Women with a history of heart disease who participated in a research study and reported having eaten six or more servings of per week had slower progression of atherosclerosis, a condition in which built-up plaque narrows the passageways through which blood flows.
Researchers funded by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and other granting agencies reported the findings in the July issue of the American Heart Journal.
This latest piece of scientific evidence shows that food manufacturers introducing wholegrain products are right to emphasize the health-giving properties of whole grains. And new technology means that more and more products can incorporate whole grains while still conforming to the American palate.
Insufficient milling breakthroughs had, until last year, prevented bakers from making a wholegrain bread with a similar taste and texture to white bread, the preferred choice of most Americans. But in August last year, ConAgra Food Ingredients produced a wholegrain flour using a special white winter wheat and patent-pending new technology to achieve a finely milled product, Ultragrain, with a similar texture to refined flour products.
Interstate Bakeries Corporation (IBC) is one manufacturer that has used Ultragrain to produce White Bread Fans. Similarly, Sara Lee Corporation is bringing out Soft and Smooth Whole Grain White.
IBC claims its White Bread Fans, marketed under the Wonder brand, is the first 100 per cent wholegrain white bread to appear on the US market. The company is testing the product in six US cities, with a nationwide launch expected by the end of the year.
In addition, ADM has developed Kansas Diamond white whole-wheat flour. This is an extra-fine flour designed to produce finished goods with the health benefits of whole-wheat flour and the consumer appeal of white flour.
The product can be use in applications such as pizza crusts, bread, bagels, pasta, cookies and tortillas.
The food ingredients industry is certainly filling an important nutritional gap here. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans urges people to consume at least three servings of whole-grain foods per day, but experts say currently most Americans consume less than a single serving of whole grains daily.
The ARS study was led by Alice Lichtenstein, director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts. She and colleagues studied 229 postmenopausal women who had participated in the Estrogen Replacement and Atherosclerosis Study.
The researchers found that the progression of stenosis - narrowing of the diameter of arterial passageways - was less in women who reported higher intakes of cereal fiber from whole-grain foods than those reporting lower intakes.
The data suggest that following current dietary recommendations can slow the rate of heart disease progression. Whole grains can be found in breakfast cereal made with whole grains, oatmeal, brown rice, barley, popcorn, whole-wheat bread and cereal, bran muffins, whole-wheat bagels and whole-wheat flour.
ARS is the US Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.