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More support for heart healthy wholegrains

By Stephen Daniells , 15-Jun-2009

Consumption of wholemeal wheat foods may improve both total and ‘bad’ cholesterol levels, compared to refined foods, says new research from Italy.

Reductions of about 4.5 percent were recorded for both cholesterol measures following consumption of wholemeal wheat products for three weeks, compared to consumption of refined grains, according to new findings published in Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases.

“Since wholemeal cereal intake is associated also with lower body weight gain in prospective epidemiological studies, it can be hypothesized that habitual wholemeal consumption could improve metabolic parameters and reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and type-2 diabetes, mainly by preventing body weight gain in the long term,” wrote the researchers, led by Rosalba Giacco.

The study adds to the ever-growing body of science supporting the benefits of wholegrain consumption for heart health, which have already led the FDA to permit foods containing at least 51 percent whole grains by weight and are low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol to carry a health claim linking them to a reduced risk of heart disease and certain cancers.

The term wholegrain is considered to be more consumer-friendly than the term fiber, which leads some manufacturers to favor it on product packaging since it is likely to strike more of a chord of recognition for its healthy benefits.

Study details

Giacco and her co-workers recruited 15 healthy individuals with an average age of 54.5 and an average BMI of 27.4 kg/m2, and randomly assigned them to consume one of two equal-calorie diets containing either wholemeal wheat foods, or refined foods. The fiber content of the wholemeal group was 23.1 grams per day, while the refined group consumed 9.8 grams per day.

The interventions, lasting three weeks, were followed by two weeks of ‘washout’, and then crossing over to the other intervention.

At the end of the study, the researchers report that no changes in blood or fat metabolism, antioxidant activity, levels of magnesium, or measures of incretins (hormone associated with insulin levels), adipokines (compounds linked to an immune response), or high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP, a marker of inflammation).

However, total and LDL cholesterol levels were 4.3 and 4.9 percent lower following consumption of the wholemeal diet, compared to the refined wheat diet, said the researchers.

“In conclusion, our study demonstrates that consumption of wholemeal wheat foods compared to similar refined foods is able to improve fasting cholesterol levels; conversely this type of diet does not influence glucose and insulin metabolism, antioxidant status or markers of inflammation,” they concluded.

The researchers were affiliated with Italy’s National Research Council (CNR), Federico II University (Naples), Barilla G&R F.lli. SpA (Parma), and the University of Parma.

Source: Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases
Published online ahead of print, 9 June 2009, doi:
“Effects of the regular consumption of wholemeal wheat foods on cardiovascular risk factors in healthy people”
Authors: R. Giacco, G. Clemente, D. Cipriano, D. Luongo, D. Viscovo, L. Patti, L. Di Marino, A. Giacco, D. Naviglio, M.A. Bianchi, R. Ciati, F. Brighenti, A.A. Rivellese, G. Riccardi

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