Whole-grain foods, such as whole-wheat bread, oatmeal and brown rice, may lower the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer by reducing cholesterol and making the body more responsive to insulin, researchers suggest.
Current dietary guidelines recommend 5 to 12 daily servings of grain foods for adults, mostly in the form of whole-grain foods.
In a recent study of almost 3,000 middle-aged adults, whole grain foods were associated with lower levels of total cholesterol and LDL ("bad" cholesterol) and improved insulin sensitivity. Insulin, the body's key blood-sugar-regulating hormone, tends to be elevated in those at risk of type 2 diabetes.
People who consumed the most whole-grain foods were also leaner. Adults who were overweight or obese had the highest insulin levels and consumed the least amount of whole-grain foods.
Some health experts blame America's obesity epidemic on carbohydrates, pointing out that rates of obesity have risen in tandem with carbohydrate consumption over the past 30 years. Others argue that whole-grain foods, which are high in fibre, vitamin E and magnesium, do not have the same effect on insulin as refined carbohydrates that have been stripped of many nutrients.
The importance of understanding the role of different types of carbohydrate in the development of insulin resistance is becoming even more critical because North Americans are increasing their intake of dietary carbohydrates.
These results suggest that higher whole-grain intakes might help prevent development of insulin resistance, and the influence of whole grains may be strongest in those who are overweight and have the greatest risk of insulin resistance.
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