Kopflos im Kornfeld

Whether we are about to dig into a big slice of cake or deep dish pizza, most of us have a small voice, however faint, that probably whispers something like, “You really should be eating a quinoa and kale salad, or whole-wheat turkey sandwich with lettuce instead.”

It is not so hard to ignore that voice when you consider just how confusing nutrition advice generally is: one month coffee is pure poison, the next it cures cancer, and we are all familiar with the flip-flopping on red wine–sheesh.

On some level we think, “Until those scientists figure things out, I am going to give this delicious [insert favorite food] the benefit of the doubt.” Well, it looks like the scientists have figured it out—at least when it comes to whole grains.

Whole grains include foods like brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat, oats, and products like 100% whole grain bread.

Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, have just published research showing a substantial link between daily whole grain consumption and living longer. Their work was published in the June, 2016 issue of the journal Circulation.

The researchers conducted a meta analysis, which means they did a big review of all the scientific studies to date on the subject. They gathered their data from a total of 14 research papers that included nearly 800,000 people who ate differing amounts of whole grains.

During the period of research, nearly 100,000 people died in total: about 24,000 from cardiovascular disease (CVD) and about 37,000 from cancer. The researchers found that total death and death from these diseases was inversely related to the amount of whole grains each person consumed per day. In other words, the people who ate the most whole grains had a lower risk of dying than those who ate the least—and by quite a lot too.

Those who ate the most whole grains (defined as about 70 grams or 4 servings) per day compared to those who ate the least (little or no whole servings) per day “had a 22% lower risk of total mortality, a 23% lower risk of CVD [cardiovascular disease] mortality, and a 20% lower risk of cancer mortality.” Their results, they reported, “further support the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”

Those guidelines are put out by The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, and they recommend that at least half of all grains consumed be whole grains—that comes to at least 3 servings per day. And the benefits go far beyond fiber, they say:

Whole grains are a source of nutrients, such as dietary fiber, iron, zinc, manganese, folate, magnesium, copper, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, selenium, riboflavin, and vitamin A. 

So, what exactly counts as a serving of whole grain?

According to the Harvard study and the Office of Disease Prevention, one serving is equivalent to one ounce or 16 grams. Check package labels, but this works out to be about one slice of bread, one cup of dry cereal, or 1/2 a cup of cooked cereal, rice, or whole-wheat pasta. That doesn’t sound too hard to get four servings, does it? You can get a lot more information on this here.

Let’s face it, we’ve known all along that we should be eating more whole grains. You can’t throw a 3-seed dinner roll without hitting some magazine article or other news source telling us this. Now, the evidence is pretty strong that whole grains really do make us healthier and may, in fact, extend our lives. Now THAT we can’t ignore.