healthy eating pattern is one of the best ways to lead an overall healthy life, maintain a healthy weight and reduce risk for chronic disease.

A healthy eating pattern is one of the best ways to lead an overall healthy life, maintain a healthy weight and reduce risk for chronic disease. But what does that actually look like day-to-day? Healthy eating can take many shapes and forms, and can be achieved with foods from any type of cuisine. The key is moderation and variety.

One food that gets an undeserved bad rap is carbohydrates. Carbs are crucial for a variety of bodily functions, and they are the type of fuel our brains prefer. They can help boost our mood, keep our memory sharp and even help us lose weight. But the type of carb is important to consider, as some tend to be more helpful than others. Recent research found that whole grains might be the answer to a whole host of health concerns—blood pressure, blood sugar and waist size (read: visceral fat around the midsection), to name a few.

Chicken Sausage & Spinach Skillet Pasta with Lemon & Parmesan

A study in the Journal of Nutrition took a look at how whole grain versus refined grain consumption influenced people’s health outcomes over time. They surveyed over 3,000 people in their mid-50s for 18 years. At baseline and every four years after, participants completed a Food Frequency Questionnaire and researchers collected health and lifestyle data such as waist circumference, blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol levels.

Researchers found that those who ate three or more servings of whole grains per day had smaller increases in waist circumference, better blood sugar control and lower blood pressure than participants who ate less than one half of a serving each day.

So what does this mean for us? In short, whole grains deserve a place on your plate and regular consumption is the way to go. There are several reasons why a higher intake of whole grains led to better heart health and weight maintenance outcomes. Whole grains are packed with fiber and nutrients that otherwise get stripped from refined grains (think white bread, white pasta and white rice). Fiber helps us feel full and satisfied for longer, and helps us maintain a healthier blood sugar. And nutrients like potassium, magnesium and B vitamins in whole grains help lower blood pressure and keep our heart functioning at its best.

One serving of whole grains equates to one slice of bread, one half cup of cooked grains, one half cup of oatmeal, three cups of popcorn, about five crackers or one half cup of cooked pasta. If you are just getting started with whole grains or are looking to up your intake, try working them into meals you already enjoy.

Add brown rice, barley or quinoa as a side for a stir-fry or sheet pan dinner. Choose whole grain breads and pastas instead of refined grain options at the grocery store. Start your day with oatmeal and snack on popcorn to up your intake and stay full throughout the day. Whether you are trying to lose weight, improve your heart health or simply keep chronic disease at bay, aim for three or more servings of whole grains daily.

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