Current Atherosclerosis Reports

, Volume 12, Issue 6, pp 368-376

First online:

Effects of Whole Grains on Coronary Heart Disease Risk

  • Kristina A. HarrisAffiliated withDepartment of Nutritional Sciences, The Pennsylvania State University
  • , Penny M. Kris-EthertonAffiliated withDepartment of Nutritional Sciences, The Pennsylvania State University Email author 

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Characterizing which types of carbohydrates, including whole grains, reduce the risk for coronary heart disease (CHD) is challenging. Whole grains are characterized as being high in resistant carbohydrates as compared with refined grains, meaning they typically are high in fiber, nutrients, and bound antioxidants. Whole grain intake consistently has been associated with improved cardiovascular disease outcomes, but also with healthy lifestyles, in large observational studies. Intervention studies that assess the effects of whole grains on biomarkers for CHD have mixed results. Due to the varying nutrient compositions of different whole grains, each could potentially affect CHD risk via different mechanisms. Whole grains high in viscous fiber (oats, barley) decrease serum low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and blood pressure and improve glucose and insulin responses. Grains high in insoluble fiber (wheat) moderately lower glucose and blood pressure but also have a prebiotic effect. Obesity is inversely related to whole grain intake, but intervention studies with whole grains have not produced weight loss. Visceral fat, however, may be affected favorably. Grain processing improves palatability and can have varying effects on nutrition (e.g., the process of milling and grinding flour increases glucose availability and decreases phytochemical content whereas thermal processing increases available antioxidants). Understanding how individual grains, in both natural and processed states, affect CHD risk can inform nutrition recommendations and policies and ultimately benefit public health.


Whole grains Coronary heart disease Cardiovascular disease Risk factors Processing Nutrition Carbohydrates Cereal fiber Phytochemicals Metabolic syndrome