Can millet make you diabetic?

If wheat is so bad, what about all the other grains?

First of all, I demonize wheat because of its top-of-the-list role in triggering:

--Appetite--Wheat increases hunger dramatically
--Blood sugar--Wheat is worse than table sugar in triggering a rapid, large rise in blood sugar
--Small LDL particles--the number one cause for heart disease in the U.S.
--Reduced HDL
--Autoimmune diseases--Most notably celiac disease and thyroiditis.

Most other "healthy, whole grains" aren't quite as bad. It's a matter of degree.

Millet, quinoa, oats, sorghum, bulghur, spelt, barley, cornmeal--While they don't trigger appetite nor autoimmune diseases like wheat does (oat can in some people), they still pose a significant carbohydrate load sufficient to generate the other phenomena like excessive insulin and blood sugar responses. The grams of carbohydrate of these grains are virtually identical to wheat: 43.5 grams per 1/2 cup (uncooked). The exceptions are barley, which is especially loaded with carbohydrates: 104 grams per 1/2 cup, while oats are lower: 33 g per 1/2 cup.

It's all a matter of degree. Some people who are exceptionally carbohydrate-sensitive (like me) can have diabetic blood sugars with just slow-cooked oatmeal or quinoa. Others aren't quite so sensitive and can get away with eating them.

People with high blood sugars (100 mg/dl or greater) can be very sensitive to the blood sugar effects of these grain carbohydrates. The best marker of all are small LDL particles measured on a lipoprotein panel, such as NMR. Small LDL particles are exquisitely sensitive to your carbohydrate intake: small LDL gets worse with excessive sensitivity to grain carbohydrates, gets better with reduction or elimination.

Flagrant small LDL, in combination with low HDL, high triglycerides, and pre-diabetic or diabetic patterns all develop from carbohydrate indulgence, along with "wheat belly."

Don't believe it? The prove it to yourself: Go to Walmart and buy an inexpensive glucose meter and check your blood sugar one hour after eating. You can gauge the health of these foods by observing the blood sugar increases. (Small LDL closely parallels blood sugar rises.)

The grain that fails to trigger any of these abnormal patterns? Flaxseed. Flaxseed is entirely protein, fiber, and healthy oils, with virtually no digestible starches. In fact, flaxseed is one of the few foods that reduces the quantity of small LDL particles.

Comments (10) -

  • Brock Cusick

    3/5/2009 1:44:00 PM |

    What you say is true, but the archaeological records tells us that insulin changes immediately after eating cannot be the whole story. Studies of carbohydrate-based cultures in Africa found that several of them were in very good health mostly free of the diseases of civilization despite a heavy carb load. A couple points for full disclosure:

    1. The majority of the carbohydrate load came from tubers and plantains, not grains, but grains were a part of the diet.

    2. The more carnivorous cultures also studied that avoided carbs were in better health, if slightly.

    3. What grains they consumed were ground, soaked and fermented to reduce the amount of phytic acid and other tannins and increase the availability of nutrients.

    So I will not be the one who insists that you can eat you're bread. I avoid wheat and rye because of the near-indigestible gluten, but the other grains can be healthy if prepared correctly.

    Here's a post from another blogger with medical training that has looked into this quite closely:

  • Anonymous

    3/5/2009 2:56:00 PM |

    Thank you for explaining this more thoroughly... I have been wondering about the other grains, besides wheat, so this is helpful.
    Here's a (true) recent exchange with a high school friend in a Facebook posting:

    ::K***:: is back on her Diabetic food plan and unplugging the bread machine.

    ::Friend 1::
    that evil gluten!!!!!

    ::Friend 2: ME::
    Evil wheat... and other grains!

    Whole grains are good for my diabetes, not just in large quantities!
    It appears that with doctor or dietician-encouraged brainwashing about grains, and following an American Diabetes Assn. diet (with an occasional falling off the wagon to bake cinnamon rolls and other pastries), this woman is probably doomed to the ravages of this horrible disease.

    I'm not trying to be judgmental about this particular person, but rather illustrate how a carb addict can justify their carb addiction, and at the same time think they are actually following a "healthy" diet, cheered on by their well-meaning but uninformed doctors and dieticians.

