A new study suggests that the “superfood” that is fiber-rich white bread may be one of the most important food groups you need for your health.
The new research, published in the journal Science, looked at a range of foods rich in carbohydrates, including cereals, whole grains and pulses, and found that a diet rich in these foods can actually lower the risk of heart disease.
What you’re eating doesn’t need to be the healthiest for you.
“I think what people might have forgotten is that we’re eating so many things that aren’t healthy that are high in carbohydrates that are not really healthy for us,” says lead author Michael Pollan, an assistant professor of food science at the University of California, Davis.
Pollan and his colleagues used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to estimate the risk for a person to develop cardiovascular disease in the future based on a person’s usual daily intake of carbohydrate, fiber, fat and protein.
That’s a good baseline to compare a person who eats a lot of bread to someone who’s never had bread, he says.
The researchers then looked at all the studies they could find on people who ate bread for at least 20 years, and calculated the odds that a person will develop a cardiovascular disease.
The odds of a person developing cardiovascular disease were lowest in people who had a diet that included at least 10 percent carbohydrates, compared to people who didn’t.
And those with the lowest risk of developing cardiovascular death were those who ate the most carbohydrates, which means the higher the number of carbohydrates a person ate, the lower the likelihood that he or she will develop cardiovascular death.
“There’s a big body of evidence now that dietary carbohydrate is linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease,” Pollan says.
“If you’re following a diet of high-carbohydrate diets, you’re going to be getting more of those carbohydrates than if you’re keeping your intake of carbohydrates moderate.”
The researchers also found that the risk wasn’t reduced for people who were obese, those who smoked or drank alcohol and those who had diabetes.
So if you are following a low-carb diet, you might be eating more carbs than you should, says Michael Pollen, assistant professor at the UC Davis School of Medicine.
What to eat for heart health What do we eat?
“We’re trying to understand how to make foods that are more healthful,” says Michael Osterholm, an associate professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a co-author of the new study.
For example, studies have shown that people with a high intake of fruits and vegetables have lower blood pressure than those with a low intake.
People who eat more fruits and veggies also tend to have a lower prevalence of type 2 diabetes.
“The more you have, the more you’re protected from developing cardiovascular risk factors,” Osterheim says.
For people who don’t like processed food, they may want to limit their intake of sugars and high-fat foods.
They may also want to reduce their consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and take in more fiber-dense foods.
People should also eat a lot more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
“We want to make sure we’re getting the right foods,” Ostersheim says, adding that most of the research on heart health focuses on one food group or another.
Pollen says that although it may seem like sugar is a big culprit, the research is showing that people are actually eating too much of it.
“When we think about sugar, we think of things like fruit, vegetables, bread, ice cream,” he says, noting that these foods may contain a lot fewer calories than they should.
But if you follow a low sugar diet, that sugar may be helping your body process the nutrients that it needs more efficiently, he adds.
“That’s the opposite of what we think.”
The research also shows that the consumption of fiber may also play a role in heart health.
People with a higher fiber intake have a smaller risk of having type 2 diabetics, the researchers found.
That means that it may be the fiber that protects against heart disease, and that’s important, he notes.
If you want to lose weight, eating more fruits or vegetables may help you lose weight.
“It’s not just about calories,” Ostman says.
You need to balance your intake and what you eat,” he adds, adding, “This isn’t about weight loss.
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