When you eat to manage diabetes you’ll need to stay on top of the amount of carbohydrates you take in, trying to keep it consistent throughout the day and from one day to the next, so that your blood glucose doesn’t go too high or too low. (Staying consistent also helps you keep better track of how your body reacts to carbohydrates.) Think of it as following a carbohydrate “budget.”
Since your budget has a daily limit, it makes sense to opt for the best quality you can get, getting the most nutrition in every bite. That means the bulk of your carbohydrates should come from so-called “good carbohydrates”—fiber-rich and whole-grain foods.
Whole grains like whole wheat, barley, whole-grain oats and brown rice—and foods made from them—contain all the original parts of the grain: the bran (the fiber-rich, protective outer coating), the endosperm (the starchy center, containing mostly carbohydrate and a little protein) and the germ (the vitamin- and mineral-rich seed core). Their original nutrients are also intact, including fiber, B vitamins, vitamin E, zinc, iron and other protective phytochemicals.
But when these grains are processed, such as when wheat is ground and the bran is removed to make white flour, or when brown rice is hulled to make white rice, the result is pure endosperm—basically, just starch. Some of these so-called “refined” grains are enriched to add back some of their nutrients—white flour and white rice are enriched with B vitamins—but some nutrients, notably fiber, are not restored. And the phytochemicals are lost.
Studies show that people who eat more whole grains and fewer refined grains have lower risks of type 2 diabetes and heart disease; whole grains may even help people maintain a healthy weight. That’s why the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends all Americans get at least three daily servings of whole grains—preferably replacing the refined-grain foods they’d normally eat.
Fiber is the part of plant foods that the body can’t digest, and it’s chiefly found in carbohydrate foods. Whole-grain cereals and bread, bran, beans and the skins of fruits and vegetables are especially good sources of insoluble fiber—the type that helps add bulk to digestive waste and keeps you “regular.” Though it doesn’t dissolve in water, the fiber absorbs water as it moves through the digestive system helping to push other substances along.
The other type of fiber, soluble fiber—predominant in oats, barley, fruits, vegetables, beans, seeds, nuts and brown rice—has proven cholesterol-lowering benefits. It forms a gel in the digestive tract, which binds with cholesterol particles and removes them from the body unabsorbed.
But don’t worry about which type of fiber to eat, because it’s all good. Instead, focus on getting more fiber, period: experts recommend at least 25 grams daily.
Another benefit to put in you in the pro-fiber camp: fiber can help you control your weight. Although it contains nary a calorie, fiber adds bulk to foods—so you’ll feel fuller after eating. And, since fiber-rich foods take longer to digest, they can help you stay satisfied longer. What’s not to love?