Nutrition Research > Heart Health


Quick Facts

Heart disease is the second-leading cause of death in Canada and is influenced by controllable factors (such as diet, activity level, and medical conditions) and uncontrollable factors (such as age, sex, heritage, and genes).

Eating a well-balanced diet that contains foods made with whole grains, like wheat, may reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Consuming dietary fibre (found in whole grains, including wheat) may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.

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Wheat and Heart Health: Research Spotlight

Did you know?

People who consume 3 to 5 servings of whole grains daily have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. 🔗

What is cardiovascular disease?

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the term for all types of diseases that affect the heart or blood vessels, including coronary heart disease. Heart disease is serious. It’s the second-leading cause of death in Canada. Every hour, about 12 Canadians over the age of 20 die of heart disease. While there are some forms of heart disease that are present at birth, other types develop as we age. A healthy lifestyle, including a heart-healthy diet can help reduce your risk of heart disease.

While there is no cure for some types of heart disease, lifestyle changes can make a difference. Heart disease can be caused by controllable factors (such as diet, activity level, and medical conditions) and uncontrollable factors (such as age, sex, heritage, and genes).

To learn more, visit the Heart and Stroke Foundation:

Can wheat help reduce your risk of heart disease?

A healthy dietary pattern plays a key role in reducing the risk of heart disease. In fact, 8 in 10 cases of heart disease and stroke are preventable through healthy lifestyle behaviours.

Whole grain foods, including those made with wheat, can be part of a healthy-eating plan. Observational studies also support the role of whole grains and dietary fibre in helping reduce the risk of CVD. The beneficial effects of whole grain foods and wheat are due mainly to dietary fibre consumption. The association between dietary fibre and reduced risk of CVD is well-documented. Fibre plays a key role in reducing cholesterol absorption and inhibiting the progression of plaque build-up in blood vessels.

For example, a review of 45 observational studies and 21 intervention studies found that those consuming 48 to 80 grams of whole grains per day (~ 3 to 5 servings per day) had approximately 21% lower risk of CVD and consistently less weight gain during 8 to 13 years. In intervention studies where participants consumed whole grains, there was a significant positive effect on blood glucose and cholesterol.

While there are more observational studies which directly support the role of whole grains and cereal fibre in CVD risk reduction, there are less randomized controlled trials, especially those that are long enough in duration and have enough participants in their study to make stronger conclusions about the role of whole grains on CVD.

Whole grains and heart health

There are a few mechanisms that help to explain the beneficial effects of whole grains on heart health:

  1. Whole grains are high in fibre which decreases cholesterol absorption. High cholesterol levels in our blood can create blockages in our blood vessels and heart.
  2. Whole grains can also help decrease blood pressure, which prevents our heart from working harder than it needs to pump blood around our bodies. High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease. Whole grain whole wheat can help lower our blood pressure through improvements on body weight, insulin sensitivity and inflammatory markers in our bodies.
  3. Whole grains help improve glucose and insulin responses in our blood which, if not managed properly, increase your risk of heart disease. Related to blood sugar, the high fibre intake from whole grains also reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, a risk factor for heart disease. Whole grain whole wheat in particular helps with glycemic control and insulin sensitivity due to the presence of bran which decreases glucose absorption and the digestion of fibre which improves our insulin responses.
  4. Whole grains can help with the management of a healthy body weight, which also reduces the risk factors for heart disease.

What is blood cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fat found in the blood that is naturally made by our bodies and it can also be found in our food. High cholesterol levels in our blood can lead to plaque build-up – sticky, fatty deposits on the walls of blood vessels that narrow the artery and restrict blood flow and ultimately lead to heart disease.

Balance is key

A healthy dietary pattern can include a wide variety of foods, however, balance is key – too many refined grains have been shown to negatively impact heart health.

Based on analysis of almost 140,000 people, those with the highest intakes of refined grains (350 grams per day or about 7 servings) was associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular events and had higher blood pressure than those who consumed lower amounts or other grains.

Avoiding gluten

Research has shown that avoiding gluten, is not heart healthy. A study with almost 65,000 women and 45,000 men found that long-term dietary intake of gluten was not associated with risk of coronary heart disease. In fact, the avoidance of gluten may result in a reduced consumption of whole grains, which may negatively affect cardiovascular health.

Types of research studies

Observational studies – the habits or behaviour of individuals are observed and recorded, without any intervention or direction. For example,a study looking at the eating patterns of individuals, without making any recommendations of which foods they should eat.

Experimental studies or randomized control trials – individuals are divided into groups and researchers introduce a specific intervention or change and measure the results. For example, a drug trial where one group is given the medication and the other is given a placebo. The researchers then measure the outcome on both groups.

More heart health resources

There are great resources online for incorporating whole grains, like wheat, into your daily diet, so you can enjoy the many benefits. You can read more here about whole grains and heart health below:

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