We all know February is the official month of love, but what you probably didn’t realize is that it’s also American Heart Month. If you’re anything like us, then you probably professed your love of whole grain flapjacks on Valentine’s Day, but what if we were to tell you those same whole grain flapjacks are actually good for your heart in more ways than one?
But aren't carbohydrates bad for me? With more people adopting paleo, keto, and other low-carb diets, it can be easy to think that carbohydrates are bad for you. The fact of the matter is there are actually “good” and “bad” carbs. What most people consider “bad” carbs are refined or enriched grains. “Good” carbs, on the other hand, consist of whole grains.
What’s the difference? Well, you can read up on the myriad differences between whole grains and enriched white flour in our Why Whole Grains? blog post, but the simplified explanation is refined grains are highly processed grains that have lost a lot of their nutritients through the milling process. Whereas, whole grains are significantly less processed and contain all three parts—the bran, germ, and endosperm—of the grain, retaining more dietary fiber, B vitamins, and other essential nutrients.
Did you know that the American Heart Association recommends at least half of the grains you eat be whole grains? Not only that, but studies show that “eating at least three servings of whole grains a day was associated with a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease.” The primary reason whole grains are better for your heart than refined grains is simple: dietary fiber. Most refined grains contain minimal amounts of dietary fiber while whole grains are a rich source of this important nutrient. Dietary fiber is important because it can actually help “improve cholesterol levels and lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, and even type 2 diabetes.”
In fact, in a recent study conducted by the American Heart Association’s Circulation journal, the senior author of the study, Qi Sun, M.D., Sc.D, noted, “low-carbohydrate diets that ignore the health benefits of whole grain foods ‘should be adopted with caution,’ as they may be linked to higher cardiovascular risk and mortality.” Additionally, with whole grains also being a reliable source of thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, iron, magnesium, and selenium, which are important for carrying oxygen in the blood, forming new cells, and a healthy immune system, it’s easy to see why eating whole grains is so important.