It’s breakfast time at Susie’s house as
she stands in the middle of her kitchen and glares into her open cupboards. The day before,
Susie found out she that had beginning stages of diabetes. She knew she had to make some
changes in her diet, but she didn’t know where to start. Biting her nails and pacing
the floor, Susie continues to stare blankly at pancake mixes and sugary cereals until
she remembers something her doctor had told her: “eat more whole grains”. But what
exactly does that mean and why are they any better than the normal grains she eats?
Recently, type II diabetes, a disease which
causes its victims, like Susie, to have trouble controlling their blood sugar levels, has
become increasingly common in the U.S. Many believe the disease is reaching epidemic
levels. But why is this happening and how can those affected by diabetes fight back?
The answer may lie in the foods we eat. You may be surprised to hear that the type
of grain you eat may play a major role in your development of diabetes. There are two
main types of grains we eat: refined grains and whole grains. Refined grains are processed
grains such as white flour and white rice. Whole grains are grains like wheat, oats,
corn or wild rice. To determine the relation between these grains and diabetes, a study
gave food questionnaires to over 75,000 people for a ten year period and recorded the how
many servings of grains they ate each day. Whether they ate refined or whole grains was
recorded also. The researchers found that the more whole grains a person would eat per
day, the less likely they would be to develop diabetes during the 10 year period. On the
flip side, the more refined grains a person would eat on a daily basis, the more likely
that person would be to develop the disease. So as a result, the research indicated that
individuals who ate three or more refined grains a day were about TWICE as likely to
develop type II diabetes than individuals who ate three whole grains a day.
Most people eat some type of grain in their
food every day. But how do we know if our foods contain healthy whole grains that can
prevent type II diabetes or refined grains that may cause it?
Since whole grains are not processed much, they keep most their original nutrients. Some
examples of foods that contain whole grains are rye breads, whole wheat pasta, brown rice
pasta, oatmeal, and bran muffins. Refined grains are heavily processed and robbed
of their original nutrients. Foods like cakes, white rice, pastries, cookies and white breads
are some examples of foods that contain refined grain.
But why is the refinement of these grains so bad? During the refining process, nutrients
such as magnesium and fiber are removed from the original whole grain. This is bad because
magnesium and fiber are essential in preventing diabetes.
Since it’s hard for diabetics to control
their blood sugar levels, they need to eat foods that do not cause blood sugar spikes.
To determine the relation between type II diabetes and fiber, Frank B. Hu and a group
of researchers surveyed over 91,000 individuals with questionnaires about their diet and analyzed
their fiber intake. The people were then studied for 8 years to determine any onset of type
II diabetes. It was determined that those who had lower fiber intakes had higher blood
sugar levels. These high blood sugar levels were directly related to a higher risk of
developing type II diabetes. The fiber in whole grains can help stop high blood sugar
levels. When whole grains are eaten, the fiber in the grains causes sugars to be absorbed
more slowly into your bloodstream. This way, the sugar in your blood will not suddenly
increase so quickly. The other nutrient that is lost in the refining
process is magnesium. Harvard researchers determined that diets high in magnesium help
stabilize insulin and blood sugar levels. Insulin is the hormone, produced by the pancreas,
which regulates the body’s blood sugar levels. In the study over 39,000 women filled out
questionnaires about their diets and were followed up on for 6 years. Fasting blood
insulin levels in 349 women were recorded as well. It was found that the women, who
had high levels of magnesium in their diets, were much less likely to develop type II diabetes.
Magnesium is an important mineral needed by the body to regulate the HORMONE insulin.
When you eat whole grains, magnesium from these grains enters your bloodstream. This
magnesium helps your pancreas release the insulin hormone into your blood. The insulin
tells your body’s cells to let the sugars in so the cells can use the sugar as fuel.
When you don’t have enough magnesium in your body, the pancreas has trouble regulating
insulin. As a result, your body cannot properly use the sugars you eat for fuel. Instead,
extra sugar is spilled into your blood, causing high blood sugar. This is how you develop
type II diabetes. When you eat whole grains, you get more magnesium in your body which
may help fight the effects of type II diabetes, or may even prevent it.
So, like Susie, if you want to take a step to prevent or control your diabetes, walk
away from refined grain foods like white breads and pastries. Instead, eat a whole grain food,
like rye bread or a bran muffin. You may be a lot healthier in the long run.