Whole-grain consumption and chronic disease: protective mechanisms

Nutr Cancer. 1997;27(1):14-21. doi: 10.1080/01635589709514495.


Dietary guidance recommends consumption of whole grains to reduce the risk of chronic diseases including cancer and cardiovascular disease. Epidemiologic studies support the belief that whole grains are protective against cancers, especially gastrointestinal cancers such as gastric and colonic, and cardiovascular disease. Components in whole grains that may be protective are diverse and include compounds that affect the gut environment, i.e., dietary fiber, resistant starch, and other undigestible compounds in whole grains, compounds that function as antioxidants such as trace minerals and phenolic compounds, and compounds that are phytoestrogens with potential hormonal effects. Many of the protective compounds in whole grains are also in fruits and vegetables, but some plant compounds are more concentrated in whole grains, such as phenolic compounds including ferulic and caffeic acid. Other potential mechanistic effects of whole grains include binding of carcinogens and modulation of glycemic index. Clearly, the range of protective substances in whole grains is impressive, and advice to consume additional whole grains is justifiable.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology
  • Antioxidants / standards
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / physiopathology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Dietary Fiber / standards
  • Eating / physiology
  • Edible Grain / standards*
  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal / standards
  • Humans
  • Intestine, Large / drug effects
  • Intestine, Large / physiology
  • Isoflavones*
  • Lignans / standards
  • Models, Biological
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Nutritional Requirements
  • Phytoestrogens
  • Plant Preparations
  • Risk Factors
  • Starch / standards


  • Antioxidants
  • Dietary Fiber
  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal
  • Isoflavones
  • Lignans
  • Phytoestrogens
  • Plant Preparations
  • Starch