Including at least four servings of whole grains daily in your diet extends lifespan, a new meta-analysis has suggested.

Researchers from Harvard University have found that people who consume mostly whole grains have a 16 percent chance of living longer than those who did not eat whole grains.

Eating Healthy, Living Longer

The American Heart Association has previously recommended that about 50 percent of grains in the diet should include brown rice, corn, rye, oatmeal or barley. Likewise, Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests [PDF] an intake of at least three whole grain servings each day. Sadly, most adults do not meet the said guidelines.

Lead researcher Qi Sun from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health said that it is well-established that eating whole grains reduces risk for colorectal cancer and cardiovascular diseases. However, there have been no large-scale studies to correlate it with overall death.

For their study, the researchers analyzed 12 long-term studies focused on intake of whole grains and death risk and unpublished results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1988 to 1994, including 786,076 individuals of which 97,867 died (more than 37,000 cancer-related deaths and almost 24,000 cardiovascular-related deaths) during the course of the studies. All studies assessed whole grain intake through questionnaires.

They have found that individuals with the most consumption of whole grains, about 70 grams per day, survive about 16 percent longer during the course of the study compared with those who had less whole grains in the diet. About 20 percent have lower cardiovascular death risk, and 10 percent have reduced cancer-related death risk.

Those who have an additional 16 grams of whole grains in their diet have a 9 percent and 5 percent reduced death risk from cardiovascular diseases and cancer, respectively.

"These findings further support current dietary guidelines that recommend at least 3 daily servings (or 48 grams) of whole grains to improve long-term health and prevent premature death," said Sun, who is also an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard.

"Scientific evidence for the positive association between whole-grain cereal consumption and diminished risk of chronic diseases and mortality is rather strong, relevant and coherent," commented Anthony Fardet from the French National Institute for Agricultural Research and University of Auvergne, who was not part of the study.

Fardet, who have co-authored many research about nutrition, said that the advantage of whole grains is its nutrients are slowly released in the digestive tract.

"Whole grains are high in fiber, which reduces unhealthy blood lipids and increases insulin sensitivity, which helps control sugar metabolism," said Sun. Sun suggested that Americans get as much as whole grains such as pastas, bread, oatmeal and brown rice, which are widely available in most stores.

The results of the meta-analysis are published in American Heart Association journal Circulation on June 13.

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