Eating at least three servings of whole grains a day could lower your risk of an early death, according to new research conducted at Harvard and published in the American Heart Association’s journal, Circulation. While dietary guidelines have long included whole grains as an essential component of healthy eating patterns, people don’t eat enough of them, according to the analysis. In the United States, average consumption remains below one serving a day, despite the long-time recommendation of three servings a day.

Fiber-rich whole grains, such as whole wheat, oats and brown rice, help improve blood cholesterol levels and lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity and type 2 diabetes, the study noted. Dietary fiber can also make you feel full longer, so you may eat fewer calories and skirt the risk of obesity.

According to researchers, the death rates among those who consumed three servings (48 grams) of whole grains daily declined by 20 percent for total deaths, 25 percent for cardiovascular deaths and 14 percent for cancer-related deaths.

This analysis included 12 studies involving 786,076 participants.

Low-carbohydrate diets that ignore the health benefits of whole grains foods “should be adopted with caution,” according to the study, as they may be linked to higher cardiovascular risk and mortality.

The American Heart Association recommends a heart-healthy dietary pattern emphasizing fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other nutritious foods and specifically that at least half of grain consumption should be whole grains.

Previous studies also have heralded the impact of eating whole grain foods on longevity.

Researchers analyzed the diet of nearly 55,000 Danish adults and then tracked their health outcomes for more than 13 years. Those consuming the most whole grains per day lowered their risk of having a heart attack by as much as 27 percent over those who ate the least amount of whole grains per day. Increasing whole grain intake by just 25g per day was linked with a 12 percent lower risk of a heart attack. Among the different types of whole grains, rye and oats appeared to be especially protective.

In another study of over 2,000 Swedish adults at least 60-years-old, eating a “Western diet” (lots of refined or processed foods, red meats, high fat dairy products, saturated/trans fats, and sugar) was associated with more cognitive decline, whereas eating a more “prudent” diet (lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, rice/pasta, legumes, nuts, fish, and low-fat dairy products) was associated with a deceleration of cognitive decline.