Harvard Study Says Eating More Whole Grains Can Extend Your Life

Goldilocks may have risked her life to enter the home of three bears, but as it turns out, she may have had the longest life of us all. Her secret? All that porridge.

A small bowl of whole-grain porridge — or oatmeal or cereal — each day could be the key to a long and healthy life, say scientists at Harvard University after they conducted a major study.

Although whole grains are widely believed to be beneficial for health, this is the first study on whether or not they have a long-term impact on lifespan. They found that whole grains are so healthy that a person's risk of an early death drops with every serving added to a daily diet, according to findings published recently in JAMA Internal Medicine.

For the study, researchers monitored the diets and overall health of more than 100,000 people for over 14 years. Everyone involved in the study was healthy in 1984 when they signed up, but when the researchers followed up in 2010, more than 26,000 of them had passed away.

But those who ate the most whole grains — such as brown rice, corn, and quinoa — seemed somehow immune to many illnesses, particularly heart disease.

The researchers estimate that every one-ounce serving of whole grains reduced a person's overall risk of an early death by 5%, and their risk of death from heart disease by 9%. However, the study noted, eating whole grains did not appear to affect a person's risk of death from cancer.

"These findings further support current dietary guidelines that recommend increasing whole-grain consumption," said lead author Dr. Hongyu Wu. "They also provide promising evidence that suggests a diet enriched with whole grains may confer benefits towards extended life expectancy."

The results remained even when the researchers controlled for different ages, smoking, body mass index (BMI), and physical activity.

The reason whole grains are so much healthier than the refined grains used to make white flour and white rice is because they're not stripped of their bran and germ. According to the Whole Grains Council, without the bran and germ, about 25% of a grain's protein is lost, along with at least 17 key nutrients.

Whole grains are rich in fiber — largely from the bran — and that fiber helps slow digestion and prevents potentially heart-damaging spikes in blood sugar levels. Plus, both the bran and the germ contain a number of important vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Your go-to white bread for PB&Js has none of those things. The only thing it'll do for you is stick to the roof of your mouth.

Current U.S. guidelines call for people to get half their daily grains from whole grain sources, but this study shows that, if we're looking to prolong our lives, all the grains we eat should be whole grains.

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