Nutritional Pearls: Make Half Your Grains Whole—and Save
As of 2016, cardiovascular disease (including high blood pressure) affected as many as 121.5 million US adults, or over 55% of all Americans over age 18 years.
Two analysts from health and food think tanks in Washington, DC (both unaffiliated with the federal government) noted that consuming more whole grains has been linked in multiple studies with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
For their study, the authors identified recent meta-analyses that estimated the relative risk of mortality from coronary heart disease, heart failure, stroke, and overall cardiovascular disease in relation to the consumption of whole grains.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2019 recommends that at least half of all grains consumed be whole grains. Unfortunately, dietary surveys from 2015 and 2016 show that while Americans consume a little more than 6 ounces of grains per day on average, the amount of whole grains they consume is just under 1 ounce per day.
From the meta-analyses, the authors noted that each serving of whole grains consumed was associated with a reduction in the study participants' overall cardiovascular risk by 4%. If Americans increased their intake of whole grains to half of their consumption, the authors calculated that the reduction in risk would increase to 9%.
Further, the medical costs associated with cardiovascular disease are projected to top $750 billion by 2035. If Americans were to increase their whole grain intake to recommended levels, the authors estimate the annual healthcare cost savings to be $36 billion.
Yet expecting every American to suddenly double their whole grain intake isn't realistic. As I like to tell my patients, "perfect is the enemy of better." Smaller changes can still have a big impact: an increase of just 1 serving of whole grains could still reap a cost savings of almost $10 billion.
What’s the Take Home?
Small changes in your diet can have a big impact on your health. This study translates that impact into dollars, but the impact of small changes is still living a longer, healthier life.
Note: This study was funded by General Mills, a client of the think tank both authors worked for when the study was performed.
Murphy MM, Schmier JK. Cardiovascular healthcare cost savings associated with increased whole grains consumption among adults in the United States. Nutrients (2020 Aug 3;12(8):E2323. doi: 10.3390/nu12082323
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Timothy S. Harlan, MD, is a board-certified internist and professional chef who translates the Mediterranean diet for the American kitchen with familiar, healthy recipes. He is an assistant dean for clinical services, executive director of The Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine and associate professor of medicine at Tulane University in New Orleans.