Health

The 8 Best Whole Grains for Type 2 Diabetes

Scientists have long known that an important step in preventing and managing type 2 diabetes is replacing refined, simple sugars in the diet with more complex sources. One of the main reasons is that complex carbohydrates lead to better blood sugar management compared to refined grains, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Refined grains, which can be found in foods including white rice and pasta, tend to result in surges in blood sugar, or glucose, shortly after eating — and energy crashes a little while later. On the other hand, complex carbohydrates like whole grains (brown rice and whole-wheat pasta) take comparatively longer to digest, which results in a steady release of glucose into the bloodstream.

RELATED: Small Increase in Whole Grains, Fruits, and Veggies Cuts Type 2 Diabetes Risk

Why? In part, it’s because whole grains are good sources of fiber, which helps slow the absorption of glucose, according to the Cleveland Clinic. “A simple carb, meaning no fiber, is one that’s going to break down really fast and go right into the bloodstream,” says Joelle Malinowski, RD, a certified diabetes care and education specialist with Albany Med Health System in New York. “Fiber takes more time to digest, so it slows down the digestion of the carbohydrate and gives you better blood sugar control during the day.”

Most whole grains have a moderate glycemic load (GL), which measures a food’s impact on rising blood sugar, with low being the least likely to lead to sudden spikes, according to Harvard Health Publishing. A GL of 20 and up is considered high, between 11 and 19 is considered medium, and 10 or less is low, per Oregon State University.

RELATED: How Do You Tell the Difference Between Good and Bad Carbohydrates?

Kimberly Rose, RDN, a certified diabetes care and education specialist based in Sebring, Florida, says whole grains can also help with weight control. Weight management is top of mind for people with type 2 diabetes since overweight and obesity increase the risk and makes the disease more difficult to manage. According to a review of research, consuming 60 to 90 grams (g) of whole grains per day (or about two or three servings) was associated with a 21 to 32 percent reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, compared with those who ate whole grains never or less frequently.

What’s more, a diet filled with fibrous whole grains promotes a healthy heart, Malinowski says. According to one meta-analysis, whole-grain intake was associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. That’s important because adults with type 2 diabetes are 2 times more likely to die of heart disease than adults without diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Here, explore eight types of whole grains that could help with type 2 diabetes prevention and management. Rose recommends swapping them in for refined grains in your diet. When you’re just starting out, be sure to monitor for signs of gastrointestinal distress, and always talk with your doctor before making any major changes to your diet, Malinowski warns.

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