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.)

Healthy Plant Foods (Whole Grains, Pulses, Vegetables, Nuts, etc.) May Lower Diabetes Risk

Plant-based diets are linked with numerous health benefits, but you must take care to choose healthier plant foods close to nature, that haven’t been refined or include lots of added sugars. To investigate the importance of this point, Harvard researchers analyzed the eating habits of 195,727  adults across three large cohorts, and tracked their health records for decades. Eating a healthy plant based diet (with whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, vegetable oils, tea, and coffee) was linked with a 34% lower risk of type 2 diabetes, while eating a less healthy plant based diet (with fruit juice, sugary drinks, refined grains, potatoes, and desserts) was linked with a 16% higher risk of diabetes.
PLoS Medicine. 2016 Jun 14;13(6):e1002039. (Satija A et al.)

Fiber Linked with Healthy Aging

Researchers analyzed 10 years of extensive health and nutrition data in a study of more than 1,600 Australian adults, to see how carbohydrate nutrition (Glycemic Index, Glycemic Load, total carbs, sugars, and fiber) relates to successful aging. The researchers defined successful aging as absence of disability, depression, cognitive problems, respiratory problems, or chronic disease (like heart disease or cancer). Adults eating the most total fiber were significantly more likely to age successfully. Additionally, those eating the most cereal fiber (the type of fiber in whole grains) were 78% more likely to age successfully than those eating the least, and those eating the most fruit fiber were 64-81% more likely to age successfully. Those eating a higher Glycemic Index at the beginning of the study were more likely to die throughout the study, but neither Glycemic Index, Glycemic Load, total carbohydrate, nor sugar intake were significantly associated with successful aging. 
The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences. 2016 Jun 1. pii: glw091. [Epub ahead of print] (Gopinath B et al.)

Spice-Focused Nutrition Education Helps Nudge Urban Teens Toward Healthy Foods

Nutrition education is a valuable tool to fight increasing obesity rates among teens, especially for those at a higher risk, such as African-Americans. Researchers compared a nutrition education curriculum focusing on spices and herbs (“Spice MyPlate”) to a basic nutrition education program based on USDA MyPlate guidelines on 110 (predominantly African-American) teens in Baltimore, Maryland. Twelve spices and herbs were chosen for the core focus of the Spice MyPlate curriculum: cinnamon, black pepper, red pepper, basil, garlic, oregano, thyme, nutmeg, ginger, turmeric, rosemary, and cumin. Participants in the Spice MyPlate group reported they were more likely to eat vegetables, low-fat dairy, and lean protein after the intervention. They also reported that they would be more likely to eat vegetables and whole grains if they were flavored with spices and herbs.
American Journal of Health Promotion. 2016 May;30(5):346-356. (D’Adamo CR et al.)

Whole Grain Bread, Fiber, Fruit May Contribute to Healthy Gut Microbiome Diversity

While there is still much to learn about the gut microbiome, what we do know is that certain microbes appear to be more beneficial than others, and that a large diversity of different microbes seems to be protective. To figure out what constitutes a “normal” gut microbiome, European researchers combined microbiome data from nearly 4,000 people across the US and Western Europe. The researchers found that even within this large sample size, they have not yet uncovered the total richness of gut diversity. The scientists also analyzed a number of lifestyle and health factors to see if they might affect microbiome composition. After medication use and stool consistency, dietary factors (preference for whole grain bread, high fiber intake, and high fruit intake) were pinpointed as probable contributors of healthy gut diversity. 
Science. 2016 Apr 29;352(6285):560-4. (Falony G et al.)

Sprouting Brown Rice Improves Eating Quality & Cooking Properties

Sprouting grains, by soaking them and allowing them to germinate, is a popular practice among health conscious consumers and a growing number of food manufacturers. In this review, scientists summarized what we know about how the sprouting process affects brown rice (increases GABA, decreases amylose, slightly increases protein, and other bioactive changes), as well as common practices (time/temperature) for producing these results. Most interestingly, the researchers found that sprouting brown rice “increases the rate of water absorption and softens the cooked [brown rice] kernels, improving eating quality,” and that “stickiness and blandness decreased.” They also report that sprouted brown rice is “easier to cook and required less cooking time” than regular brown rice.
Food Chemistry. 2016 Apr 1;196:259-71. (Cho DH 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.)

