Whole Grains and Diabetes Prevention: Are You Reading the Label?

You don’t label shop your grains. Your buying choice comes from the front of the food package. But is this pattern missing your whole grains to prevent  diabetes?

It is interesting to note that our national recommendations are NOT to avoid refined carbohydrates.  Rather, they suggest we should eat more whole grains.  I am generally not a conspiracy minded person, but clearly money is the only reason these recommendations are written as such.  Before I get into this, you need to fully understand the difference between a whole grain and a refined carbohydrate.

The whole grain contains the germ (the bulk of the protective nutrients), endosperm (the calories) and the bran (the fiber). To extend shelf life and increase palatability to the oblivious American public, the germ and bran is lopped off and we’re left with the endosperm–the calories minus some 90% of the phytonutrients that where present in the whole grain. The result is a devastating calorie rich/phytonutrient poor staple consumed by the vast majority of Americans. So “enriched wheat flour,” “sugar” and “high fructose corn syrup” all fall into this category.

It is rare that someone truly understands the distinctions between the whole grain and refined carbohydrate, but this understanding is critical to health.  Refined carbohydrates have been linked to pretty much every chronic disease, while whole grains generally protect.  Opposite ends of the spectrum.  Despite this clear difference and the very clear research that states that refined carbohydrates are pretty much evil, our national recommendations still do not tell us to avoid them.

If the powers that be (namely the USDA and the Surgeon General) stood up and declared that refined carbohydrates should be avoided completely, Nabisco, Kraft, Quaker, Mars and Nabisco would likely go out of business.  They really don’t offer any products that do not generate some degree of harm to your health.

Since we can’t have that happen, you are instead told to eat more whole grains.  So these companies can make the same crappy products and toss in some whole grains after the “contains less then 2% of…” part of the label.  This allows the companies to slap the “made with whole grains” on the front of the package.  You, as the unwary customer who does not read the ingredients label thinks that Wonder Bread is now a health food because it is “made with whole grains.”

The analogy I usually give is the guy at the Skittles factory over a vat of product with an eyedropper of fruit juice.  After the single drop, they proudly proclaim that Skittles are made with real fruit juice and put it on the front of the label.  But does any parent look at the front of the Skittles package and think, “Made with whole grains!  I’ve GOT to give this to my kids for their health?”

All of this ranting brings me to this particular article.  Researchers looked at whether a higher intake of whole grains led to a lower risk of developing prediabetes.

Overall, those with the highest intake of whole grains had a 34% lower risk of progressing to prediabetes (Tweet this).  This level of whole grain intake can only come by replacing refined carbohydrates with whole grains.

The bottom line is, if you are not reading ingredients labels and instead focus exclusively on carbohydrate content in the “nutrition facts” grid, you are missing the most important aspect of what you are eating.

Do you read the label?  Do you think that you should, in the best interests of your family’s health, go to the fridge and pantry right now and throw out all the food items with enriched wheat flour and high fructose corn syrup?

James Bogash

For more than a decade, Dr. Bogash has stayed current with the medical literature as it relates to physiology, disease prevention and disease management. He uses his knowledge to educate patients, the community and cyberspace on the best way to avoid and / or manage chronic diseases using lifestyle and targeted supplementation.