Whole Grains and Type 2 Diabetes

Medically Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on November 06, 2022
3 min read

Having diabetes doesn't mean you need to give up every piece of bread or dish of pasta. You can still enjoy foods made with grains, as long as you make them whole grains.

Whole grains are packed with fiber, which can help lower your cholesterol and reduce your heart disease risk. Fiber slows digestion and the absorption of carbohydrates and may not raise your blood sugar as quickly as refined grains. And because whole grains help you feel fuller for longer, they can help you manage your weight.

Although  it’s best to get fiber from food sources such as whole grains, fiber supplements can also help you increase your fiber intake. Examples include psyllium and methylcellulose.

Be sure to increase your fiber intake slowly to help prevent gas and cramping. It’s also important to also increase the amount of liquids that you drink.

The easiest way to eat more whole grains is to make a few switches in your diet, such as swapping out white bread and rice for whole wheat bread and brown rice. Also, try these tips:

  1. Add grains like barley and bulgur wheat to soups, stews, salads, and casseroles to add texture.
  2. When you bake breads or muffins, instead of white flour use half whole wheat flour and half oat, amaranth, or buckwheat flour. You can also use these whole-grain flours in pancakes and waffles.
  3. Instead of having crackers for a snack, eat popcorn, which is a whole grain. Just skip the butter and salt. Unsweetened whole-grain cereal makes another good snack option.
  4. Make quinoa your side dish instead of rice. You can also use quinoa as a coating for shrimp and chicken instead of flour or breadcrumbs.

Finding whole-grain foods in your supermarket can be tricky. Some foods that appear to contain whole grains really don’t. You need to look carefully at food labels. Don't be fooled by:

  • Terms like "enriched." Enriched wheat contains only part of the grain.
  • Foods labeled "containing whole grain," "made from whole grain," or "multigrain." They may not be 100% whole grains. Look for "whole grain" as the first ingredient listed.
  • The food's color. For example, bread may be brown only because it contains added ingredients, like molasses.

Even though whole grains are healthy, you don’t want to eat unlimited amounts. How much of these grains you can eat depends on how well you're managing your blood sugar.

A good guide is to eat about three servings of whole grains each day.

Examples of one whole-grain food serving:

  • 1/2 cup of cooked brown rice
  • 1/2 cup of cooked oatmeal
  • 1 slice of whole-grain bread
  • 1/2 cup of whole wheat pasta

Ask your doctor or a dietitian about how to fit whole grains into your diet. Together you can design a plan that fits your tastes, and helps you gain better control over your blood sugar.

The reason whole wheat bread and brown rice are better for you than white bread and white rice is in the way the grains are processed.

Grains are made up of three parts:

  • Bran is the outer layer. It contains the fiber, antioxidants, B vitamins, and minerals.
  • Endosperm is the middle, starchy layer. It contains mostly carbohydrates, but also small amounts of protein, B vitamins, and minerals.
  • Germ is the inner part, which is rich in vitamins and minerals, along with healthy fats.

Whole-grain foods are made with all three parts of the grain, so they've got vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Refined grains have only the starchy endosperm layer, so they have less fiber and fewer nutrients.

Examples of whole grains include:

  • Amaranth
  • Brown rice
  • Bulgur
  • Buckwheat
  • Millet
  • Oatmeal
  • Popcorn
  • Sorghum
  • Quinoa
  • Whole farro
  • Whole oats
  • Whole rye
  • Whole wheat