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.)

Refined Grains Linked with Depression

It seems that comfort foods like refined sweets might not be so comforting in the long run. Scientists in New York analyzed the eating patterns of nearly 70,000 women without depression across the U.S. , then tracked their health records over three years to see how diet relates to developing depression. The researchers found that both refined grains and added sugars were significantly tied to a higher risk of developing depression over the three year study, while fiber, vegetables, fruit (excluding juice), and lactose (a sugar found in milk) was linked with a significantly lower risk of depression. A higher intake of whole grains was also related to a lower risk of depression, although this relationship was not statistically significant. Overall, foods that contributed to a high glycemic index diet were associated with increased odds of developing depression. 
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2015 Jun 24. [Epub ahead of print] (Gangwisch JE et al.)

Healthy Diet with Whole Grains May Improve Prostate Cancer Survival

Healthy diets are an effective way to help prevent diseases, like cancer, but emerging research shows that they can also improve survival in people who have already been diagnosed. In a study of over 900 male physicians diagnosed with prostate cancer, Harvard researchers analyzed their eating patterns and followed their health records for 14 years after diagnosis. They found that men who ate a typical “Western diet” (high in red and processed meat, high fat dairy foods, and refined grains) had more than twice the risk of prostate-cancer related death, and a 67% increased risk of death from all causes. On the other hand, those who ate a healthy diet (with whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fish, and healthy oils) had a 36% lower risk of death from all causes. This study affirms that nutritious, balanced diets promote the best health outcomes, and that whole grains are an integral component of an overall, healthy diet.
Cancer Prevention Research. 2015 June 1. [Epub ahead of print] (Yang M et al.)

Fiber from Whole Grains May Reduce Diabetes Risk

Studies have shown that fiber (especially from whole grains) may lower diabetes risk in Americans, but researchers wanted to know if the same was true in Europe. Analyzing the eating patterns of over 26,000 participants from 8 nations in Western Europe, the scientists found that total fiber was associated with a lower risk of diabetes, along with fiber from whole grains and vegetables (but not fruit). The researchers then combined these results with the results of 18 additional studies, following over 617,000 participants, and found that fiber from whole grains was the most protective. Indeed, for every additional 10g of total fiber or cereal fiber (the fiber in whole grains), the risk of type 2 diabetes was 9% or 25% lower, respectively. However, these results were not significant after adjusting for weight, meaning that whole grains and fiber likely play an important role in weight maintenance, another risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
Diabetologia. 2015 May 29. [Epub ahead of print] (InterAct Consortium).

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.)

Regular Whole Grain Consumption May Reduce Breast Cancer Risk

Eating whole grains daily may help keep breast cancer at bay. Approximately 1 in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer, and lifestyle factors are thought to play an important role in prevention. To determine the relationship between eating patterns and breast cancer, researchers analyzed the diets of 250 newly diagnosed female breast cancer patients, and 250 age-matched controls (without cancer). The scientists found that eating whole grains at least 7 times per week was associated with a decreased risk of breast cancer.
Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2015 Apr 27:1-7 [Epub ahead of print] (Mourouti N et al.)

Opportunities for Whole Grains in Manufactured Foods

To encourage people to switch from refined to whole grains, it’s important to make tasty, convenient whole grain foods more widely available. In this review, researchers explore various tactics (sprouting, extrusion, fermentation, enzyme use, etc.) for increasing whole grain content in foods, while improving their sensory qualities along the way. Amid ample evidence that acceptance is similar for both whole grain and refined grain food products, the experts urge whole grain food makers to apply some of these technologies, and lure customers in with better products, not just with health messages. 
Critical Reviews  in Food Science and Nutrition. 2015 Mar 6:0. [Epub ahead of print] (Schaffer-Lequart C et al.)

Whole Grains and Cereal Fiber Linked with Longevity

A growing body of research suggests that whole grains may help you live longer. Boston scientists analyzed data from over 367,000 adults, and found that those with the highest intake of whole grains had a 17% lower risk of death from all causes compared to those who ate the least whole grains. Additionally, those eating the most whole grains had a lower risk of several disease-specific deaths, ranging from 11% for respiratory disease, up to 48% for diabetes. Similarly, a high intake of cereal fiber (the fiber from grain foods) was associated with a 19% lower risk of death from all causes, and a 25-34% lower risk of disease specific deaths. Whole grains offer a healthy diversity of protective nutrients, and this research suggests that cereal fiber is certainly among them.
BMC Medicine
. 2015 Mar 4;13:59 (Huang T 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.) 

Whole Wheat Can Improve Inflammation and Influence Gut Bacteria

Researchers are increasingly turning to gut bacteria to learn more about complex conditions such as inflammation. To study this relationship, scientists randomized 63 overweight and obese adults to a diet containing either whole grains (in the form of shredded wheat) or refined grains (in the form of white bread and crackers) for 4-8 weeks. In addition to decreased inflammation in the whole grain group (a good thing!), the scientists found that one of the most abundant beneficial plant compounds (ferulic acid) from whole wheat is released and absorbed in the gut, where it is likely metabolized. In line with other studies on how whole grains improve gut health and diversity, the researchers also found that whole-wheat consumption positively influenced bacterial communities in the study participants.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2015 Feb;101(2):251-61. (Vitaglione P et al.)

Habitual Refined Grain Consumers Shift Preferences to Whole Grains

In a small European study, researchers supplied 33 adults who rarely eat whole grains (less than one ounce per day) with diet advice and a variety of whole grain foods. The participants increased their whole grain intake by 500% for six weeks (averaging six ounces per day) so that the scientists could assess diet’s relationship with gut bacteria, body fat and blood chemistry (like blood pressure and cholesterol). While the scientists found no significant health changes during this short-term experiment, what was remarkable is how the participants’ attitudes towards whole grains changed throughout the study. According to the researchers, nearly two thirds (65%) of the participants who provided post study data said they now prefer whole grains, “citing benefits such as improved bowel movements and appetite suppression, as well as taste.” Additionally, “the majority of subjects reported that it was not difficult to achieve the required level,” and a whopping 76% of subjects intend to continue eating and purchasing whole grains.
The Journal of Nutrition. 2015 Feb;145(2):215-21 (Ampatzoglou A et al.)