Running toward Whole Grains, Vegetables, Beans and Fruit

April 14, 2010 in Blog Recipes, Diabetic Menu Item, Nutrition, Whole Grains by Joyce Bunderson

An eight-year follow-up study involving almost 48,000 adults that was just published in Archives of Internal Medicine this week, has been splashed all over the news and Internet.

Researchers found that the top 25 percent of women who ate the most high glycemic index carbohydrates had more than double (2.25 times) the risk of heart disease of the 25 percent who ate the least. People with diabetes, who have abnormal levels of blood sugar, were excluded from the research. When they separated the foods into low and high glycemic index the researchers found that eating more, high glycemic index foods were strongly linked to greater risk of coronary heart disease, and the low glycemic index foods were not.

The high glycemic index foods like white bread, candy, white rice, pizza, ice cream, juice, raise blood glucose levels and the low glycemic index foods like whole grains, beans, lentils and nuts don’t. We already know that high glycemic index foods increase the levels of blood glucose and of harmful blood fats known as triglycerides while reducing levels of protective HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol, resulting in an increased heart disease risk.

What is made clearer, with this study, is that not all carbohydrates have the same effect on blood glucose levels.

An interesting factor is that they did not see this same link in men; it may be because the changes linked to carbohydrate intake, like the triglyceride levels, are stronger risk factors for heart disease in women than in men. They just don’t know the answer to this issue yet. The adverse effects of a high glycemic diet in women might be due to differences in the way women and men break down and absorb sugars and fats. The researchers are speculating whether men’s bodies process carbohydrates differently –

This is definitely a ‘more research needs to be done’ situation.

Only carbohydrates with a high glycemic index appear to hurt the heart. Carbohydrates from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and pasta were not associated with an increased risk of heart disease (quite the contrary – they strongly reduce the risk). So what they’re saying is that the increased risk is “not caused by a diet high in carbohydrates, but by a diet rich in rapidly absorbed carbohydrates,” said Sabina Sieri, the lead author of the study.

Previous studies have shown a similar link between glycemic index and heart disease.

In addition to decreased risk for heart disease, those who limit foods with high glycemic index also find that their appetites are easier to control, which results in easier weight management. We’ve had quite a few research studies that have results pointing to low glycemic index foods being linked with reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers.

The bottom line of the study above is not to stop eating carbohydrates, just to stop or slow way down with simple sugars, and processed white flour, soft drinks with caloric sweeteners, fruit juice and processed grains.

Another study (no differences for men and women in this study) showed that beans are one of the healthiest foods that you can eat, especially if you have diabetes; certainly, they’re great for everyone, but diabetics really need extra focus on managing level blood sugar. A review study published in the August 2009 issue of Diabetologia, analyzed data from 41 studies that evaluated the effects of beans (legumes) on blood sugar. They learned that eating about half-cup of beans a day as a part of any diet lowers blood sugar. But when eaten as part of a high-fiber, low-glycemic index diet, beans lowered A1C measurements about half as much as standard diabetic drugs such as metformin (Glucophage) achieve. Whenever you can do something good for your body without relying on only drugs, I say that’s a great choice to make.

These findings regarding high-glycemic foods and beans are fully documented with earlier research findings. The good advice in these new studies is not new, just the scope of the evidence.  In Breaking the Food Seduction: The Hidden Reasons Behind Food Cravings---And 7 Steps to End Them Naturally, cited in other of our blogs, Dr Neal Bernard explains in detail how the high-glycemic foods bump up the blood sugar fast, then it drops off, leaving a person hungry again.  We each need foods that convert to sugar slowly, keeping our energy level on an even keel, and our hunger in check until lunch, the second most important meal.  Whole grains, vegetables, beans and other legumes are foods that will provide a healthy breakfast, then a healthy lunch with no spikes and drops-off of blood sugar.  The spikes lead to hunger and snack attacks.  The spikes also can aggravate insulin insensitivity – type 2 diabetes.

A little note of practical advice: In my family, we have been striving to consume more beans. My Caribbean Black Beans and Pepper Stir Fry recipe is a good example of how to combine whole grains, vegetables and legumes. Also, we have been using humus (made with garbanzo beans/chick peas) instead of salad dressing.

This last study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in September 2009 from the Harvard School of Public Health was conducted for 18 years with more than 31,000 men. The researchers discovered that men who eat greater amounts of whole grains on a regular basis reduce their chance of developing high blood pressure (hypertension). Based on this study and others, I would not advise men to think that the low glycemic index foods only relates to women.

Other studies have linked whole-grain consumption with reduced risk of mortality, heart disease, weight gain and diabetes.

You may have noticed that this website is filled with recipes using wheat berries; Delight, our all-natural zero-calorie sweetener; and other Dr. Grandma’s 100% organic whole-wheat products. We’ve known for quite a long time that eating whole grains is strongly linked with better health – that’s why we started the company. Don’t wait to cut out processed carbohydrates and choose whole grains, vegetables, fruits and legumes (beans).