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One Major Effect of Eating Fiber-Rich Foods, Says Expert

It's time to switch to whole-grain bread.
FACT CHECKED BY Cheyenne Buckingham

More whole grains, smaller waist? That's one of the findings in a recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition, which looked at how consumption of both whole grains and highly refined grains influenced five major risk factors of heart disease:

  • Waist size
  • Blood pressure
  • Blood sugar
  • Triglyceride level
  • HDL ("good") cholesterol amount

Researchers used data from a major heart study that's been in progress since the 1970s and looked at 3,100 participants who supplied nutritional info and heart-related health markers for nearly 20 years.

They found that those who reported the highest level of whole-grain consumption on a regular basis had significant heart health benefits compared to those who ate mainly refined grains. As they aged, participants who ate foods like rolled oats, brown rice, and whole-grain bread had only a half-inch gain in waist size over the decades, compared to over double that for refined-grain eaters.

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Average increases in blood sugar levels and systolic blood pressure were also greater in the refined-grain group.

The findings suggest that whole grains not only come with benefits as you're eating them or in the short-term but can also have a significant effect on your health as you age, says senior author Nicola McKeown, Ph.D., a researcher in nutritional epidemiology at the United States Department of Agriculture.

Whole grain crispbread seed crackers
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Keeping weight regulated, maintaining healthy blood pressure, and controlling blood sugar can all be a boon for cardiovascular health, she says. That can lower risks for certain health issues including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

In terms of why whole grains seem to be so effective, McKeown says dietary fiber plays a major role. This fiber can have a satiating effect, which may prevent overeating and keep weight managed, and also helps with gut health in general.

Ample research has connected fiber, digestive function, and weight management in the past. For example, one study found that increasing your fiber for just two weeks can have a beneficial effect on the bacteria in your digestive tract. And several other studies suggest that good gut function can boost your heart health, as well.

Another benefit to whole grains not found in refined options is the mineral composition, McKeown adds. The amount of magnesium and potassium is especially notable, and both are crucial for cardiovascular health, particularly keeping blood pressure well regulated.

That doesn't mean you should never have pasta or white bread again, but to gain the benefits of whole grains—including that better-controlled belly size—it may be worth considering making them a regular part of your diet.

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Elizabeth Millard
Elizabeth Millard is a freelance writer specializing in health, fitness, and nutrition. Read more
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