Understanding the Grain and Diabetes Connection

Picture by Unsplash

Picture by Unsplash

The incidence of diabetes is growing, particularly in more industrialized countries like the US, Europe, the UK and Australia. However, there is a lot of confusion about the illness, in part because many aspects of diabetes are poorly understood by medical science. For instance, they can say who is at risk to get it, but they can’t say who will. They honestly don’t know why one person will end up with diabetes while another with an identical lifestyle and diet, won’t. The confusion extends to what foods are acceptable to eat, such as which grains.

Some doctors go so far as to say that a diabetic or potential diabetic shouldn’t eat grains at all. This is obviously incorrect and the American Diabetes Association explains that not all grains are bad. They also caution that people require carbohydrates in their diets and this includes diabetics. So what’s the deal with grains?

Diabetics have varying degrees of difficulty handling and maintaining blood sugar levels and much of the difficulty is with a sugar called glucose. Some grains tend to be very high in glucose and low in protein. If they are high in glucose, they are said to be high-glycemic. It really shouldn’t be surprising that in most industrialized nations where the incidence of diabetes is highest, the most used grains have a high glycemic index. They are also often overly processed, which removes proteins and can concentrate high-glycemic starches.

The glycemic index is a numbered system that helps people understand whether something is high or low in glucose. For the purposes here, we’ll define a high glycemic index (GI) as being 55 or above and a low GI as being below 55. The lower the number is, the better. Knowing what the GI is can expose some of the confusion that even some doctors have. It should also be noted that the glycemic index can only be measured in a lab, so there can be a variation in the value.

This sounds gloomy for people wanting to eat breads. However, it doesn’t need to be, because not all grains are created equal. Some of them have a low or very low glycemic index. Not all of them are enormously expensive, either. If these grains are used to replace some or all of those that are more often used, a diabetic can normally begin to lower their blood sugar levels. Let’s take a look at some of the low-glycemic flours that can be used to make breads and desserts for diabetics and to replace high-glycemic flours and grains.


buckwheat-413558_960_720Although buckwheat is mentioned first, it actually isn’t a grain at all and is not related to wheat. However, it can be used in recipes that call for wheat flour, to replace the wheat. This is even good news for people who have allergies to wheat and wheat byproducts, since buckwheat isn’t a grain and is not wheat. Buckwheat does have a distinctive flavor, however even replacing half of the flour in a recipe can lower the glycemic index of the food. According to Self Nutrition, buckwheat has a GI of about 63, which sounds a bit high, however it is also high in protein and fiber. This means that it is good for diabetics and can also help people drop extra weight.

Wild rice


Picture: Emery Sue; Fish & Wildlife

Picture: Emery Sue; Fish & Wildlife

Just as buckwheat isn’t wheat, wild rice isn’t rice. It is a kind of grass and as the name implies, it grows wild. In fact, it is common in the midwest part of the US. Wild rice is extremely high in protein and fiber. The GI for wild rice is 16, which makes it lower than most non-grain foods. Thus, flour made from wild rice can be used instead of wheat flour to drop your glycemic load substantially. Wild rice can also help a person lose weight.

Dinkel wheat or spelt

Picture by Rasbak

Picture by Rasbak

People might be surprised to find out that any wheat flour could have a low GI, but spelt does. Spelt (Triticum spelta) is one of the first kinds of wheat that was cultivated. It has been grown and used for 6,000 to 7,000 years. Modern wheat is a relative but is distinctly different. Spelt flour can be used by diabetics to lower their glycemic load as it has a GI of only 21. It is relatively high in protein and fiber.


Picture by Unsplash

Picture by Unsplash

Barley is a commonly grown grain that sometimes can and is made into flour, but it also has a low GI. Barley has a GI of 19. It isn’t as high in protein as spelt, but it is high in fiber. Ground barley flour is yet another flour that can be used by diabetics.




As you can see, there are alternatives to regular wheat flour breads that diabetics can eat. Naturally, they will want to eat the breads in moderation and those breads should also be made with low-glycemic sugar substitutes, such as stevia. Note: Stevia has a GI of 0 and next to no calories. It also isn’t man-made like artificial sweeteners are, so if you eat it, you aren’t eating chemicals.

The idea should be to eat in moderation, whether you have diabetes or not. It really isn’t necessary to go overboard to eliminate an important food group from your diet.




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