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Consistent with recommendations from leading cancer and heart disease authorities, my recommended Daily Dozen includes at least three servings of whole grains a day. Harvard University’s preeminent twin nutrition studies—the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study—have so far accumulated nearly three million person-years of data. A 2015 analysis found that people who eat more whole grains tend to live significantly longer lives independent of other measured dietary and lifestyle factors.

A diet rich in whole grains, for example, may yield the same benefits as taking high blood pressure medications without the adverse side effects commonly associated with antihypertensive drugs, such as electrolyte disturbances in those taking diuretics; increased breast cancer risk for those taking calcium-channel blockers; lethargy and impotence for those on beta blockers; sudden, potentially life-threatening swelling for those taking ACE inhibitors; and an increased risk of serious fall injuries for apparently any class of these blood pressure drugs.

Indeed, eating whole grains appears to reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and stroke. Eating more whole grains could potentially save the lives of more than a million people around the world every year. Take note of the whole, however. While whole grains, such as oats, whole wheat, and brown rice, have been shown to reduce our risk of developing chronic disease, refined grains may actually increase risk.

People who ate the most whole grains had significantly slower narrowing of two of the most important arteries in our body: the coronary arteries that feed the heart and the carotid arteries that feed our brain. Since atherosclerotic plaque in the arteries is our leading killer, we should not just slow down the process but actually stop or even reverse it altogether, and eating more whole grains, whole vegetables, whole fruits, whole beans, and other whole plant foods can help with that.

 

Image Credit: Melissa Askew / Unsplash. This image has been modified.

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