Grains are a staple of a healthful diet. To some people with diabetes, it may be surprising that I’m advising you to eat grains (whole grains, to be more specific). Grains are made of carbohydrate. And yes, carbohydrate does break down into glucose, meaning that grains will usually cause some sort of rise in blood glucose.
But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Our bodies need carbohydrate: Carbohydrate is the fuel that keeps us going. Protein and fat don’t efficiently provide energy for the body, but carbohydrate does.
But just because I’m advising you to eat grains or foods that contain grains doesn’t mean that I’m trying to wreak havoc with your diabetes control! You know the saying, “Everything in moderation.” That applies here. You can eat foods such as rice, pasta, couscous, or quinoa. What you need to know is what amount is the right amount for you to help you manage your blood glucose and your weight. That amount can vary from person to person, depending on your age, gender, and activity level. And my advice is that if you don’t know how much to eat of any food, seek help, preferably from a dietitian.
But back to grains. Last week we looked at a few different types of rice. This week we’ll look at some other grains.
Barley tends to be overlooked in the grain family. Most of us have had barley in soup and probably not much else. Yet barley has many redeeming qualities, including its nutty flavor and pasta-like texture. Hulled barley is a whole grain, whereas pearled, or polished, barley is not. Pot or scotch barley lies somewhere in between.
Barley is an excellent source of fiber (mostly soluble fiber), making it helpful for lowering cholesterol, and it contains antioxidants and important minerals such as selenium, copper, and manganese. One half-cup of cooked barley provides about 100 calories, 20 grams of carbohydrate, and 3 grams of fiber. While barley makes a great addition to soups and stews, you can also use it as a side dish (in place of rice) or cooked and chilled in a salad mixed with vegetables. For barley recipes, check out the National Barley Foods Council Web site.
Not yet a staple in most American’s kitchens, quinoa (“KEEN-wah”) is slowly becoming more popular in the US. Technically a seed, not a grain, quinoa is a “complete” protein food, meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids. It’s also rich in minerals and some B vitamins. One-half cup of cooked quinoa contains about 127 calories, 24 grams of carbohydrate, and 2 grams of fiber. Like other whole grains, eating quinoa may help lower the risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
Quinoa is about the size of a mustard seed and is available in different colors, including pink, yellow, orange, purple, and black (you have your pick!). Before cooking quinoa, rinse the seeds well to remove the bitter coating, called saponin. Add one part quinoa to two parts liquid (water or broth) in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer, cover, and cook for about 15 minutes. When cooked completely, quinoa becomes mostly transparent with a little white tail. You can also roast quinoa before you cook it for a nuttier flavor. Quinoa works well as a side dish but can be eaten as a hot cereal, added to soups, or used in a cold salad. Try this Aztecan Quinoa Salad from FoodFit.com.
Bulgur, like quinoa, may not be all that familiar to you, but it’s a grain that you should consider trying! If you’re a fan of tabouli, a traditional Mediterranean grain dish, then you’ve had bulgur. Bulgur is whole wheat kernels that have been soaked, boiled, dried, and then cracked into grits. Unlike cracked wheat, bulgur is precooked.
Bulgur is considered to be a whole grain and is rich in B vitamins, minerals, and fiber. A half-cup of cooked bulgur contains roughly 76 calories, 17 grams of carbohydrate, and 4 grams of fiber. It’s lower in calories and higher in fiber than brown rice, yet has a similar texture and flavor. For some great bulgur recipes, including a tabouli recipe, check out this document from the Wheat Foods Council Web site.
There are many other whole grains to choose from, including amaranth, buckwheat, oats, millet, teff, triticale, and wild rice. Store them in an airtight container, away from light and moisture. Grains tend to not last as long in the hot summer months. For more information on whole grains, check out the Whole Grains Council Web site.