Research has proven that consuming whole grains can help prevent people from getting type 2 diabetes, but what if you already have diabetes or have pre-diabetes or other blood sugar issues — Should you consume grains and if so, how much?
People with type 1 and type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes should eat grains
People with diabetes have high blood glucose (blood sugar,) either because insulin production is inadequate or because the body’s cells don’t respond properly to insulin or both. And people with pre-diabetes have higher blood sugar levels, but they aren’t as high as those with diabetes.
- Type 1. The body does not produce insulin.
- Type 2. The body does not produce enough insulin for proper function, or the cells in the body do not react to insulin (insulin resistance).
- Pre-diabetes. The body is becoming resistant to insulin. The fasting glucose level is 101 to 125. Most people with type 2 diabetes initially had pre-diabetes.
Carbohydrates, including the starch in grain, have the biggest impact on blood glucose, because all carbs are eventually broken down into simple sugar by the body. Complex carbs take longer for the body to turn into simple sugar, so they are the better choice for all people including diabetics.
People with blood sugar issues should limit their carb intake to maintain healthy blood sugar levels, but they probably should not eliminate grains from their diet. Almost all research shows the benefit of consuming carbs in a balanced way. For example, here are some studies:
- Two servings of whole grains was associated with a 21-percent decrease in risk of type 2 diabetes.
- When eaten as part of a breakfast with a low glycemic index, whole grains can help control blood sugar all day long, according to a study conducted at Lund University in Sweden.
- A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that eating whole grains may be associated with a decreased risk of pre-diabetes.
Some people believe that going without grains can be helpful for people with diabetes and blood sugar issues. For example, this study showed that going on a gluten-free Paleo diet brought people back to normal glucose levels. But if you want to try going gluten free to see if it brings your blood sugar levels back to normal, you can eat gluten-free grains.
So, yes, most people with blood sugar issues should eat 100-percent whole grains because they are nutrient rich and full of fiber, which helps control blood sugar. Even better, sprouted grains are the healthiest choice for people with blood sugar issues.
Glycemic Index and diet for people with blood sugar issues
Knowing a food has a high or low glycemic index is a good start, but several factors can change a particular food’s glycemic index, so it can be hard to measure:
- Other foods eaten at the same time.
- Other components of the food, such as fat or protein.
- How the food is prepared.
- Your body’s reaction to the food.
It’s best to choose foods closer to nature, or less processed, and to eat balanced meals, rather than only relying on the glycemic index of foods.
Healthy grains to eat
If you have blood sugar issues, you want to choose low-glycemic, complex, whole grains. Some good options:
Amaranth. This non-gluten grain is high in protein and contains more calcium than milk.
Barley. This grain is low glycemic, so it doesn’t cause a blood sugar spike. In fact, it has the lowest glycemic index of all grains.
Brown Rice. In its natural form, brown rice is very nutritious, with 88 percent of your daily value of magnesium, a cofactor involved in insulin secretion and glucose levels.
Buckwheat. This is actually a seed but is often considered a grain. Research shows that buckwheat can lower blood sugar levels.
Freekah. This grain is low on the glycemic index and has about four times as much protein as brown rice.
Kamut. This grain is similar to wheat but is higher in vitamins and minerals.
Quinoa. This gluten-free grain has the highest protein value of any other grain. It also contains more calcium than milk.
Millet. This grain provides 26 percent of the daily value of magnesium.
Rye. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that bread made from wheat triggers a greater insulin response than rye bread does.
Considerations for people with diabetes and other blood sugar issues
Don’t eat whole grains alone and treat them as side dishes. Pair grains with protein and unsaturated fats to help your body deal with the sugar more gradually. Some good proteins include beans, nuts and seeds. If you eat whole grain bread, pair it with nut butter or vegan cheese.
Be careful not to over-consume grains. Two-thirds of a cup of cooked 100-percent whole grains or two slices of 100-percent whole grain bread is generally a safe amount at any one meal or snack.
Eat grains in the least-processed state. Choose whole-kernel bread, brown rice and whole barley, millet and wheat berries. Traditionally processed grains, such as stone-ground bread or steel-cut oats, are good, too.
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