The huge Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, which evaluated 74,000 women from the Nurses’ Health Study, and 44,000 men from the Doctors’ Study, shows that eating a one-ounce serving daily of whole grains for 25 years lowers a person’s risk of dying from heart disease by nine percent and risk of dying from anything by five percent (JAMA Internal Medicine, published online Jan 5, 2015). Furthermore, substituting whole grains for refined grains reduced chances of dying by eight percent, and substituting whole grains for red meat reduced death chances by 20 percent. Both meat and refined carbohydrates increase risk for diabetes and heart attacks. Meat blocks insulin receptors to raise blood sugar levels, while refined carbohydrates increase absorption of sugars to raise blood sugar levels.
The study authors knew that people who restrict red meat and refined carbohydrates are likely to have many other healthful lifestyle habits, so they had to correct data for other factors that affect death rate: overweight, smoking, alcohol, exercise, use of vitamin pills, use of aspirin, family history of heart disease, cancer or diabetes, history of high blood pressure or high cholesterol, and having diabetes at the start of the study. They also corrected for the amount of fruits and vegetables people ate.
Why Whole Grains are Healthful
Unlike refined carbohydrates, whole grains contain bran from the outer coating of a grain and the germ from the inner part. Whole grains are richer than white flour or white rice in nutrients such as fiber, magnesium, vitamin E and other plant-based compounds called phytochemicals. They help to:
- regulate blood sugar, fats and cholesterol,
- protect blood vessels,
- prevent DNA damage, and
- reduce inflammation throughout the body.
Diets that Recommend Avoiding Whole Grains
- The various Paleo Diets recommend avoiding all whole grains and were the world’s most popular diets in 2013. The US News and World Report interviewed scientists who rated The Paleo Diet as dead last compared to other popular diets.
- Gluten-Free Diets recommend avoiding wheat, rye and barley. They substitute the gluten free grains such as rice and corn, and other sources of carbohydrates such as potato starch. Most gluten-free processed foods are made with refined grains, not whole grains. The November 2014 issue of Consumer Reports has a well-researched article showing that the majority of people on gluten-free diets:
1) could be missing treatment for another disease that they may really have,
2) are not eating a more healthful diet,
3) are paying more for their special gluten free foods,
4) are at increased risk for gaining weight,
5) are still getting gluten in foods that are labeled gluten-free, and
6) may be exposing themselves to higher levels of arsenic from rice.
The Consumer Reports survey showed that 63 percent of North Americans mistakenly think that a gluten-free diet improves physical or mental health, and 33 percent buy gluten-free products because they believe they will improve digestion and gastrointestinal function, help them lose weight and have more energy, lower high cholesterol, and strengthen the immune system. However, if you do not have celiac disease, a gluten-free diet is not likely to offer you any benefits at all.