This review examines the evidence for the role of whole grain foods and legumes in the aetiology and management of diabetes. MedLine and SilverPlatter (‘Nutrition’ and ‘Food Science FSTA’) databases were searched to identify epidemiological and experimental studies relating to the effects of whole grain foods and legumes on indicators of carbohydrate metabolism. Epidemiological studies strongly support the suggestion that high intakes of whole grain foods protect against the development of type II diabetes mellitus (T2DM). People who consume ∼3 servings per day of whole grain foods are less likely to develop T2DM than low consumers (<3 servings per week) with a risk reduction in the order of 20–30%. The role of legumes in the prevention of diabetes is less clear, possibly because of the relatively low intake of leguminous foods in the populations studied. However, legumes share several qualities with whole grains of potential benefit to glycaemic control including slow release carbohydrate and a high fibre content. A substantial increase in dietary intake of legumes as replacement food for more rapidly digested carbohydrate might therefore be expected to improve glycaemic control and thus reduce incident diabetes. This is consistent with the results of dietary intervention studies that have found improvements in glycaemic control after increasing the dietary intake of whole grain foods, legumes, vegetables and fruit. The benefit has been attributed to an increase in soluble fibre intake. However, prospective studies have found that soluble fibre intake is not associated with a lower incidence of T2DM. On the contrary, it is cereal fibre that is largely insoluble that is associated with a reduced risk of developing T2DM. Despite this, the addition of wheat bran to the diets of diabetic people has not improved indicators of glycaemic control. These apparently contradictory findings might be explained by metabolic studies that have indicated improvement in glucose handling is associated with the intact structure of food. For both grains and legumes, fine grinding disrupts cell structures and renders starch more readily accessible for digestion. The extent to which the intact structure of grains and legumes or the composition of foods in terms of dietary fibre and other constituents contribute to the beneficial effect remains to be quantified. Other mechanisms to help explain improvements in glycaemic control when consuming whole grains and legumes relate to cooking, type of starch, satiety and nutrient retention. Thus, there is strong evidence to suggest that eating a variety of whole grain foods and legumes is beneficial in the prevention and management of diabetes. This is compatible with advice from around the world that recommends consumption of a wide range of carbohydrate foods from cereals, vegetables, legumes and fruits both for the general population and for people with diabetes.
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Venn, B., Mann, J. Cereal grains, legumes and diabetes. Eur J Clin Nutr 58, 1443–1461 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.ejcn.1601995
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