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“I’m not eating any carbs, because they make your blood sugar spike.” “Nobody should eat grains; they all have a high glycemic index, especially pasta.” If you’ve heard — and believed —statements like these, the truth may surprise you: many grains have a very low glycemic index – including pasta. And a large body of research ties whole grain consumption to reduced risk of diabetes and inflammation.

It’s true that blood sugar levels matter. Researchers link many chronic diseases, from diabetes to heart disease, with eating too many foods that send your blood sugar on a roller coaster ride. Indeed, when you eat such foods, especially those made with highly processed grains and sugar, your blood sugar can spike then quickly plummet, leaving your energy depleted and causing damage to essential bodily systems, potentially affecting everything from cancer risk to brain health.  It’s healthier to choose foods that provide a steady, slow release of glucose (blood sugar).

The Glycemic Index rates how quickly carbohydrate foods are converted into glucose – and you may be surprised to learn that many grain foods have a low GI score (considered 55 or less on the 1 to 100 GI scale).  Virtually all intact whole grains have a very low GI score.

Check out these typical scores:

Grain Food GI Score
Whole grain barley 25
Rye berries 35
Buckwheat 45
Brown rice 48
Whole wheat pasta 37
“White” pasta 45

Even if you’re aware that whole intact grains – eaten in porridges and pilafs, grain salads and soups – have a low glycemic index, you may be surprised to see pasta keeping good company with these intact grains.

Pasta has a low GI score, with whole grain spaghetti rating about 37, and even “white” pasta coming in at 42-45. That’s because the starch structure of pasta causes it to be digested much more slowly than the same amount of flour made into bread. That’s what makes pasta uniquely healthy. (A hot tip: al dente pasta has a lower GI than overcooked pasta, so cook your pasta like the Italians do. Then eat it with plenty of vegetables and beans or fish, for a healthy pasta meal.)

Besides starch structure, many other things affect how a particular food or meal impacts your blood sugar. Acidic foods lower your glycemic response, so eat your breakfast cereal with some tangy plain yogurt, and add a salad with vinaigrette dressing to your dinner.

Particle size and fiber also lower glycemic impact. Breads made with coarsely-ground whole grain flour and with grainy bits included are a better choice than fluffy light breads (even those made with whole wheat flour tend to have high GI scores). Sourdough breads have a lower GI than yeast breads, too, so a chewy whole grain sourdough loaf is a great choice among breads. In fact, an April 2017 study in the British Journal of Nutrition cites several bread-making factors that lower the GI of breads and urges commercial bakers to incorporate such techniques to improve public health.

Want more tips for better blood sugar control, plus a quick overview of Glycemic Index and related topics? Check out our October 2017 blog titled “Good Carbs vs. Bad Carbs: Carb Quality Common Sense” to polish up your carb-choosing skills.

Don’t avoid grains. Just eat the right ones, especially intact whole grains and pasta, to fuel your body slowly and steadily while supporting good health.

