Carbs for Diabetes – wholemeal or wholegrain?

by Lauren James on October 23, 2013

There has been much debate amongst experts and the general public over the past few months about the quality and quantity of starchy carbohydrate foods for diabetics.  The confusion seems to be stemming from the interpretation of recommended amounts of carbs to consume from around the globe.  Australia’s current recommendation for starchy carbohydrates such as grains and cereals are 6 serves per day and it is recommended that wholegrain and/or high fibre varieties are chosen.

This number has dropped significantly in comparison to previous recommendations, as has the actual serving size.  For example,

1 serve of carbohydrate in 2006 was 2 slices of bread, it is now only 1 slice of bread

1 cup of cooked pasta has now been changed to ½ cup cooked pasta.

For those with diabetes, this could impact the way in which they consume their carbohydrates and manage their blood glucose levels (BGLs).

When it comes to controlling BGLs the amount of carbohydrate is important; however, the type of carbohydrate is also important.  For instance the GI (Glycaemic Index), nutrient density and the fibre content of a carbohydrate are now being assessed when choosing an appropriate carbohydrate food.  The ‘quality’ of a carbohydrate is now growing strength and therefore good sources of dietary fibre, legumes, pulses, fruit and genuine wholegrain foods should be considered before processed, low fibre alternatives.  Professor Jim Mann (2013) has argued that the focus on the GI of a food alone is not enough and that the other nutritional attributes of food should be considered when prescribing an eating plan for those with diabetes.

One of the biggest issued raised by Professor Mann was regarding ‘wholegrain’ vs ‘wholemeal’ foods.  Unfortunately in this day and age the marketing of products and the numerous health claims displayed on packages are used in abundance to sway consumers to purchase products. ‘Wholegrain’ doesn’t necessarily mean intact grains which can lead to a rise in the GI of that product.  Rapidly digestible starches such as white rice, potatoes, wholemeal and white bread varieties should be reduced or avoided; this even includes some products that are labelled wholegrain.    Quality carbohydrate foods such as legumes, vegetables, pulses, fruit and ‘genuine’ wholegrain carbohydrates are the better choices, with the dietary fibre of a product being taken into consideration as well.

So what can you do?  Reading food labels and ingredient lists can help to distinguish the inferior products to the genuine wholegrain products.  Looking at the dietary fibre content of products could also help you to identify better options; we should aim to have more than 3g or more per 100g. Another factor that you should consider when looking at the nutritional information panel is the sugar content.  If the product contains ‘real’ fruit then chose a product with 25g or less of sugar per 100g.  If that product doesn’t contain real fruit in the ingredients list then chose products that contain 10g or less per 100g of sugar.    If you have any questions or queries on the new guidelines or would like an eating plan that takes all of these factors into consideration then please contact the Eat Smart team.

Written by Rebecca Evans

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