How refined grains can impact your heart health | Integrated Diabetes Services

We take a look at different whole grains and how they can keep your heart healthy

Coronary artery disease (CAD), sometimes referred to as coronary heart disease or ischemic heart disease, is the most common type of heart disease in the United States1. It is caused when plaque, composed of cholesterol deposits,  builds up on the walls of the arteries that supply blood to the heart. This creates a narrowing of the arteries and can slow or block blood flow putting the person at risk for a heart attack.

One way to prevent Coronary artery disease from happening is through a healthy and well-balanced diet.

We often hear about the importance of consuming healthy fats and lowering sugar intake. However, the type of grain consumed also makes an impact. 

A recent study shows that eating more refined grains can put a person at higher risk of premature CAD than those who consume whole grains2.  Participants included 2,099 adults with premature CAD and a control group of 1,369 participants with normal coronary arteries. After completing a food frequency questionnaire to assess dietary intake, the results showed that those who consumed more refined grains were at higher risk for premature CAD than those who ate more whole grains.

There are many reasons why people choose to eat refined grains as opposed to whole grains. These include income, education level, culture, age, ease of accessibility and convenience. This study shows that it would be important to choose whole grains whenever possible and make them a part of your daily intake.

whole-grainsThe difference between whole grains and refined grains

A whole grain has all three of its original parts, the bran, the germ, and the endosperm3.

Tgrain anatomyhe bran is the outer skin. It is multi-layered and contains important antioxidants, B vitamins, and fiber.
The germ is the inner embryo that has the protentional to sprout into a new plant. It contains many B vitamins, some protein, healthy fats, and minerals.
The endosperm provides the energy for the plant to grow. It is the largest part of the kernel and contains carbohydrates, proteins, and some small amounts of vitamins and minerals.

To determine if a food contains whole grains, you must always look for the word “whole” on the package. It may be included in the name of the product such as whole wheat bread or listed with the ingredients. Don’t be fooled by things such as 100% wheat bread. Unless you find the word “whole” it does not contain the whole grain.

THE GOOD: Some whole grains include

  • Oatmeal
  • Brown rice
  • Popcorn
  • Whole-wheat bread, crackers or pasta

When a grain is refined the bran and germ are removed. This helps increase the shelf-life of the product and creates a finer texture. However, by doing so the fiber and nutrients have been reduced.

THE BAD: Some examples of refined grains are

  • White rice
  • White flour
  • White bread
  • Desserts and pastries

Look for ways to incorporate whole grains whenever possible. Try to make 50% of your daily grain intake come from whole grains. This simple habit can make a positive impact on your heart. 

  1. Coronary Artery Disease” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19 July 2021.
  2. Person, et al. “Eating Refined Grains May Raise Premature CAD Risk.” Healio, 3 Oct. 2022.
  3. What’s a Whole Grain? A Refined Grain?” What’s a Whole Grain? A Refined Grain? | The Whole Grains Council.

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