Healthy Diet with Whole Grains, Fruits, Vegetables May Protect Against Cognitive Decline

Since there is no known cure for cognitive decline, prevention and deceleration of this condition are an important area of research. Most people’s diets change from time to time, so researchers wanted to study how these changes affect cognition. In a study of over 2000 Swedish older adults at least 60 years old, eating a “Western diet” (lots of refined or processed foods, red meats, high fat dairy products, saturated/trans fats, and sugar) was associated with more cognitive decline, whereas eating a more “prudent” diet (a healthy diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, rice/pasta, legumes, nuts, fish, and low-fat dairy products) was associated with a deceleration of cognitive decline. However, the most fascinating finding is that every little bit helps. More frequent intake of foods from the “prudent” diet might weaken the negative cognitive effects associated with the Western diet, even if you’re unable to change all your habits.
Alzheimers and Dementia. 2016 Feb;12(2):100-9. (Shakersain B, et al.)

Processed Barley & Oats Linked with Less Gut Microbiota Diversity

A healthy diversity of gut microbiota is associated with numerous health benefits. To see how processing grains relates to the microbiome in animals, researchers analyzed the gut microbiota of pigs after feeding them whole grain barley and oats, or extruded whole grain barley and extruded oats. Extrusion is a process used to make pasta, cereal, croutons, and other grain products, by sending a flour and water mixture through a die to get uniform shapes. The gut microbiota of pigs eating the extruded grains showed less diversity and less presence of the microbes associated with health. The researchers concluded that “cereal extrusion affects the microbiota composition and diversity towards a state generally thought to be less beneficial for health.”
Food & Function. 2016 Feb;7(2):1024-32. (Moen B et al.)

Eating Fiber in Young Adulthood Linked with Lower Breast Cancer Risk

Dietary fiber is an important nutrient found in plant foods (mostly in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and pulses). To study the link between fiber intake and breast cancer risk, Harvard scientists analyzed the adolescent and early adulthood diets of over 90,000 women, and noted any diagnosis of breast cancer. The researchers found that every 10g of fiber in adolescence and young adulthood was linked with a 14% and 13% lower risk of breast cancer, respectively. In fact, those eating the most fiber in adolescence and young adulthood (25g per day) were 25% less likely to get breast cancer than those eating the least fiber (12g per day).
Pediatrics. 2016 Feb 1. pii: peds.2015-1226. (Farvid MS et al).

Whole Grains Linked with Less Inflammation and Slower Cognitive Decline in Aging

A “grain brain” seems to be a healthy defense against inflammation and accelerated cognitive decline. In a British study, researchers analyzed the diets, inflammation markers, and cognitive health of over 5,000 middle aged adults over six years. The scientists found that those eating diets high in red and processed meat, peas, legumes (mostly baked beans) and fried food, and lower in whole grains, were more likely to have higher levels of inflammation and accelerated cognitive decline. In fact, whole grains had the strongest link to anti-inflammatory markers among all 37 food groups studied.
Clinical Nutrition. 2016 Jan 29. Pii: S0261-5614(16)00035-2. (Ozawa M et al.)

US Whole Grain Intake Improves from 2001-2012, Linked with Better Weight

We know that healthy whole grains are growing in popularity, but new data quantify this trend. Minnesota researchers analyzed the whole grain intake and BMI, waist circumference, and obesity of nearly 45,000 children and adults from 2001 to 2012. The scientists found that while less than 1% of kids and 8% of adults met whole grain recommendations (about 3 oz equivalents per day), whole grain consumption has improved in both groups (adults from 0.72 oz equivalents in 2001 to 0.97 in 2012, kids from 0.56 oz equivalents in 2001 to 0.74 in 2012). The biggest source of whole grains for both kids and adults alike were yeast breads and ready to eat cereals. Those eating the most whole grains had a lower BMI and waist circumference, and were less likely to be overweight or obese. The researchers conclude that “greater whole grain consumption is associated with better intakes of nutrients and healthier body weight in children and adults,” and that “Continued efforts to promote increased intake of whole grain foods are warranted.”
Nutrition Journal. 2016 Jan 22;15(1):8. (Albertson AM et al.)