Whole Grains Lead to Fewer Strokes

whole grains shown to reduce stroke in women in harvard study

Scientists have determined that women who eat a diet rich in whole-grain foods can significantly reduce their risk of strokes.

Harvard University researchers examined data from 75,000 women participating in the landmark Nurses’ Health Study. During a 12-year period, the women kept comprehensive food diaries. Those who ate the most whole grains — the equivalent of two to three slices of whole-grain bread daily — were 30 to 40 percent less likely to have the most common kind of stroke than women who ate less than half a slice or the equivalent daily.  The findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

From 1984 to 1996, 352 strokes occurred in the study group. Most were ischemic strokes, caused by blockages in brain-feeding arteries, the same type as most of the estimated 600,000 strokes reported each year in the US. The study also indicated that the more whole grains the women ate, the less likely they were to suffer a stroke. Strokes are the third leading cause of death in the US and while they affect both men and women, they are more likely to be fatal in women.

In a press statement, lead study author Simin Liu of Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, explained that protective substances found in whole grains (antioxidants, fiber, and a variety of vitamins and minerals) have also proven, individually, to protect against strokes. But this study shows that getting them collectively through whole grains is a simpler strategy. “If a woman has the simple habit of making a sandwich with two slices of whole wheat bread, instead of white, she will get two servings of whole grains,” says Dr. Liu.

Want to get more whole grains in your diet?

  1. Substitute a whole-grain product for a refined product – such as eating whole-wheat bread instead of white bread or brown rice instead of white rice.
  2. Use whole-wheat pasta. Try whole-wheat macaroni in macaroni and cheese.
  3. Use whole grains in mixed dishes, such as barley in vegetable soup or stews and bulgur wheat in casserole or stir-fries.
  4. Swap whole wheat or oat flour for up to half of the white flour in pancake, waffle, muffin or other flour-based recipes. They may need a bit more leavening.
  5. Replace white bread crumbs with whole-grain bread or cracker crumbs.