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Beat High Blood Pressure With a Bowl of Cereal

Whole grains work best

A bowl of cereal for breakfast can reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure, a finding that has scientists lined up foursquare behind the benefits of this healthy start to the day.

See also: Foods that fight hypertension.

The study was presented today at the American Heart Association's Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2011 Scientific Sessions.

Healthy diets that help manage high blood pressure typically include cereal, but up to now there have been no guidelines about how many servings people need to reap the benefits.

To answer the question, Harvard University geriatrician Jinesh Kochar, M.D., and his colleagues gathered information from questionnaires filled out by participants in the Physicians' Health Study I, a long-running survey of male doctors. The researchers collected information from more than 13,000 doctors between the ages of 40 and 86 who did not have high blood pressure when they entered the study. More than 7,000 of them developed the condition during the 16-year study period.

The men were divided into four groups according to the amount of breakfast cereal they ate: no cereal, one serving a week or less, two to six servings a week, and seven or more servings a week. Compared with the group that ate no cereal, the researchers found that the more servings of cereal the men ate, the lower the chance of developing high blood pressure.

"We know that blood pressure rises with age and this interesting research provides us with another way to help control it," says Penny Kris-Etherton, a Penn State University professor of nutrition who was not involved in the study. "It's not a restrictive message that tells us to, 'Eat less of ....' What it says is, 'Enjoy cereal for breakfast.' "

The odds of developing high blood pressure dropped by 7 percent among those who ate one serving a week or less, and by 12 and 19 percent respectively among the groups having two to six servings and seven or more servings, even after adjusting for other factors such as age, smoking, weight, physical activity and type 2 diabetes.

The men who ate whole grains, such as oatmeal and bran flakes, rather than refined-grain cereal such as corn flakes, fared even better. We know that "whole grains modify the risk of developing hypertension, which can lead to coronary heart disease, heart attacks, stroke and kidney disease," says lead author Kochar. Eating whole-grain breakfast cereal, along with other healthy lifestyle measures such as limiting your salt intake and getting enough physical activity, he notes, may reduce the chances of developing high blood pressure.

Moreover, a study of more than half a million AARP members between the ages of 50 and 71 published last month in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that eating whole grains seems to lower the risk of death from heart, respiratory and infectious diseases.

Nissa Simon writes about health and science in New Haven, Conn.