Health Advice



Nutrition News: High-Quality Carbohydrates

Charlyn Fargo on

Diabetes runs in many of our families, mine included. That factor alone raises the risk for developing Type 2 diabetes.

Other risk factors include if you have prediabetes, are overweight, are 45 years or older or have an immediate relative with Type 2 diabetes. If you are physically active less than three times a week, have ever had gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) or have given birth to a baby who weighed more than 9 pounds, you are also at an increased risk. Those who are African American, Hispanic/Latino American, American Indian or Alaska Native are also at a higher risk.

The good news? You can prevent or delay Type 2 diabetes with simple, proven lifestyle changes, such as losing weight if you're overweight, eating healthier and getting regular physical activity.

A simple switch to more whole grains can contribute to a healthier diet. A new analysis of more than 200,000 people found that eating high-quality carbohydrates, such as whole grains, is associated with a lower risk for Type 2 diabetes. The findings were presented at the Nutrition 2020 Live Online, a virtual conference hosted by the American Society for Nutrition.

The healthiest carbohydrates come from fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes and whole grains. Whole grains contain three components: the fiber-rich outer bran, the nutrient-rich central germ and the starchy middle layer (endosperm).

Carbohydrates have long been thought to be the enemy of Type 2 diabetes. But the study found the type of carbohydrate matters.


"High intake of carbohydrates has been suggested to be associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes," wrote research team leader Kim Braun from Erasmus University Medical Center and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in his abstract. "We looked at whether this effect is different for high-quality carbohydrates and low-quality carbohydrates, which include refined grains, sugary foods and potatoes."

High-quality carbs provide a wide range of nutrients, including health-promoting plant chemicals called phytonutrients and fiber. Fiber helps to slow the digestion of sugars and starches, thus preventing large spikes in blood sugar and insulin associated with diabetes, heart disease and weight gain.

Braun and his team analyzed data from three studies that followed health professionals in the U.S. over time. These included 69,949 women from the Nurses' Health Study, 90,239 women from the Nurses' Health Study 2 and 40,539 men from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. Collectively, the studies represented over 4 million years of follow-up, during which almost 12,000 cases of Type 2 diabetes were documented.

The researchers found a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes when high-quality carbohydrates replaced calories from saturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, animal protein and vegetable protein. They also found that replacing low-quality carbohydrates with saturated fats, but not with other nutrients, was associated with a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes.


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