To keep your blood pressure down, eat whole grains.
The health power of whole grains was clearly shown in a Harvard study of 31,684 male health professionals. They were between the ages of 40 and 75 at the beginning of the study, and researchers followed them for 18 years. At first, none of them had hypertension (high blood pressure), cancer, stroke or heart disease.
Study organizers wanted to find out whether eating whole grains had an impact on who did and who didn’t develop hypertension over the 18 years.
Hypertension is a big problem in our society — more than five million Canadians have hypertension, according to the Canadian Hypertension Society. It is the number one risk factor for stroke, and it is a major risk factor for heart disease. Hypertension is silent; 43 per cent of Canadians who have it don’t even know that they are affected.
In the study, 9,227 cases of hypertension developed among the men. Researchers then split the population into five groups according to how much whole grain they had eaten over the course of the study. Being in the highest group for whole grain was associated with a 19 per cent reduction in hypertension, compared to the lowest whole-grain-consuming group. “Whole grains as a part of a prudent, balanced diet may help promote cardiovascular health,” Dr. Alan Flint, a research scientist at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, told Metro. He is project director of the Health Professionals Follow-up Study.
Flint and colleagues also looked at bran intake, and the effect it had on hypertension. Being in the highest total-bran-eating group was associated with a 15 per cent lower risk of developing high blood pressure over the years.
Foods that are quite high in whole grains include oats, oatmeal, barley, brown rice, popcorn, and whole wheat flour. A one-cup bowl of cooked oatmeal might typically contain about 30 to 35 grams of whole grain. A cup of popcorn contains about 10 to 12 grams, and a slice of whole-wheat bread contains about 15 grams, so it is easy to add a healthy amount of whole grains to your diet. Eating 55 grams of whole grains a day would put you firmly in the highest group and reduce your risk of developing hypertension.
Other lifestyle factors that reduce your risk of high blood pressure include being physically active, not smoking, relaxing every day, limiting alcohol, and eating a balanced diet low in sodium.