Whole Grains: 11 Reasons to Make the Switch Now (cont.)

In studying the dietary habits of male health professionals, researchers found that for every 10 gram increase in cereal fiber eaten each day, the risk of heart attack was reduced by nearly 30%. A more recent study found this beneficial effect is even stronger in women.

8. They cut cholesterol levels.

Researchers at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago found that adding oats to an already low-fat diet helped women cut their blood cholesterol by an additional 8 or 9 mg/dL after only three weeks. (That came on top of the 12 mg/dL reduction seen with the low-fat diet alone!)

Antioxidants found in oats cut cholesterol by suppressing the molecules that make blood cells stick to artery walls. When these cells stick to artery walls and cause inflammation, plaque deposits build up and narrow the passageways where blood flows, leading to "hardening of the arteries."

9. They reduce blood pressure.

Eating foods containing barley decreases blood pressure and improves several other risk factors for heart disease, according to a recent study. (Other studies of high-fiber, whole-grain foods have also reported significant reductions in blood pressure.)

The researchers also noticed a decrease in total cholesterol (an average of 21% reduction in those eating lots of soluble fiber, such as that found in barley and oats), and "bad" cholesterol. Levels of "good cholesterol" either increased or did not change.

10. They can decrease your risk of stroke.

A recent Harvard study found that a diet with large amounts of whole-grain foods was associated with a decreased risk of stroke in women.

11. They reduce cancer risks.

More than 40 studies looking at 20 types of cancer have suggested that regularly eating whole grains reduces cancer risk.

It's thought that whole grains may accomplish this by blocking DNA damage, suppressing the growth of cancer cells, providing antioxidant protection, and preventing the formation of carcinogens. The particular components of whole grains that may be protective include fiber; antioxidants including vitamins (like vitamin E) and minerals (like selenium); and various phytochemicals.

Among the types of cancer that whole grains help protect against are gastrointestinal cancers such as stomach and colon cancers, along with cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, esophagus, and larynx.

Your Whole Grain Line-Up

If you're ready to go brown, whole-wheat bread is a great place to start. But don't stop there.

Here are nine common whole-grain foods that you'll probably find at your supermarket:

  • Brown rice
  • Oats
  • Whole-wheat flour
  • Rye flour
  • Barley
  • Buckwheat
  • Bulgur (steamed and dried cracked wheat)
  • Millet
  • Quinoa

And don't think that cooking them has to be difficult and time-consuming. Here are a couple of easy (and yummy) ways to prepare some whole-grain favorites.

Quick Mexican Brown Rice

Your family might be more inclined to like brown rice if it is in a mixed dish like this one.

2 tablespoons canola oil
2 cups brown rice, uncooked
3 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups finely chopped white or yellow onions
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) Mexican style tomatoes
1 bell pepper (any color), finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste (optional)

  • Heat canola oil in a medium nonstick saucepan over medium heat and saute the rice just until golden (about 5 minutes).
  • Add 1/2 cup if moisture is needed. Add the onions and garlic and saute for a couple of minutes.
  • Stir in tomatoes (including juice), the rest of the broth, and bell pepper. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Simmer, covered, for 20 to 25 minutes or until the broth is absorbed. Add salt and pepper to taste, if desired, and serve.

Yield: 8 servings

Per serving: 240 calories, 6 g protein, 43 g carbohydrate, 5.7 g fat (0.9 g saturated fat, 2.5 g monounsaturated fat, 1.6 g polyunsaturated fat), 2 mg cholesterol, 3.3 g fiber, 54 mg sodium (using low sodium chicken broth and canned tomatoes). Calories from fat: 21%.

Quick-Fix Tabbouleh Salad

Tabbouleh is one of most popular ways to use bulgur. Here's a quick and light rendition.

1 cup dry bulgur
1 cup boiling water
3/4 teaspoon chicken broth powder (or vegetable broth powder)
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (or walnut or pecan pieces)
1/2 cup chopped green onions, the white and part of the green
1 1/2 cups diced fresh tomatoes (or 10 cherry tomatoes, quartered)
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoons olive oil
Pepper to taste

  • Pour boiling water over bulgur in an 8 cup measuring cup or medium bowl. Let sit 30 minutes or until water is absorbed. Blend 3/4 teaspoon chicken broth powder with 3 tablespoons very hot water together in a custard cup and set aside.
  • Add remaining ingredients, including chicken broth, pine nuts, green onions, tomatoes, lemon juice, and olive oil. Toss thoroughly and add pepper to taste.
  • Cover and chill at least 2 hours.

Yield: 6 servings

Per serving: 137 calories, 5 g protein, 21 g carbohydrate, 5.3 g fat (0.8 g saturated fat, 2.6 g monounsaturated fat, 1.4 g polyunsaturated fat), 0.4 mg cholesterol, 5 g fiber, 17 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 32%.

SOURCES: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, September 2003; September 1999. Environmental Nutrition, February 2001; February 2003. The Journal of the American Medical Association 1997: 277; 1996: 275; June 2, 1999. American Journal of Epidemiology, Aug. 1, 2003. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, June 2000. Diabetes Care, 27. News release, Agricultural Research Service, May 29, 2003. American Association of Nutritional Sciences joint conference, Experimental Biology, 2004.

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