In recent decades, scientists have shown a probable link between eating whole grains like oats and rye and reducing the risk of certain maladies, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Now we may know one important way in which whole grains help to stave off the Grim Reaper.

A study led by the University of Eastern Finland and published last year in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that after consuming a whole-grain-rich diet for 3 months, subjects showed upticks in various betaine compounds—pipecolic acid, for example—in their bodies. This, in turn, reduced postmeal blood sugar levels and improved other markers of glucose metabolism.

One theory is that microbes in our gut feed on elements of whole grains (e.g., fiber) to produce beneficial substances such as betaines that work on a cellular level to improve health measures. Now, that’s a good reason to shelve the white bread in favor of something more wholesome.

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Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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