BURNABY, British Columbia — For those who grew up with the classic “food pyramid” of nutrition, they’ll remember that the largest group at the bottom contained grains. From breads, to pastas, to cereals, nutritionists have stressed the importance of getting enough of these foods in your daily diet for years. Unfortunately, a new study finds eaters need to be pickier about which grains they eat.
An international team warns that eating refined grains can significantly increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and death.
While whole grain products continue to gain in popularity, it can still be a tricky task avoiding all the foods regularly made with refined grains. These products include anything produced with refined (or white) flour. This includes white bread, pasta and noodles, cereals, crackers, and bakery pastries (like croissants) and desserts.
Researchers examined data from the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study, looking at diets in low, middle, and high-income nations. After 16 years of study, looking at over 130,000 participants in 21 countries, study authors find the intake of refined grains and added sugars has greatly increased over the last two decades.
Their results reveal consuming over seven servings of refined grains each day raises the risk of premature death by 27 percent. The chances of developing heart disease increases 33 percent and the risk of suffering a stroke skyrockets by 47 percent.
“This study re-affirms previous work indicating a healthy diet includes limiting overly processed and refined foods,” says health sciences professor Scott Lear from Simon Fraser University in a release.
Which grains are heart healthy?
The study also looked at the daily intake of whole grains and white rice. Unlike refined flour, researchers did not find any link between these two categories of grains and cardiovascular issues.
Whole grains include grain flours such as buckwheat. They also encompass intact and cracked whole grain products like steel cut oats. Study authors suggest choosing foods like brown rice and barley to get your daily recommended amount of grains.
In the United States, heart disease is the leading cause of death among both men and women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four deaths (about 655,000 people) are caused by cardiovascular problems each year.
The study appears in The British Medical Journal.