Grains and heart health

Who is at risk of heart problems?
There are several factors which increase the risk of developing heart disease. Some you can’t change such asyour age, family history, sex (males are at a higher risk than women) and ethnicity (People of a South Asian backgrounds are also at higher risk. However, there are a few factors that you can change. Quitting smoking, cutting down on your alcohol intake, eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise are all ways in which you can reduce the risk.


What is the best diet to eat in order to protect myself against heart disease?

Following the government’s Eatwell plate is recommended by the NHS to ensure that you eat a healthy balanced diet and get all of the nutrients that your body needs to function at its best.

Based on the Eatwell plate:

  • Another third of your diet should be made up of starchy carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, potatoes and rice;
  • About a third of your diet should be comprised of fruit and vegetables;
  • Some milk and dairy;
  • Some protein in the form of meat, poultry, eggs, beans and pulses;
  • Only a small amount of foods that are high in fat or sugar.

However, there are a few extra things that you can do, diet wise, to help protect your heart.

  • Aim to eat at least two portions of fish a week and make one of them an oily fish such as salmon or mackerel which contain essential omega 3s known to help protect your heart.
  • Eat less saturated fat which will help reduce the likelihood of high cholesterol. Cut the fat off meat and take the skin off chicken. In addition, always try to choose lean cuts.  You should also swap the oils and spreads that you use for healthier versions including rapeseed, olive and sunflower oils and spreads. Grill rather than fry foods as this reduces their fat content and check food labels to choose options that are lower in fat.
  • Foods with added plant stanols and sterols, eaten regularly so as to provide about 2g stanols/sterols per day, can help lower raised blood cholesterol level.

What is in whole grains that help prevent against heart disease?

The main component in whole grains that protects against heart disease is fibre. However, other helpful compounds include antioxidants, phytic acid, lectins, phenolic compounds, amylase inhibitors and saponins. It is most likely that all of these components work together to protect against heart disease.

What are the benefits of including whole grains as part of a healthy, balanced diet?

Much is known about the benefit of whole grains in terms of heart health. Below, we outline some of the facts:

  • An American study of more than 200 people at risk for heart disease shows that just three servings of whole grains per day can significantly lower blood pressure and possibly prevent heart disease and stroke.
  • Systolic blood pressure (the higher number on a blood pressure reading) is significantly less among those people who regularly eat whole grains.
  • People who eat 2.5 servings of whole grains a day have a 21% lower chance of getting cardiovascular disease.
  • Research has found that the soluble fibre found in grains can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, increased levels of which are a contributing factor in heart disease. White bread actually contains more soluble fibre than wholemeal bread.