Knowing that consumption of whole grains links with good health outcomes, scientists are working hard to figure out how and why this happens. “The search for markers of this connection resembles that for the Holy Grail,” said Cynthia Harriman, director of food and nutrition strategies, Whole Grains Council, Boston, MA. But unlike the legend, this is an achievable quest.

As Julie Jones, PhD, emeritus professor of nutrition, St. Catherine’s University, St. Paul, MN, observed at the AACC Milling & Baking Division spring technical meeting, “We’re just in the infancy of whole grains nutritional research.”

Here are examples of recent studies and reports:

• Daily consumption of three servings or more of whole grains cut the risk of cardiovascular disease, according to a clinical trial done in the UK at the University of Aberdeen and published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in October 2010. Its authors reported, “After a 4-week run-in period with a re?ned diet, we randomly allocated volunteers to a control (re?ned diet), wheat, or wheat-plus-oats group for 12 weeks. The primary outcome was a reduction of cardiovascular disease risk factors by dietary intervention with whole grains, which included lipid and in?ammatory marker concentrations, insulin sensitivity and blood pressure.”

• Consumption of 48 g of whole grains a day cut blood pressure in another intervention crossover study reported in the British Journal of Nutrition’s April 2011 edition. The University of Surrey researchers started with the idea that whole grains could help control weight and satiety. While they did not confirm that theory, they did find a surprising and beneficial drop in blood pressure among participants.

• Bread and porridges made with less-processed rye provided greater satiety in a Swedish study, published in Nutrition Journal’s April 2011 issue. Whole and milled rye were compared in breakfast settings. Participants rated their appetites after breakfast and again in the afternoon. Nutritional content including fiber was held constant, yet the less-processed items fostered greater satiety. Thus, even small changes in diet composition such as the structure of the whole grain have the potential to affect feelings of hunger and satiety.