Eating white bread and croissants associated with heart attacks, stroke and early death

Credit: Mariana Kurnyk

The Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study has been examining diets from diverse populations in low-, middle- and high-income countries around the world.

Researchers from Simon Fraser University headed by health sciences professor, Scott Lear collated over 16 years of data and analysis of 137,130 participants in 21 countries, the researchers found the consumption of refined grains and added sugars have greatly increased over the years, associating a relationship with a higher risk major cardiovascular disease, stroke and early death.

Grains were categorized into three groups: refined grains, whole grains and white rice.

Credit: Eneida Nieves

Refined grains included goods made with refined (e.g. white) flour, including white bread, pasta/noodles, breakfast cereals, crackers, and bakery products/desserts containing refined grains.

Credit:  Eva Elijas 

Whole grains included whole grain flours (e.g. buckwheat) and intact or cracked whole grains (eg. steel cut oats).

The study found that having more than seven servings of refined grains per day was associated with a 27% greater risk for early death, 33% greater risk for heart disease and 47% greater risk for stroke.

“This study re-affirms previous work indicating a healthy diet includes limiting overly processed and refined foods,” says Lear.

No significant adverse health effects were found with consuming whole grains or white rice.

The study suggests eating whole grain foods like brown rice and barley, and having fewer cereal grains and refined wheat products. Reducing one’s overall consumption of refined grains and having better quality carbohydrates is essential for optimal health outcomes.

If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, what about that morning coffee???

Credit: Katerina Holmes

In other peer reviewed research, a world first genetic study in fact, the Australian Centre for Precision Health at the University of South Australia found that that long-term, heavy coffee consumption — six or more cups a day — can increase the amount of lipids (fats) in your blood to significantly heighten your risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Importantly, this correlation is both positive and dose-dependent, meaning that the more coffee you drink, the greater the risk of CVD. It’s a bitter pill, especially for lovers of coffee, but according to UniSA researcher, Professor Elina Hyppönen, it’s one we must swallow if we want keep our hearts healthy.

“In this study we looked at genetic and phenotypic associations between coffee intake and plasma lipid profiles — the cholesterols and fats in your blood — finding causal evidence that habitual coffee consumption contributes to an adverse lipid profile which can increase your risk of heart disease.” said Professor Hyppönen, “High levels of blood lipids are a known risk factor for heart disease, and interestingly, as coffee beans contain a very potent cholesterol-elevating compound (cafestol), it was valuable to examine them together.

Cafestol is often found in unfiltered brews (eg. French press, Turkish and Greek coffees), and espressos, which is the base for most barista-made coffees (eg. lattes and cappuccinos). In contrast, cafestol is not in filtered and instant coffee.

“In my opinion it is especially important for people with high cholesterol or who are worried about getting heart disease to carefully choose what type of coffee they drink.” continues Hyppönen, “Importantly, the coffee-lipid association is dose-dependent — the more you drink unfiltered coffee the more it raises your blood lipids, putting you at greater risk of heart disease.”

Credit:  Karolina Grabowska

Globally, an estimated 3 billion cups of coffee are consumed every day. Cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death globally, taking an estimated 17.9 million lives each year.

The study used data from 362,571 UK Biobank participants, aged 37-73 years, using a triangulation of phenotypic and genetic approaches to conduct comprehensive analyses.

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