Nearly one-third of Canadian adults are living with diabetes, a serious disease that can lead to life-threatening complications.
Eating a well-balanced diet that includes whole grains and maintaining an active lifestyle can help reduce the risk of obesity and diabetes.
Whole grains, including wheat, that are high in dietary fibre can help reduce the risk of diabetes.
What about diabetes?
Diabetes is a serious disease affecting people of all ages. It is a disease in which the body does not produce insulin, or the body cannot properly use the insulin it produces. In 2022, 30% of Canadians (about 11.7 million people) were living with prediabetes or diabetes.
The good news is there has been significant research into lifestyle factors and dietary patterns to help manage and treat diabetes.
- Diabetes is a disease in which your body can’t produce insulin, or your body can’t properly use the insulin it produces.
- Insulin is a hormone produced by your pancreas and is necessary to regulate the amount of sugar (or glucose) in your blood.
- Too much sugar in your blood can cause damage to organs, blood vessels and nerves.
- There are three common types of diabetes: type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes. For Canadian adults, type 2 is the most predominant type.
- Obesity is a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes and diet can help people manage risk factors for this disease and diabetes itself .
Visit Diabetes Canada for more information on the disease, risk factors, treatment and how to manage diabetes: https://www.diabetes.ca/
Making the link between diabetes and dietary patterns
Since diabetes is a condition where the body cannot properly manage the glucose in the blood, and glucose comes from the foods we eat, it makes sense that dietary patterns can support or hinder the management of diabetes.
The majority of people living with diabetes are classified as overweight or obese, and obesity is a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. A healthy diet and active lifestyle are known to support a healthy body weight and the management of diabetes.
For more information on managing diabetes with diet, read this Diabetes Canada resource:
Whole grain fibre and diabetes
Supporting research shows a link between dietary fibre consumption and the reduction of diabetes. This is thought to be due to:
- The combined beneficial effects that eating whole grain foods and fibre have on promoting satiety (making you feel fuller for longer).
- Fibre slowing digestion which results in sustained and slower release of glucose into blood.
- High-fibre foods generally contributing to a nutrient dense diet as they are foods that are lower in calories but high in nutritional value.
- Dietary fibre’s role in supporting body weight maintenance (higher body weights are a risk factor for diabetes).
- Dietary fibre’s ability to help control the body’s insulin response and also helps regulate blood glucose levels after a meal.
The role of whole grains in reducing risk of diabetes
Studies show that increased intake of whole grains, including wheat, that are high in dietary fibre can help manage and may reduce the risk of diabetes. In fact, a review of 45 observational and 26 intervention studies showed that consuming 3 to 5 servings of whole grains per day (or 48 to 80 grams of whole grains per day) reduced the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 26%.
In addition, the fibre from cereal grains appears to help reduce the risk of diabetes more than the fibre from fruit. Cereal fibre, or mixtures of whole grains and bran, is also associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.
When it comes to refined grains, research shows that these food products do contribute to a reduction in diabetes risk. Reviews published on refined grain intake and risk of diabetes demonstrated no association when comparing those who consume the highest and the lowest amounts of refined grains. This is likely due to the lower fibre content of refined grains and speaks to the importance of including more whole grains in your diet.
Did you know wheat pasta is a low glycemic index food?
You may think pasta causes a “sugar spike” after eating since it is a carbohydrate-rich food. But in fact, the gluten in durum wheat pasta creates a compact structure which makes the pasta harder for the enzymes in our digestive system to break down. This slows the digestion and breakdown of the carbohydrates in the pasta and therefore slows the absorption of glucose into our blood. The longer and harder our body has to work to breakdown the carbohydrates into sugar, the longer it will take for these sugars to be released and absorbed into our bloodstream.
In general, wheat-based foods that are higher in whole grains and dietary fibre have a lower glycemic index, but pasta is a unique example of a refined wheat food that has a low glycemic index.
The Glycemic index (GI) is a scale (out of 100) that ranks a carbohydrate food or drink based on how much it raises your blood sugar levels after consumption. It is a tool that many people with diabetes use when selecting foods in their diet to help manage their blood sugar levels.
Dietary fibre, overall diet and lifestyle
Our best data comes from intervention studies, where individuals are divided into groups and researchers introduce a specific intervention or change and measure the result. While the intervention studies that do exist may have more mixed results of the benefits of whole grain consumption related to diabetes, the role for dietary fibre in helping to reduce the risk of diabetes is clear. It is also important to remember that overall diet and lifestyle plays a role in diabetes risk, especially given the complex factors that affect an individual’s likelihood of developing the disease. Diabetes risk and the disease are affected by multiple lifestyle factors including diet and body weight, as well as non-modifiable factors like sex.
It is clear that wheat and whole grains have a positive or neutral effect on diabetes risk. Overall, data does not show that foods made with whole grains promote or increase diabetes risk.