Feb. 28, 2003 -- Whole grains in your diet can lessen diabetes risk, according to a new study from Finland. Trouble is, Americans still reach for white bread, rather than whole wheat, when they make a sandwich.
The study puts teeth to a theory many nutritionists have promoted -- that a high-fiber diet composed of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables keeps obesity at bay. Obesity and lack of exercise are the top risk factors for type 2 diabetes.
A diet high in whole grains -- specifically rye -- had greater impact on reducing risk of type 2 diabetes, reports lead author Jukka Montonen, who's with the National Public Health Institute in Helsinki. His study appears in the March issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
In this study, vegetables and fruits did not show an effect on reducing the risk of diabetes, he adds.
A few studies have suggested a link between whole grains and reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, but there has been little concrete evidence until now, Montonen says.
He and colleagues conducted yearly interviews of over 4,000 Finnish men and women from 1966 and 1972, to obtain an idea of their daily diet. He then followed them for 10 years, to detect the incidence of type 2 diabetes. Those who ate the most fiber decreased their risk of getting the disease by more than a third.
"Dietary fiber is one nutrient that may provide protection against the disease. The beneficial effect of soluble fiber may be ... the slow absorption and digestion of carbohydrates that lead to a reduced demand for insulin," writes Montonen.
Diabetes develops when the body cannot produce enough insulin or does not respond to insulin properly. The disorder develops slowly over many years. This dysfunction in insulin production causes blood sugar levels to rise beyond what is safe for the body, and damage occurs in blood vessels and nerves.
"Americans understand that whole grains are healthier than refined grains, but the average person eats less than one serving of whole grains per day," writes preventive medicine expert Simin Liu, a Harvard researcher with the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, in an accompanying editorial.
"The challenge for the food industry is to make whole-grain products more appealing than refined-grain products," Liu says.
For the rest of us, "the challenge is to develop habits to increase whole-grain intake such as substituting whole wheat bread for white bread when making a sandwich," Liu says. "Developing such a simple habit may have long-term health benefits."
SOURCE: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, March 1, 2003.