Whole grain diet can slash risk of cardiovascular disease, says researchers

Whole grains could play a key role in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease [SHUTTERSTOCK]

This article is part of our special report Whole grains: key part of healthy and sustainable diet.

Increasing the daily intake of whole grains to 30-40g reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) by up to 20%, EURACTIV.com heard at a recent event to mark the first International Whole Grain Day.

The event, organised by The Whole Grain Initiative, gathered researchers and policymakers to highlight the positive impact of whole grains on nutrition, wellbeing, and sustainability.

The Whole Grain initiative is a partnership of leading international organisations dedicated to promoting whole grains and are calling on EU member states to prioritise whole grain in their national dietary guidelines.

This comes on the back of a growing recognition in policy circles of the need to reduce risk factors associated with CVD.

Recently, the European Parliament committee on environment, public health and food safety (ENVI) has highlighted the need to identify lifestyle factors in the development, treatment and prevention of CVD, which they recognise as a key step in informing policy changes which can help mitigate the risks associated with the development of CVD.

A recent EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet and Health concluded that the consumption of whole grains is a key mitigation factor in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, as well as colorectal cancer and type 2 diabetes.

This study is just one example of a growing body of evidence that the daily consumption of whole grain is a vital part of a healthy and sustainable diet.

Counting the cost of cardiovascular disease

Death from cardiovascular diseases (CVD) may have fallen substantially in the UK and across the world, but it remains the single biggest killer, and a sizeable economic burden.

Cardiovascular diseases – Europes biggest killer 

Although death rates related to CVD have fallen recently, cardiovascular diseases remain the single leading cause of death in Europe, with more than six million of new CVD cases and over 1.8 million CVD-related deaths in the EU.  

The disease is estimated to cost the EU economy more than €210 billion a year and therefore places a considerable burden on healthcare systems and government budgets.

There has been a concerted effort to tackle the disease through the introduction of increased screening processes, new surgical procedures and forms of medication.

However, it is widely recognised that lifestyle changes are crucial for combatting CVD. 

One such lifestyle change is a switch to whole grains, which experts agree would considerably lower the incidence of CVD, thus having considerable social and economic effects. 

Low consumption of whole grains in Europe

Despite the health benefits of whole grains, their consumption in Europe remains low.

Studies from the EU suggest the majority of Europeans eats less than one serving of whole grain per day, and that only 5% of the grains consumed in Europe are whole. 

In an interview after the event, Michaela Pichler, secretary-general of the International Association for Cereal Science and Technology (ICC) told EURACTIV that both the EU and national governments have a key role to play in supporting the implementation of nutrition policies that address policy gaps and create enabling environments to support the uptake of whole grains.

She highlighted, in particular, the need for the creation of a common, global whole grain definition, saying that this common definition is “key to creating a standard and harmonised approach to whole grains across Europe, as well as creating a common understanding of what whole grains are and why they are important”. 

Pichler noted that the lack of clear definition was a key barrier to the uptake of whole grains, saying that whilst this was unclear there would “continue to be a large disparity between approaches to whole grains across Europe, making it confusing technically for manufacturers as well as for the consumer”. 

She also highlighted the importance of raising awareness of whole grains, saying that there is a “need to help consumers understand the benefits of whole grain, and to give the consumer the fact-based, evidenced knowledge to help them make informed dietary choices”. 

Speaking to EURACTIV after the event,  Ece Nevra, global nutrition, regulatory and scientific affairs group manager at Cereal Partners Worldwide, said there was a need to incentivise manufacturers to invest in the creation of appetising whole grain products, thus stimulating demand for whole grains.

“There is a real need for the creation of private-public partnerships to enable industry to pass on the benefits of whole grains to consumers”. 

This sentiment was echoed by European Affairs Manager for Nestlé Olivera Medugorac, who added that there were a number of concrete policy measures that could help increase uptake of whole grains.

She highlighted, in particular, that there is a need to finalise claims regulation regarding the nutrient profile of whole grains, which she says was due back in 2006 but is yet to be delivered. 

“Industry has a lot of power but can only do so much without the policy measures to support them,” Medugorac added. 

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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