Did you know that wholegrains can have the same blood pressure lowering effect as some medications? That’s what a randomised controlled trial published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found when they trialled a group of volunteers.
A total of 206 participants (middle-aged, healthy, overweight men and women) were split into 3 groups:
- Group 1 (control) – refined diet (3 servings of refined cereals and white bread)
- Group 2 – wheat diet (3 servings of whole-wheat foods mainly bread and cereal)
- Group 3 – wheat and oats diet (1 serving of whole-wheat foods and 2 servings of oats)
For the first 4 weeks, all participants ate a refined diet. Then for the following 12 weeks, the subjects followed their corresponding diets.
By the end of the study, both the wholegrains groups (groups 2 and 3) had a significant drop in their systolic blood pressure compared to the refined group (group 1). Their blood pressure decreased by 5-6 mmHg.
That Doesn’t Seem Like A Lot…
While 5-6 mmHg may not sound like a lot on it’s own, when we contextualise it with the consequences of high blood pressure, they become powerful numbers.
- The 5-6 mmHg decrease in systolic blood pressure could decrease the incidence of coronary artery disease and stroke by more than 15% and 25% respectively.
- Generally, just reducing your blood pressure by 2 units can reduce the risk of dying from a stroke and heart disease by 10% and 7% respectively.
Same, Same But Even Better
What’s even more compelling is when we compare the numbers to medications that were designed specifically to treat high blood pressure. The 5-6 mmHg decrease was similar to the median reduction achieved in 27 pharmacologic trials testing anti-hypertensive drugs.
We think that’s awfully impressive for a food group that’s readily available at the grocery store and easily incorporated into our diet. Blood pressure lowering drugs are the end products of years of research, formulation, processing, clinical testing and also funding. Yet, eating wholegrain foods can achieve the same results as these medications. Furthermore, wholegrains don’t have common side effects such as electrolyte disturbances, orthostatic hypotension, impotence and weight gain.
A similar study found that wholegrains improved participants’ diastolic blood pressure by more than 3 times compared to those that ate refined cereals.
There is still debate regarding how whole-grains solicit a reduction in blood pressure but many think its due to the fibre and anti-oxidants.
Wholegrains are Wholesome
Eating wholegrains isn’t just good for your blood pressure. Wholegrains are associated with lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes, cholesterol and obesity which are indicators of heart disease and stroke. Studies have also shown its benefits for colon cancer and type 2 diabetes.
What Does This Look Like For Me?
The study suggests eating 3 serves of wholegrains per day for blood pressure benefits.
Eat wholegrains over refined cereals. Look for words like wholegrain or wholemeal when you go shopping. Wholegrains include:
- Oats – steel cut, rolled are best
- Wheat – spelt, look for whole wheat flour, pasta, wraps
- Rice – black, red, wild, brown (not white!)
- Buckwheat – soba noodles
- Rye, millets, barley, maize
Try to minimise or eliminate refined grains such as: white flour, white bread, white rice, white tortillas etc. Wholegrains are superior because they contain fibre, anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals whilst refined cereals lose it in their processing.
How much is 3 servings exactly? One serving of grain is classified as any of the following:
- One slice (40g) of bread
- 1/2 medium (40g) roll or flat bread
- Half cup (75-120g) of cooked oatmeal, pasta, rice, noodles, quinoa
- 3 (35g) crispbreads
- 1/4 cup (30g) muesli
- 2/3 cup (30g) wheat cereal flakes
How We Enjoy Wholegrains in Our Diet
Here are some ways we incorporate wholegrains into our meals and snacks:
- Replace white rice with a coloured rice or quinoa (it was hard for us because of our Asian heritage!)
- Replace white bread/wraps with whole wheat (becareful of multi-grain because it’s usually white bread with seeds added!)
- Learn to love soba noodles, you can have it hot or cold and with a delicious sauce
- Rolled oats are perfect for everything – smoothies, protein balls, desserts (use oats instead of bread crumbs)
- Wild rice and barley are perfect in soups and stews
- Grains are actually perfect to include in salads too
- Wholegrains can have the same blood pressure lowering effect as some anti-hypertensive medications but without the side effects
- Eating 3 serves of wholegrain per day can have blood pressure benefits
- Researchers are still unsure of the exact mechanism for this but they believe it’s something to do with the fibre and anti-oxidants
- Eat wholegrains over refined cereals
- Wholegrains have other health benefits too – colon cancer risk, type 2 diabetes, obesity
Read more about blood pressure and plant foods with these articles:
- Salt and high blood pressure – the things you need to know
- Antioxidants, nitric oxide and your arteries – foods to lower your high blood pressure
- Flaxseeds are potent anti-hypertensives – how eating them can reduce your high blood pressure
- 5 ways to reduce your sodium intake
Keep in Mind
At Embody Nourish, we believe that a whole-foods plant-based and holistic lifestyle is the best way to nourish the body and mind. We also focus on exercise, mindfulness and the practice of kindness to have a balanced lifestyle. All of these combined can help us achieve our health and wellness goals. Keep in mind that adding or excluding specific foods may help us achieve our goals sooner but they should not be the sole focus of our approach.
- Aune D, Norat T, Romundstad P, Vatten LJ. Whole grain and refined grain consumption and the risk of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of cohort studies. Eur J Epidemiol. 2013;28(11):845-858. doi:10.1007/s10654-013-9852-5
- Brunström M, Carlberg B. Association of Blood Pressure Lowering With Mortality and Cardiovascular Disease Across Blood Pressure Levels: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med. 2018;178(1):28-36. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.6015
- Law MR, Morris JK, Wald NJ. Use of blood pressure lowering drugs in the prevention of cardiovascular disease: meta-analysis of 147 randomised trials in the context of expectations from prospective epidemiological studies. BMJ. 2009;338:b1665. Published 2009 May 19. doi:10.1136/bmj.b1665
- Kirwan JP, Malin SK, Scelsi AR, et al. A Whole-Grain Diet Reduces Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Overweight and Obese Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial. J Nutr. 2016;146(11):2244-2251. doi:10.3945/jn.116.230508
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- Vieira AR, Abar L, Chan DSM, et al. Foods and beverages and colorectal cancer risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies, an update of the evidence of the WCRF-AICR Continuous Update Project. Ann Oncol. 2017;28(8):1788-1802. doi:10.1093/annonc/mdx171