A “Bran” New Path to a Longer Life

It’s time to add some bran to your diet. As we’ve seen with previous studies, a diet that includes plenty of whole grains may help lower the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Now, a new study reveals whole grains actually have the potential to help protect the heart even among those who have already been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

It seems the fibrous, outer layer of the whole grain–called bran– plays a key role, according to Dr. Lu Qi, one of the researchers on the study. Unlike refined grains (such as white flour), whole grains contain more fiber through their bran content. This latest research builds on past findings that suggest fiber and other beneficial compounds in whole grains can be useful in lowering cholesterol, insulin and blood sugar levels, while also improving the body’s circulatory system.

This was an extensive study and the results are noteworthy — Dr. Qi and his team followed 7,800 U.S. women aged 30-55 over a period of 26 years as part of the Nurses Health Study cohort. During the study period, participants with the highest bran intake were 28% less likely to die of any cause than those consuming the least amount of bran. When looking specifically at cardiovascular disease (heart disease or stroke), the women with the highest bran intake were 35% less likely to die compared to the women with the lowest intake.  Those consuming the most bran (about 9 grams per day) had an intake about 10 times higher than the lowest-intake group.

Other factors may contribute to lower risks, but among those eating more bran, it didn’t seem to be simply due to having a healthier lifestyle. The reduced risk of death among high bran-eaters took into account factors such as weight, fat and calorie intake, exercise, and smoking or drinking habits.  Dr. Qi suggested diabetics might try to replace refined grains in their diets with bran-rich whole grains.

Experts generally recommend adults eat at least 3-4 “ounce equivalents” of whole grains daily, which would equate to 3-4 slices of 100% whole grain bread, or 3-4 cups of whole grain cereal. Other ways to specifically add more bran into your diet include eating cooked oat bran cereal for breakfast or sprinkling wheat bran onto soups, cereals, yogurt or salads.

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