Is eating white bread directly linked to a higher risk of heart disease?
Grain foods like bread and pasta help keep your heart in tip-top shape. They were long believed to be whole grains, due to their high fiber content only an option to protect against heart disease. (Studies show that whole grains are high in fiber they reduce “bad” cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar levels and lower blood pressure.) But while it’s no secret that whole grains are a heart-healthy choice, it turns out you don’t have to completely avoid other grains. New research suggests that refined grains (such as white bread and rice) do not increase the risk of heart disease.
Refined grains 101
Refined grains are ground to remove the bran and germ. This process softens their texture and extends their life. According to USDA, it also robs them of iron, dietary fiber and many B vitamins. However, certain B vitamins – such as folic acid and niacin and iron – can be added back. Check the ingredients list on any refined grain products you buy to make sure they are fortified with these nutrients.
Refined grains and heart health
Does consuming refined grains increase the risk of heart disease? Research varies, but a review of studies published in Trends in cardiovascular medicine suggests that refined grains do no contribute to an increased risk of heart disease. Instead, studies indicate that sweet drinks and red and processed meat is to blame.
Registered Dietitian Elizabeth Ward, MS, RDN, co-author Diet plan for menopause (Buy from Amazon, $14.29) explains why refined grains may actually be good for heart health. “When food is targeted as ‘bad’, people often ignore the company [they] “This study shows that, when considered in isolation, refined grains are not to blame when it comes to cardiovascular disease. In fact, refined grains may promote good health because they are enriched with several B vitamins that are associated with good cardiovascular healthas well as iron which is important for energy and general health.”
Ward also notes that eating refined grains can be part of a balanced diet. “Recommended grain consumption is based on total calorie intake — and for a woman over 50 who consumes 2,000 calories a day, 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans states at least three servings whole grains of a total of six servings per day,” she explains. “This means that experts actually think it’s perfectly fine and healthy to eat refined grains every day to meet your overall grain quota. Eating too much of any food, including any type of grain, can lead to weight control problems and can interfere with normal blood glucose levels in women with prediabetes and diabetes. But as part of a balanced diet, I don’t see any problem with consuming refined grains.”
Finally, Ward clarifies the types of refined grains that can be safely classified as “healthy” — and, we’re sorry to report, desserts don’t count. “It’s important to note that we’re not talking about cookies, cakes and brownies,” she says. “Rice, pasta, bread and cereals are considered staple foods that many people consume and enjoy. Baked goods are high in calories, fat and added sugars – and should be consumed in moderation.”
Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDCES, CHWC, FAND, creator A crash course in meal planning for prediabetes, encourages people to monitor and review their consumption of refined grains on a daily basis. “I could eat a stack of pancakes with butter and syrup and a side of sausage or bacon,” she says. “Or I could eat two slices of white bread with cheese and tomato or avocado toast. These breakfasts vary greatly in health.” (The latter has more nutritional benefits.)
Talking to your doctor is also an important step toward understanding how your diet affects your health. “The bottom line: we can’t put all refined grains in the same category and we have to take into account what else is being eaten,” concludes Weisenberger.
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