The benefits of whole grains have been touted for ages: They're fiber-rich (so they're great for your digestive system), and they have also been linked to lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels. It's probably no surprise, then, that a new review has found that eating whole grains may actually extend your life. The analysis, published in the journal Circulation, is the first of its kind to study the link between whole-grain intake and mortality. It included results from 12 published studies in the U.S., U.K., and Scandinavian countries, looking at a total of more than 786,000 participants. The results showed that people who ate at least 70 grams (or about four servings) of whole grains per day had a 22% lower risk of total mortality, a 23% lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality, and a 20% lower risk of cancer mortality compared with those who ate little or no whole grains. Although the findings were derived from a limited number of countries and it isn't known whether the results apply to other geographic locations, they support current dietary guidelines that recommend at least three daily servings (or 48 grams) of whole grains to improve overall health, Qi Sun, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition and senior author of the study, said in a press release.
Many Americans don't consume as many whole-grain foods — like whole wheat, oatmeal, bran, quinoa, corn, or barley — as we should these days. Instead, we eat lots of refined grains, like white bread and pastas made with refined flours.
Whole grains are a healthy source of carbohydrates, which your body needs for fuel. In addition to carbs, whole grains provide fiber, as well as important vitamins and minerals. For this reason, the authors of the review cautioned against "low-carbohydrate diets that ignore the health benefits of [whole grain] foods." Instead, people should focus on the quality of the carbohydrates in their diets, the researchers write. To reach the goal of at least 48 grams of whole grain per day, the researchers recommended incorporating foods that have at least 16 grams per serving, like bran, oatmeal, and quinoa. Sneaking in things like popcorn, brown rice, and even choosing breads and pasta made with 100% whole grains can also help you get more.