Grains have gone through the gauntlet in recent years. First, they needed to all be whole grains, and consumers had to wade through which products were truly made with all whole grain and which just had tricky marketing.
Then the low-carb phase hit, and people found that cutting simple carbohydrates and refined grains did wonders for their health and waistlines. People with diabetes often have better success managing their health with low-carb diets since carbs are what most influence blood sugar. But while low-carb diets can be healthy, taking them too far leaves behind a very important part of our diet: whole grains.
Whole grains are full of fiber, vitamins, and, according to the American Heart Association, can help lower your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. As we take a more critical look at carbs, it would be a shame to ditch the unique health benefits of whole grains.
What makes a grain whole?
There are three parts to grain: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. (The endosperm is the starchy part.)
In whole wheat flour or bread, for example, the entire grain is ground and used. When grains are refined, such as in white bread, only the endosperm is ground and used. This gives the grain a finer texture and longer shelf life, but robs the grain of B-vitamins, magnesium, iron, and fiber. Some grains are enriched and nutrients are added back in, but even if some of the vitamins and iron are replaced the fiber is still compromised.
The vitamins in whole grains are vital for forming new cells and carrying oxygen in the blood, and they help regulate thyroid function and maintain a healthy immune system. But the fiber is really whole grain’s star player.
There are two types of fiber: soluble, which dissolves in water, and insoluble, which does not dissolve. Both types are beneficial, and most plant-based foods (think whole grains!) contain both types.
Why people with diabetes should love fiber
Fiber can help control blood sugar because the body doesn’t absorb fiber, and fiber won’t raise blood glucose. In fact, it will slow glucose absorption and help prevent glucose spikes. If you are carb counting, the grams of fiber can be subtracted from the total grams of carbohydrate you are eating.
Fiber also helps you:
- Keep your bowels healthy and bowel movements regular
- Lower cholesterol
- Maintain a healthy body weight
Joslin Diabetes Center recommends that adults eat 20 to 35 grams of fiber every day. Most Americans get only about half that. If you’re not getting enough fiber, switching to whole grains can help!
Other reasons to love whole grains
A Swedish study found that there is a dose-dependent relationship between whole grain consumption and lowered type 2 diabetes risk. The more whole grains, the lower the risk! Male study participants were able to lower their type 2 risk by 34 percent and women by 22 percent, by eating a hefty 50 grams of whole grain a day.
Even increasing your whole grain intake a little can help. One study involving nearly 200,000 people found that eating brown rice can reduce type 2 risk by 16 percent, and another study found that foods with a low glycemic index, like rolled oats and brown rice, can prevent blood sugar spikes.
Let’s not forget that whole grains help protect against heart disease, and the American Heart Association recommends that at least half your grains be whole.
Whole grain ideas
When choosing your grains, make sure “whole grain” is listed as the first ingredient. Whole wheat bread is a classic, but there are other great choices, and some that are gluten-free. Check out some of these:
- Brown or wild rice (gluten free as long as it’s not contaminated with wheat during processing)
- Whole grain barley
- Millet (gluten free)
- Whole oats (gluten free but frequently processed in facilities that process wheat)
- Sorghum (gluten free)
- Quinoa (gluten free)
- Buckwheat (try using buckwheat flour for baking)
New to some of these? You can find many of them in the bulk section of your grocery story. Try using them in fall soups or in place of white rice. Welcome back to the menu, whole grains!
Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.