studies. Compared to people who ate the least whole grains, people who ate the most whole grains had a 16% lower risk of death from all causes, an 18% lower risk of death from heart disease, and a 12% lower risk of death from cancer. However, the significantly lower risk of cancer death was only seen in people who ate at least 30g whole grains per day (the amount in about ½ cup cooked brown rice, or 2 slices of 100% whole grain bread). The researchers also observed a dose response relationship, meaning the more whole grains someone ate, the less likely they were to die during the study period. According to the scientists, these results “strongly supported the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” which encourage at least 3 servings of whole grains per day (totaling at least 48g whole grains).
Circulation. 2016 Jun 14;133(24):2370-80. (Zong G et al.)

Whole Grains Linked with Lower Risk of Heart Disease, Cancer, Respiratory Disease, Infectious Diseases, Diabetes, and Early Death

Researchers in Europe and the US analyzed 45 studies (ranging from 245,012 to 705,253 participants each) in a meta analysis to understand the relationship between whole grains and health. Compared to people who ate the least whole grains, people who ate the most whole grains had a 16-21% lower risk of heart disease, an 11% lower risk of cancer, and an 18% lower risk of death from all causes, as well as a 19% lower risk of death from respiratory disease, a 36% lower risk of death from diabetes, a 20% lower risk of death from infectious disease, and a 21% lower risk of death from all non-cardiovascular, non-cancer causes. The researchers also found that a 90g increase in whole grain foods per day (about 3 servings) was linked with a 19-22% lower risk of heart disease, a 15% lower risk of cancer, and a 17% lower risk of death from all causes, and that “even moderate increases in whole grain intake could reduce the risk of premature mortality.” Whole grain bread, whole grain cereals, total grains, total cereals, total bread, pasta, and bran, were also singled out for their relationship with lower rates of various diseases and/or early death. The researchers conclude that their findings “strongly support existing dietary recommendations to increase whole grain consumption in the general population.”
British Medical Journal. 2016 June 14;353. (Aune D et al.)

Whole Grains May Help Prevent Heart Attacks

Researchers analyzed the diet of nearly 55,000 Danish adults and then tracked their health outcomes for over 13 years. Those consuming the most whole grains per day had a 25-27% lower risk of having a heart attack than those eating the least amount of whole grains per day. In fact, increasing whole grain intake by 25g per day was linked with a 12-13% lower risk of a heart attack. Among the different types of whole grains, rye and oats appeared to be especially protective.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2016 Feb 17. Pii:acjn124271. (Helnæs A 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.)

Healthy Diets with Whole Grains Improve Longevity in Low Income Minorities

Minorities and low-income populations are often underrepresented in nutrition studies, but new research indicates that healthy diets with whole grains can benefit all of us, including underserved populations. In this study, researchers examined the diets and medical records of over 77,000 people from 12 states in the southeastern US, most of whom were low-income and African American. Researchers found that those most closely adhering to a healthy diet (including at least 1 ½ servings of whole grains per day) had a 14-23% lower death rate from all diseases, heart disease, cancer, and more. Additionally, while overall dietary patterns are the best way to assess health, whole grains specifically were associated with a lower death risk (as were dairy, seafood, and plant proteins).
PLOS Medicine. 2015 May 26;12(5):e1001830; discussion e1001830. (Yu D et al.)

Whole Grain Intake May Decrease Heart Disease Risk

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US and other industrialized countries, so lifestyle changes, including diet, are important. To analyze the link between whole grain intake and coronary heart disease, Chinese researchers combined the results of eighteen different studies following over 400,000 people. The pooled results of their analysis suggest that a higher intake of whole grains is associated with a reduced risk for coronary heart disease. These results were significant in the fifteen cohort studies included (which followed subjects over a period of time to track how diet influenced their health), but not in the three case-control studies (which started with coronary heart disease cases and matched controls, then attempted to trace back the lifestyle differences between these groups). This study adds to the growing body of evidence that whole grains are a heart-healthy choice.
American Journal of Cardiology. 2015 Mar 1;115(5):625-629. (Tang G et al.)