A Guide to Heart-Healthy Grains

Want an easy way to lower your heart disease risk? Start eating more whole-grain breads, cereals, pastas and other foods. Studies show that people who eat diets rich in whole grains may reduce their risk for coronary heart disease by up to 26 percent. Whole grains, which are rich in heart-healthy fats, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber may help decrease your blood levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL, or "bad" cholesterol) and triglycerides, as well as lower your risks for high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.

The Whole Grains Council defines "whole grains" as the entire seed (or kernel) of a plant, including:

  • Bran. The outer skin, rich in antioxidants, B vitamins and fiber.
  • Germ. The embryo, which contains B vitamins, protein, minerals and healthy fats.
  • Endosperm. The largest portion of the kernel, which contains starchy carbohydrates, proteins and small amounts of vitamins and minerals.

The bran and the germ are stripped from refined grains, such as white rice and white bread, as is much of the fiber and nutrients that help lower cholesterol and triglycerides. Since health benefits vary slightly from grain to grain, you can help your heart the most and please your palate by eating a variety of whole grains. Here, from the Whole Grains Council, are five top choices:

Oats contain a special kind of fiber called beta-glucan, found to be especially effective in lowering cholesterol, and providing antioxidants that help protect blood vessels from the damaging effects of LDL cholesterol. Oats rarely have their bran and germ removed in processing. Steel-cut oats, sometimes called Scottish or Irish oats, have a nutty flavor, and consist of the entire oat kernel (similar in look to a grain of rice). The oats are sliced once or twice into smaller pieces to help water penetrate and cook the grain.

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