Refined grains may increase risks of heart disease and death

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Scientists from St John’s Research Institute found that a high intake of highly processed (refined) grains is linked to higher risks of heart disease and death than whole (unrefined) grains.

The research is published in The BMJ and was conducted by Sumathi Swaminathan et al.

Heart disease describes a range of conditions that affect your heart.

Heart diseases include Blood vessel disease, such as coronary artery disease. Heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias) Heart defects you’re born with (congenital heart defects).

High blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and smoking are key risk factors for heart disease.

Several other medical conditions and lifestyle choices can also put people at a higher risk for heart disease, including Diabetes. Overweight and obesity.

Whole grains contain the entire grain – which is made up of bran, germ, and endosperm. Refined grains have been milled (ground into flour or meal) in a way that removes the bran and germ.

Whole grains offer a “complete package” of health benefits, unlike refined grains, which are stripped of valuable nutrients in the refining process.

Grains are naturally high in fiber, helping you feel full and satisfied — which makes it easier to maintain healthy body weight.

Whole grains are also linked to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers and other health problems.

In the study, researchers aimed to test the links between eating refined grains, whole grains, and white rice with heart disease, death, blood fats, and blood pressure.

They used data from the Prospective Urban and Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study in 21 countries, which included 137, 130 participants with a follow-up of 9.5 years.

During follow-up, 9.2% of these participants had a heart disease event.

The researchers found that the highest intake of refined grains (≥350 g/day or about 7 servings/day) was linked to a higher risk of death and major heart disease events compared with the lowest intake of refined grains (<50 g/day).

In addition, higher intakes of refined grains were linked to higher systolic blood pressure.

No strong associations were found between intakes of whole grains or white rice and health problems.

Based on these findings, the scientists suggest that a high intake of refined grains was linked to a higher risk of death and heart disease. Globally, a lower intake of refined grains should be considered.

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Reference: Sumathi Swaminathan, et al. (2021). Associations of cereal grains intake with cardiovascular disease and mortality across 21 countries in Prospective Urban and Rural Epidemiology study: prospective cohort study. The BMJ. 2021 Feb 3;372:m4948. doi: 10.1136/bmj.m4948.