Cynthia Harriman, Director of Food and Nutrition Strategies

Comments

Bob Greene
Very helpful page, and a reminder only sound research can guide personal health decisions. Here is Dr. Michael Greger's view on grains-- actually several videos-- based on the latest research which shows grains present every requirement for good nutrition. http://nutritionfacts.org/topics/grains/
Cynthia
Glad you found our blog helpful, Bob. Dr. Greger's videos are always very interesting and well researched -- thanks for sharing the link with your fellow readers.
Jay
I cut out all grains and dropped 75 lbs.
Cynthia
We're glad you found something that worked for you, Jay. Every body is different -- fortunately, since grains make up about half the food eaten around the globe.
Thomas G
Everyone is not different. Whole Grains (or any grains in any form) are catastrophic for anyones health. The only reason why 9.3% of the population is full blown diabetics and over 37% of the population is pre-diabetics is due to the horrid fact that you say any GI below 55 is "low" GI. Its not. Table Sugar has a GI of 55. Eating whole grains is no different that eating sugar with a multivitamin and a few fiber pills.
kellytoups
Hi Thomas, Although Glycemic Index is an important measure of carbohydrate quality, we caution our readers not to let GI be the defining factor of the healthfulness of a food. It's also to important to remember that GI measurements aren't always reflective of real-life eating situations. If you eat plain grains, the GI will be higher than if you have a grain salad tossed with olive oil and salmon, since fat can help dampen the Glycemic Response. And most of the time, people aren't just eating a bowl of grains -- there are often other foods that go along with the meal. Lastly, we'd like to point out that whole grains offer so much more than just fiber and some vitamins. We encourage you to browse our health studies page to learn more about the research on how whole grains relate to health.
Lizbethzoeysharp
I agree...unrefined-refined-grains are not good for us. All the carbs I need, I get from veggie and some fruit. Since stopping grains, my health has so improved. No more insulin resistance, steady weight loss. easy to maintain, list goes on... we don't need grains!
kellytoups
Hi Lizbeth, you might be surprised to learn that whole grains are actually a really nutritious part of a healthy diet. We have a handout that covers these topics: https://wholegrainscouncil.org/sites/default/files/atoms/files/WGC-Grain-GlutenFree.pdf And we also address these topics on our Myths Busted page: https://wholegrainscouncil.org/newsroom/myths-busted Hope this helps shed light on another perspective!
Luc
Finally somebody who makes sense. This article is poison. All grains spike blood sugar like hell. Avoid like the plague.
Elizabeth
I'm with you: grains are a red light. For me anyway. I've been carefully monitoring my blood glucose levels for months. Grains, without fail, cause them to spike. I can have a potato, sweet potato, banana, or any kind of fruit or starchy vegetable, no problem. Of course, I'm having them with fat and protein. However, if I have any kind of grain, be it wheat, corn, rice, sorghum, etc., I am in the red zone... postprandial readings of 160, 170 and up. The worst part is that I have reactive hypoglycemia, so I'm down in the 60s 2 hours later. Awful. And I'm not even a diabetic. My HbA1C was 5.7 in April. I limited grains and got it down to 5.5 in July. Hopefully by October, it will be down to an even healthier level. The key is to TEST YOUR OWN BLOOD SUGAR. Everybody is different. There is no other way to know what is good for your body. HbA1C is a great tool, but doesn't show the ups and downs, which is often how insulin resistance starts, from what I understand :-) What I was hoping to learn is WHY grains, as opposed to other sources of carbohydrates, have this effect on some of us. Please comment if you know the answer! Peace and blessings, Liz
Elisa Ortiz
I respectfully disagree with this information. Anytime I've eaten carbohydrates (and I'm talking GOOD whole wheat carbohydrates) I've seen a spike in my blood glucose levels. I would like to know why if even whole grains are so good for people, including diabetics, why I see a spike in sugars, as opposed to only a small increase when I leave out the carbs.
Cynthia
Hi Elisa. Different people's bodies react differently to one food or another and listening to your own body (as you're doing) is very useful. And, as we explain in this blog (https://oldwayspt.org/blog/good-carbs-vs-bad-carbs-carb-quality-common-sense), a "good whole wheat carbohydrate" could be a wheatberry salad or a whole wheat baguette -- both of which would have very different effects on someone's blood sugar. That said, I hope you're not really "leaving out all carbs" -- since fruits and vegetables are also carbs.
Romain Nsmngr
Your body runs mainly on carbohydrates if given the choice. sporstmen, children, intellectuals, workers. It is normal for your blood sugar to go up after a meal. For the cells to get sugar from the blood, blood sugar has to go up. Thats how you feed your cells. What is not normal is insulin resistance that causes blood sugar to remain elevated. People all arround the world ate unrefined carbs and veggies without issues for millenias. Now since new studies show that weight loss and exercice restore insulin sensitivity in over 90% of T2 diabetics, it seems you should not mix up feeding your body and being insulin resistant.
Bill
Either way, you have to know what works for you. I only eat good carbs (almost zero starchy carbs) and my A1C and glucose levels are back in the normal range...they were going up and my doc told me to make the change...and it's worked. Every now and then I have bread because I miss it...but I try to choose the right kind of bread and high quality, not typical grocery store stuff. That goes for my pizza craving as well...only Rosati's, Gino's East, Lou Malnotti's or Giordano's for me. Just sayin'. :-)
mmoore
Hi Bill, absolutely, and good to hear that worked for you. As Cynthia mentioned above, people can react differently to different foods, so it's important to keep that in mind. High quality bread...and pizza...is the best!
Ciaran
I’m going to actually agree with this article mostly. I originally cut all grains but the longer my a1c has been in the normal range the less “spikey” grains have been when I do eat them. Mostly I deal with limited steel cut oats and farro. And to be honest I eat WFPB which is essentially a high carb diet. My a1c is 5.3 so... Good by insulin resistance.
kellytoups
Glad to hear that you are able to enjoy steel cut oats and farro, and that you get lots of healthy produce on a WFPB diet!

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