Five Common Grain Myths

There’s a good chance that, at one point or another, you’ve wondered about eating certain foods. If you have diabetes, foods that contain carbohydrate (also known as carb) come to mind. And one type of carb food that never fails to spark debate is grains. There’s the camp that disparages most grains, in general, proclaiming that they’re bad for diabetes because they’ll send your blood sugars sky-high. On the more moderate side of things, the argument is that refined grains are to be avoided, but whole grains are OK (in limited amounts). And then there’s the rest of the folks who feel thoroughly confused. Is it OK to eat pasta? What the heck is farro, anyway? Read on to learn more.

Whole grains defined
According to the Oldways Whole Grains Council, a whole grain has “all three parts of the original grain — the starchy endosperm, the fiber-rich bran, and the germ.” The bran is the outer layer of the grain; the germ is the “embryo,” which contains B vitamins, vitamin E, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and fat, and the endosperm is the germ’s food source that contains carbohydrate, protein, and some vitamins and minerals. Once a food manufacturer starts stripping away any part of a whole grain, it’s no longer, well, whole. Now it’s refined. And that’s when the grain starts to lose many of its healthy attributes.

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Whole-grain myths
People who have diabetes should avoid all grains and grain foods. This particular fallacy stems from the fact that grains contain carbohydrate. Carbohydrate (in many people’s minds) is bad. They raise your blood sugar, right? So, stay away from them. But, it’s not that simple, at least when it comes to grains. As we just learned, whole grains are packed with nutrition — carb, yes, but also some protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals. How can that be bad? First, eating whole grains has been shown to help prevent Type 2 diabetes, based on research from the Nurses’ Health Study I and II. The bran and fiber in whole grains slow the digestion of the starch into blood glucose, causing less of a glycemic impact. And the phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals in whole grains are also thought to play a role in reducing diabetes risk. For people who have diabetes, the same holds true: Whole grain foods lead to smaller blood sugar spikes than refined grains, making it easier to manage your blood sugars.

Forget about eating pasta if you have diabetes. How many of you wouldn’t touch pasta with a 10-foot pole? Say “sayonara” to that plate of spaghetti and meatballs, right? Not necessarily. It’s true that much of the pasta that we’re familiar with is refined (that is to say, “white” pasta). And refined pasta can raise blood sugar levels. But you have options. Thanks to all the attention that whole grains have been getting, there are many other types of pasta to choose from, and you can often find them right in your local grocery store. Whole wheat, quinoa, buckwheat, spelt, and brown rice pastas are but a few examples. Because of their “whole-grainy-ness,” these pastas are more slowly digested and are less likely to send your blood sugars sky-high. So, here are some tips for fitting in pasta:

• Go for whole-grain versions.

• Keep an eye on portions. A huge bowl of any type of pasta will impact your blood sugars, for sure.

• Mix your pasta with vegetables (these are very low in carb), and add a healthy protein food, such as chicken breast, ground turkey meatballs, seafood, tofu, or beans.

• Cook your pasta “al dente” so that’s there’s still some firmness to it. Al dente pasta has a lower glycemic index than overly soft pasta.

It’s too hard to figure out what foods are whole grain. Unless you see the Whole Grain Stamp on a food package (this looks like a sheaf of grain against a yellow background), it can be challenging to pick out whole grain foods, such as breads, pastas, and cereals. Your best bet is to skip front-of-package labeling and locate the ingredient list. If the first ingredient contains the word “whole,” as in “whole wheat,” you’ve made a good choice. Don’t fall for “made with whole grains” claims. Also, here are other foods that often aren’t whole grains:

• 100% wheat
• Multigrain
• Cracked wheat
• Bran
• 7 grains
• Dark-colored bread (this may be colored with caramel coloring)

Eating whole grains will cause weight gain. Grains and other carb foods are often blamed for a host of health woes, including weight gain. But here’s where one needs to separate the wheat from the chaff — it’s too easy to lump all carbs together and point the finger at them. Processed and refined carbs (think sugary drinks, white bread, desserts) can lead to insulin resistance, high triglycerides (a type of blood fat), and weight gain (especially around the middle). Whole grains and whole-grain foods, on the other hand, which include rolled and steel-cut oats, brown rice, and whole wheat flour, have been shown to increase the metabolic rate (which means that your body burns more calories); in addition, because they tend to be higher in fiber than refined carbs, and because of their lower glycemic impact, they tend to be more filling, which means that you end up eating less. While this isn’t a license to tuck into a platter piled high with quinoa, it does mean that whole-grain foods can be part of a weight-loss and weight-maintenance eating plan.

I don’t like whole grains and I don’t even know how to cook them! Whole-grain foods usually do taste different, and for that reason, you might think that they don’t taste good. But give them a chance! And if you’re thinking of fitting more whole grains into your eating plan, start off with ones that you think you might like — for instance, did you know that popcorn is a whole grain? And oatmeal is a great way to start the day (but shy away from the sweetened, instant varieties). Venture into some of the “ancient” grains, like farro (also called emmer), which is a type of wheat, or millet, a high-protein grain. To learn more about grains and get tips for how to cook them, visit the Oldways Whole Grains Council’s website.

Are you a young adult living with Type 1 diabetes? Then you may be interested in the 2017 Students With Diabetes/Young Adults With Diabetes National Conference. Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to learn more.

  • JohnC

    You know the people who do this research on whole grains cannot possibly have diabetes or they have lost their glucose meters. Especially on insulin it becomes a neat trick to try and manage blood sugar peaks. Very small amounts are somewhat manageable…. they just take a little longer to raise glucose levels – but my meter says they do!

  • Joan G

    Hyperinsulinemia is one of the causes of increased risk for HA/MI and CVA. To lower the amount of insulin in the blood, a very low carb way of eating can fix that, lower the risks and improve outcomes. There is NO evidence to show the ASA way of ‘healthy eating’ is healthy. In actuality, there is plenty of evidence to support the ASA way does NOT work and needs to be changed to promote very low carb. If lower A1c is the goal, why keep pouring in carbs when we know they elevate blood sugar? Common sense, people. There is a study at Harvard happening now. Please review the study in the link. Quoting your own magazine. https://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/blog/study-low-carb-first-treatment-for-type-2-diabetes/ It works for T1, as well.

    • Christine J

      My notes on my own study show me that you are right about the increased carbs = a higher A1c for me. White bread is a big no, no but some wheat breads are ok even if I have to eat them in moderation.
      One thing I do not agree with you on is the Harvard study. It has become clear as of late that these university study’s produce outcomes that promote whatever issue is in the wind and the donors agendas. I log on to sites and boards like this one to hear what others
      like myself have to say. In my opinion, this is the best study. No one is paying us to share our experience with each other.

      • Joan G

        Christine, I too, question studies. At present, I am not sure who is funding the Harvard study, how many are in it (n number) or if it can be reproduced and how/if an IRB approved it. I am eagerly awaiting outcomes and will review when available. There are a number of CDEs aware of the false ‘evidence’ to which the ADA (diabetes, dietetic) refers. You are quite right: the personal experience and experiences of local PWDs who lower their carb intake with excellent results are the best studies! I just wonder WHEN we will be ‘permitted’ to teach it!