How holiday baking can help reduce your risk of diabetes

It’s no secret that your health improves after you cut back on carbs—including refined wheat and other grains. But holiday baking typically requires plenty of grain-based flour.

So does that mean pies, cookies, cakes and other seasonal goodies are off the menu?

Not at all—as long as you make some simple adjustments.

First of all, choose recipes that are low in sugar, or simply substitute honey or other natural sweeteners (like lo han guo or stevia) for cane sugar. And opt for whole-grain flour rather than refined white flour. It will tantalize your taste buds, and help improve your health.

In fact, a new study found that the right whole grains can actually reduce your risk of Type II diabetes.

The simple ingredient swaps that can lower your diabetes risk

Researchers tracked nearly 55,500 middle-aged Danish men and women for 15 years. During this time, approximately 7,400 of the participants were diagnosed with Type II diabetes.1

The study focused on how many whole grains—specifically, oats, rye, and wheat—the participants ate per day.

At the end of the study, the researchers found that men who ate 16 grams of whole grains a day (the equivalent of one slice of bread or half a cup of oatmeal, muesli, or pasta) had an 11 percent reduced risk of diabetes. Women had 7 percent less risk, but only when they ate whole-grain wheat and oats—not rye.

This dovetails with another study conducted in 2010 by Harvard researchers. They found that while whole grains can lower your risk of diabetes, refined grains can actually increase it.2

Researchers discovered that people who ate refined white rice had a 17 percent greater risk of diabetes. But if they ate whole-grain brown rice instead, they lowered their risk by 16 percent. And if they ate oats or barley instead of white rice, they reduced their risk of diabetes by a whopping 36 percent.

Why white flour is so bad for your health

So why are whole grains so much better for you than refined grains?

It all has to do with the grain “refining” process. Whole-grain kernels have three layers:

• There’s a rich bran layer on the outside, packed with fiber, B vitamins, copper, iron, magnesium, zinc, and phytochemicals.
• Inside the bran layer is the endosperm, which is mainly starchy carbohydrates with only limited protein and vitamin content.
• And finally, inside the endosperm is the germ core, which is loaded with B vitamins, vitamin E, phytochemicals, and healthy essential fats. 

Back in the late 19th century, after grain processing was mechanized, manufacturers got the “bright” idea to strip out the bran and germ layers, leaving only the endosperm. The result was the white, “refined” flour that’s so pervasive today.

Manufacturers argued that this refined flour was an improvement because taking out the bran and germ layers makes the grain easier to digest and chew. And without the fat in the germ core, the grain is less likely to spoil—which means bread and other products can stay on the shelf longer.

But what this supposedly innovative refining technique really did was strip out almost all of the nutrients in the whole grain, leaving just the unhealthy endosperm part.

That’s why it’s important to only buy 100 percent whole-grain flour when you’re baking. And don’t be fooled by products that say “made with whole grains.” Most times, that means only a tiny amount of nutritious whole-grain flour is mixed in with a bunch of unhealthy refined flour.

Make sure you choose the right whole grains

As I’ve reported before, whole grains have other health benefits beyond diabetes prevention.

A variety of studies show they can help reduce blood pressure and lower risk of heart disease. And the fibers and other bioactive substances found in whole grains can positively influence the GI microbiome—which has a big impact on all aspects of your health.

But when buying whole grains, make sure to choose organic products. As I discussed in the October 2017 Insiders’ Cures (“Revealed: Poison in your pasta”), the USDA reported that 45 percent of the country’s conventionally grown durum wheat acreage in 2012 contained glyphosate—the toxic chemical used in herbicides like Roundup.

And, sadly, we know that percentage has only increased in subsequent years. But you can protect yourself by choosing flour made with organic wheat, which by law can’t be sprayed with any chemical pesticides or herbicides.

So this holiday season, the kids and grandkids don’t have to fret—dessert will still be on the menu. Just be sure to do your baking with organic, whole-grain flour.  And, of course, indulge in moderation—as I recommend for almost everything in life.


1“Higher Whole-Grain Intake Is Associated with Lower Risk of Type 2 Diabetes among Middle-Aged Men and Women: The Danish Diet, Cancer, and Health Cohort.” J Nutr. 2018 Sep 1;148(9):1434-1444.

2White rice, brown rice, and risk of type 2 diabetes in US men and women.” Arch Intern Med. 2010 Jun 14;170(11):961-9.