Cutting calories helps people lose weight, but doing so by filling up on whole grains may be particularly heart-healthy, new research suggests.
In a study of obese adults at risk of heart disease, researchers found that those who trimmed calories and increased their whole-grain intake shed more belly fat and lowered their blood levels of C-reactive protein or CRP. CRP is a marker of chronic, low-level inflammation in the blood vessels, and abdominal fat and CRP, in excess, are linked to heart attack and stroke.
In contrast, dieters in the study who mainly ate refined grains, such as white bread and white rice, were able to lose weight, but they trimmed less fat from the middle and showed no change in CRP. The findings offer yet more incentive for Americans to opt for whole grains instead of highly processed versions, as this is the first clinical study to prove that a diet rich in whole grains can lead to weight loss and reduce the risk of several chronic diseases.
Health experts recommend eating whole grains - such as oatmeal, brown rice and barley - rather than refined grains, like white bread and other products made from white flour. Whole-grain foods retain more of the nutrients and fiber components of the grain. This fact might explain why dieters in the current study showed added benefits when they ate whole grains, according to the researchers.
For example, fiber-rich foods may have kept participants' blood sugar levels more stable throughout the day, and this, in turn, may have lowered their CRP levels.
Consumers should look at labels carefully and choose products that are good sources of a whole grain (oats, wheat, rye, barley, corn, etc.). As a general rule, try to buy grain products that list a whole grain as the first ingredient on the label.
Products that put health claims about whole grains on their labels are required to contain at least 51 percent whole grain. Fiber content also is a good indicator of the whole grain content of a product. Try to select grain products that provide at least 2 grams or more of fiber per serving. Fiber helps to create a full feeling, as well as contributes to a healthy digestive system.
Tips for Eating More Whole Grains:
• To eat more whole grains, substitute a whole-grain product for a refined product - such as eating whole-wheat bread instead of white bread or brown rice instead of white rice.
• For a change, try brown rice or whole-wheat pasta.
• Experiment by substituting whole wheat or oat flour for up to half of the flour in pancake, waffle, muffin or other flour-based recipes. They may need a bit more leavening.
• Try rolled oats or a crushed, unsweetened whole grain cereal as breading for baked chicken, fish, veal cutlets or eggplant parmesan.
• Freeze leftover cooked brown rice, bulgur or barley. Heat and serve it later as a quick side dish.
• Snack on ready-to-eat, whole grain cereals such as toasted oat cereal.
• Add whole-grain flour or oatmeal when making cookies or other baked treats.
• Try a whole-grain snack chip, such as baked tortilla chips.
• Popcorn, a whole grain, can be a healthy snack with little or no added salt and butter.
For more information, contact Elisa at the CSU Moffat County Extension Office, 539 Barclay, 824-9180.