By Jane Weaver Health editor
msnbc.com
updated 5/2/2005 10:21:47 AM ET 2005-05-02T14:21:47

If you miss eating pasta, go ahead, have some. Just make sure it's whole-wheat pasta.

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Certain types of carbohydrates may be good for the heart, according to a new analysis of data from the Women's Health Study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health. The federally funded Women's Health Study is a 10-year randomized trial testing the effects of aspirin and vitamin E in reducing cardiovascular risk in approximately 40,000 women.

Women who ate high-fiber diets rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains were found to have lower levels of C-reactive protein, a substance in the blood that has been linked to coronary heart disease, the study found.

C-reactive protein plays key role
Most people recognize high cholesterol as a leading cause of heart disease, but new data suggests that testing levels of the C-reactive protein, produced by the liver, is equally important in predicting coronary problems as well as Type 2, or adult onset, diabetes.

High CRP levels in the blood indicate a low-grade inflammation in the body, a condition that is believed to play a role in heart attacks. Inflammation develops when our bodies fight infection or injury and is thought to contribute to or even cause atherosclerosis, or build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries, according to the American Heart Association.

Earlier research from the Women's Health Study found that women with high levels of inflammation had a greater risk of heart attack or stroke.

In the carbohydrate trial, Harvard researchers drew blood from 15,000 women and quizzed them about their diet habits, dividing participants into groups based on their total fiber consumption and glycemic index—the measure of how quickly carbs are absorbed into the body.

'Carbs are not all created equal'
The researchers found that the CRP levels of women whose diets consisted primarily of refined grains were 10 percent higher than women who consumed a lot of good carbs such as fiber-rich whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

"Carbohydrates have gotten such bad press in the last couple of years, but clearly carbs are not all created equal," says Emily Levitan, lead researcher of the Harvard carbohydrate study.

The women who ate foods with the most soluble fiber like oats and oat bran, dried beans, flax seeds, oranges and apples had less inflammation in their body.

"What it means is women should switch to whole grains, start eating brown rice instead of white, eat whole grain breads and whole grain pasta, and also increase their intake of fruits and vegetables, other than potatoes," says Levitan.

Other studies have linked good carbs with lower weight, but the Harvard study is the largest to show that whole grains can reduce inflammation in the body.

Bad carbs like white bread or refined pastas were linked with increased blood inflammation, which could lead to heart disease later on, Levitan says.

Once shunned as the starchy, hunger-causing enemy of lean dieters, high-quality carbs are now major factors in the government's diet guidelines .

But bad carbs like candy bars or processed white bread are still no-nos when it comes to weight control and nutrition. Those sugar-rush carbs are quickly turned into glucose by the body and end up causing you to feel hungry again sooner.

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