Eight key diabetes foods and low glycemic load recipes

  • 1 Nov 2010
  • Reading time 23 mins
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Some simple changes to what you put in your supermarket trolley can have a profound effect on your ability to maintain blood sugar control, your appetite and your heart health as well as helping to prevent diabetes mellitus.

1. Oats Rule

As we have seen, oats are a superb food choice for blood sugar control. You can eat them as oat flakes (cold) or soak and cook them to make porridge. Oatcakes are the best ‘bread’ choice, for example, with your scrambled or boiled egg, or as a snack during the day with a high-protein spread such as hummus. Nowadays you can also find oat bakes (so much better than crisps) and oat biscuits, but do check that they say low-GI or GL load on the box.

The Nairn’s brand is particularly GL conscious. The best oat choices are those highest in the soluble fibre called beta-glucans. This is found in oat bran, the rougher outer layer of the grain. So, it’s best to choose ‘rough’ oatcakes rather than ‘fine’. You can lower the GL load of your breakfast further by adding a spoonful of oat bran. This simple act makes a big difference to the GL load of the meal. Since oat bran is highly absorbent, if you add it to cereal, it is best to leave the cereal to soak for a few minutes before eating, and put in more liquid than you normally would. You want to eat as much beta-glucans as you can to help balance your blood sugar.

Not only does the presence of beta-glucans in food slow-release the carbohydrates you eat but it also helps to lower cholesterol. An example of this is a study, conducted by Dr Allan Geliebterof the New York Obesity Research Center at St Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital. [1] In that study, Dr Geliebter gave volunteers either an oatmeal breakfast, high in beta-glucans, or a sugared cornflakes breakfast, containing equal calories. Those who had the oat-based breakfast consumed 30 per cent fewer calories at lunch, compared with those who ate sugared cornflakes for breakfast. According to Dr Geliebter, ‘The effect may be due primarily to a delay in gastric emptying, the time it takes for oatmeal to leave the stomach and enter the blood as glucose and other nutrients.

The slower the stomach empties the longer food stays in the stomach and the longer people feel full and satisfied.’ The best foods for beta-glucans [2] are shown below, giving the percentage of beta-glucans per food:

  • Celery 20% of dry weight
  • Carrot 20% of dry weight
  • Radish 20% of dry weight
  • Oats up to 7.5% (e.g. Nairn’s rough oatcake, which is 88% oatmeal, would contain up to 6.6% beta-glucans)
  • Pearl barley 4% (e.g. 1/4 cup pearl barley contains 2.5g beta-glucans soluble fibre)
  • Soya bean 0.8% of dry weight
  • Shiitake mushrooms 0.4% of dry weight

2. Rye or barley instead of wheat

The whole rye grain is also excellent in terms of GL. Rye bran, in one study, lowered glycemic load better than oat bran. [3]

In practical terms this means a wholegrain rye bread, in moderation, would be a good choice for breakfast or a snack, together with a protein-rich food. The best choice of all would be the slow-cooked German-style breads called pumpernickel, sonnenbrot or volkenbrot. Bear in mind that some use wheat as well, so it’s best to go for those breads that are wheat-free (they’re now widely available in supermarkets). You can also find whole rye sourdough bread, which is good. These breads will be more dense and heavier than regular wheat bread – this is a good sign, but make sure you have thinner slices. One thin slice will be 5GLs. Rye also changes genetic expression away from insulin resistance, reversing the indicators of metabolic syndrome. [4] So, if you really want to go for it, stay away from wheat as much as possible, choosing oats and rye.

Barley is another good grain to use, better than wheat. A study conducted by Dr Joseph Keenan, MD, of the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis, showed that eating barley makes you feel less hungry. [5] Dr Keenan fed a group of overweight people who also had high cholesterol the same diet, but either with barley muffins, high in barley bran and beta-glucans, or wheat muffins. The groups who ate the barley muffins felt significantly fuller and more satisfied throughout the study than those who ate the wheat muffins. ‘We attribute the improvement in satiety almost entirely to the beta-glucan. Foods rich in beta-glucan stay in the stomach for a longer period of time compared to foods low in this fibre. That leads to a feeling of fullness, or satiety,’ said Dr Keenan. Those eating the barley muffins lost, on average, 225g (8oz) per week whereas those who ate the wheat gained 225g (8oz) per week. Also, those who consumed the beta-glucan-rich muffins had significantly reduced total cholesterol (11 per cent) and the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol (12 per cent), while high density lipoprotein cholesterol levels remained unchanged. ‘This is a very significant result,’ said Dr Keenan. ‘Such reductions are estimated to produce a 20 per cent reduction in the risk of developing heart disease.’ You can buy wholegrain pearl barley, which boils like brown rice. It is also full of beta-glucans and soluble fibres and has a good flavour – quite chewy.

Chewing is good because it means you take a little longer to eat your meal. Pasta tends to be a lower GL Load than bread anyway but a variety of pastas is now available made from rye, quinoa and chickpeas. ......

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