Preventive foods

Whole grains protect elderly against cardiovascular disease

Nutrition researchers at Tufts have found that elderly people whose diets are rich in whole-grain foods may delay the onset of metabolic syndrome—a collection of risk factors for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes that affect 50 million Americans.

“Previous studies have found a link between whole-grain intake and reduced risk of metabolic syndrome in middle-aged populations,” said Nicola McKeown, a scientist with the Nutritional Epidemiology Program at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA). “What’s unique about our study,” McKeown said, “is that we went back to data that was collected 20 years ago, using diet records that captured food intake, and found that whole-grain foods had a subsequent benefit in the elderly.”

The research was published in the January issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The study, a collaborative effort that included Paul Jacques, director of the Nutritional Epidemiology Program at the HNRCA, McKeown and others, examined the relationship between whole-grain intake and cardiovascular disease risk factors, metabolic syndrome and the incidence of death due to cardiovascular disease in the elderly.

“Consuming a high whole-grain diet is likely to have positive metabolic effects in elderly individuals, who are prone to greater insulin resistance and impaired glucose tolerance,” Jacques said.

They found that as whole-grain intake increased, fasting blood sugar levels were lower. Refined grain intake was associated with higher fasting blood sugar levels. Elevated fasting blood sugar levels can indicate impaired glucose tolerance and the presence of diabetes.

Based on the research, McKeown said, “Older adults should be encouraged to increase their daily intake of whole-grain foods to three or more servings a day by substituting whole grains for refined grains.”