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Drs. Oz and Roizen: Whole grains could save your life

Whole grains are red-hot! Seventy-five percent of supermarket shoppers say they’re looking to buy more. The National Restaurant Association just announced that going with the grain is a top food trend for 2015, ahead of artisanal ice cream, exotic herbs and food trucks.

Now, a massive new study shows they can save your heart and your life.

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health tracked the diet and health of 117,000 women and men for 25 years to uncover this whole-grain connection. People who ate more – as in whole-grain bread, oatmeal, brown rice or barley (or another whole grain), even 100 percent whole-grain crackers and pasta – had a 9 percent lower mortality rate during the study’s time period.

Their heart health was superior, too. For every daily serving they munched, risk of dying from a heart attack, stroke or related problem dropped 5 percent. On average, they ate enough grains to lower heart-related deaths 15 percent.

That’s a huge benefit from one of the easiest food groups to love. And it’s not the only advantage. Other studies have already shown that choosing foods made with fiber-rich, nutrient-packed grains instead of the refined kind can slash your risk for Type 2 diabetes by as much as 30 percent, reduce stroke risk up to 36 percent, cut odds for heart disease by 28 percent and help banish belly fat.

Inviting more whole grains over for meals – and cutting back on refined grains – may even lower your risk for asthma, colon cancer, gum disease and high blood pressure!

The greatness of 100 percent whole grains is a team effort. Compared with refined grains, whole grains are a superior source of satisfying fiber because the outer layer, called the bran, isn’t polished off. Whole grains also have more protein, a smidge of good fat and a rainbow of good-for-you vitamins and minerals, like magnesium, selenium, copper and manganese, because the nutrient-rich germ is intact, too. And they deliver a slow drip – rather than a spike – of energizing carbs found in the grain’s endosperm layer.

These bonus nutrients that make up the “whole” in whole grains do plenty of important jobs in your body. Fiber slows the digestion of carbohydrates, so blood sugar rises more slowly. One type – soluble fiber – can lower your cholesterol. Another type – insoluble fiber – helps keep you regular. Phytochemicals in the germ discourage lousy LDL cholesterol from turning into artery-clogging plaque, while phytoestrogens may help fight off some cancers.

So why not try a new 100 percent whole grain in the coming week? These tips can point you in the right direction, whether you’re a newcomer to whole-grain goodness or a long-time fan looking for something completely different.

1. Go for fast-cooking whole grains: Dr. Mike likes to cook up a big pot of brown rice, barley or quinoa on Sundays and keep it in the fridge for fast meals during the week. Another option is grains that cook in 10 to 15 minutes, such as quick pearl barley, bulgur or quick-cooking farro. You also can look for ready-to-heat, precooked grains in pouches.

2. Make an easy switch: Instead of white bread, go for 100 percent whole grain; boot white pasta for 100 percent whole-grain noodles; pick a 100 percent whole-grain breakfast cereal. Don’t buy any product based on the words “whole grain” on the label; it doesn’t mean 100 percent whole grain unless it says “100 percent” on the ingredients list.

3. Try a new taste: Already in love with 100 percent whole grains? Branch out. Serve an ancient grain, like quinoa (it’s actually a grass but has all the virtues of grain), millet, amaranth or spelt. Each has its own strengths. Quinoa is high in protein, millet’s tiny grains are rich in magnesium, and amaranth cooks into a creamy porridge that’s delicious on cold winter mornings. You can buy these grains as flour to add to muffins. Now, there’s a great way to start a hot new trend in your house!

Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Dr. Mike Roizen, a Buffalo native, is chief wellness officer and chairman of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.