    Yes, like many or most of us, I love carbs... but, due to extensive research (and a strong rebellious streak) I follow most of the TYP guidelines and I mostly eat Paleo now.  It's not always easy, but it's my best chance to avoid diabetes, and the ugly consequences of heart disease.

    I feel badly for my friend, but I don't think she wants conversion... rather, an easier way to continue to indulge in carbs via those 'healthy' whole grains.  It's not my job to change the world... I have enough trouble just with ::me::.


  • Kiwi

    3/5/2009 8:46:00 PM |

    So what is it about wheat that makes it worse than the other grains? Is it the refining or is there something inherently bad about it's chemical structure. Anyone know?

  • Anonymous

    3/6/2009 12:48:00 AM |

    Question for Dr. Davis:

    Do you ever use glycated hemoglobin as a way to gauge patient's carb intake?

    How useful is it as an indicator, and what would you consider an optimal glycated hemoglobin level?

  • Anonymous

    3/6/2009 5:21:00 AM |

    What about oat bran?  It has a moderately high level of carbohydrates to fiber ratio, 25g carbs to 6g fiber, per 1/2 cup serving. It's just a little better ratio than a 1/2 cup of whole oats (27g:4g).  I'm just curious, because I gave it up a long while ago, is it now safe to say that oat bran is no longer blanketly recommended in the TYP protocol in decreasing LDL cholesterol?

    Here's my own personal daily "soluble fiber protocol" (ratio - carbs:fiber):

    - 1 tbsp Konsyl psyllium husk (not Metimucil which has sucrose or aspartame) - 2g;9g

    - 2 tbsp organic milled flax seed -  4g:4g

    - 2 tbsp white chia seeds - 6g:5g

    - 3 tbsp organic raw cacao nibs -  10g:9g

    I also regularly nibble on raw almonds, pistachios, and walnuts which are rich in fat, protein, and fiber, and contain little carbohydrates.

  • Anonymous

    3/6/2009 9:20:00 PM |

    i did not see any mention of rice, either brown or white.  is it relatively ok?  substantial populations eat large quantities of it with apparently little/no advese effect

  • Mary K

    3/7/2009 5:33:00 AM |

    Like anonymous, I am also curious about rice. Guam has rampant diabetes and the local diet is big on rice (and red rice, which is flavored with achiote seeds). It seems to me if they focused on taro, which is a root, they would have healthier diets (umm, as long as they eliminated all fried foods, too). Would this be a reasonable assumption?

  • Anne

    3/7/2009 3:12:00 PM |

    Six months ago I bought a glucometer and started checking my blood glucose as suggested in Blood Sugar 101 I discovered my blood sugar, although under 100 when fasting, was over 200 after eating. All grains and starchy vegetables cause a dangerous rise in my blood sugar. I have had to limit my fruits to only a couple of bites at a time. A handful of nuts does not raise my blood sugar.

    Great advice to check your own after meal blood glucose. Although post prandial blood glucose can become abnormal 10 years or more before the fasting level becomes abnormal, most doctors test fasting levels only. That is one reason why people often have complications of diabetes such as neuropathy and retinopathy by the time they get a diagnosed.

  • Trinkwasser

    3/7/2009 3:29:00 PM |

    Some of these reactions have a personal component, I wonder if differences in digestive enzymes are to blame. I can eat oatcakes even at breakfast (in sufficiently small quantities) and quinoa without shifting my BG, obviously I have no Phase 1 insulin but sufficient Phase 2 to deal with relatively low GI stuff.

    The only thing worse than wheat for me is wheat mixed with other carbs, the BG spike suggests they are converted to glucose in parallel rather than in series. Other grains are doable in sufficiently small quantities but in general I limit them all and prefer other veggies as carb sources except when I need to deliberately adjust my BG

  • buy jeans

    11/3/2010 3:50:56 PM |

    Don't believe it? The prove it to yourself: Go to Walmart and buy an inexpensive glucose meter and check your blood sugar one hour after eating. You can gauge the health of these foods by observing the blood sugar increases. (Small LDL closely parallels blood sugar rises.)