4 Unconventional Grains For A Diabetic-Friendly Diet

Balancing blood sugar levels is crucial for individuals with diabetes, as it directly impacts their overall health and well-being. When blood sugar levels are consistently high or fluctuate dramatically, it can lead to serious complications.

The primary goal of managing diabetes is to maintain stable blood sugar levels within a target range. The diet plays a significant role in achieving this goal. Carbohydrates, in particular, have a direct impact on blood sugar levels as they are broken down into glucose during digestion. Different carbohydrates have varying effects on blood sugar, with some causing rapid spikes while others have a slower and more steady impact.

By carefully selecting and controlling the intake of carbohydrates, individuals with diabetes can help regulate their blood sugar levels. This involves understanding the concept of glycemic index (GI), which measures how quickly a carbohydrate raises blood sugar levels. Low-GI foods, such as whole grains, can help maintain stable blood sugar levels and are therefore recommended for diabetic individuals.

Overview of conventional grains and their effects on blood sugar.

Commonly consumed grains such as wheat, rice, and corn are staple foods in many cultures. However, these grains can have a significant impact on blood sugar levels, making them less ideal for individuals with diabetes. Wheat, particularly in refined form, has a high glycemic index (GI), causing a rapid increase in blood sugar levels after consumption. This is because refined wheat flour lacks the fibre and essential nutrients found in whole wheat, which help slow down the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream.

Similarly, white rice, a highly processed grain, has a high GI and can lead to sharp spikes in blood sugar levels. The refining process removes the outer bran and germ layers, reducing fibre content and essential nutrients that aid in blood sugar regulation. Corn, while a good source of fibre, can still raise blood sugar levels due to its moderately high GI. Corn-based products like cornflakes or corn flour are typically more processed, resulting in a quicker release of glucose into the bloodstream. For individuals with diabetes, it is essential to choose whole grain alternatives with lower GIs, such as quinoa, amaranth, or buckwheat, which offer slower and more stable glucose absorption, helping to maintain balanced blood sugar levels.

Unconventional grain options suitable for diabetics.

1. Quinoa: Quinoa is a versatile grain-like seed that is high in protein, fibre, and essential nutrients. Its low glycemic index (GI) and high fibre content help regulate blood sugar levels, making it an excellent choice for diabetics. Quinoa also provides a good balance of carbohydrates and healthy fats, promoting satiety and steady energy levels.

2. Amaranth: Amaranth is a pseudo-grain packed with protein, dietary fibre, and micronutrients like iron and magnesium. With a low GI and high fibre content, it slows down the release of glucose into the bloodstream, supporting stable blood sugar levels. Amaranth is also gluten-free, making it suitable for individuals with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease.

3. Buckwheat: Despite its name, buckwheat is not related to wheat and is gluten-free. It contains a unique antioxidant called rutin, which may have beneficial effects on blood sugar control. Buckwheat has a low GI and is rich in fibre, protein, and essential minerals like magnesium and manganese, contributing to balanced blood sugar levels and improved satiety.

4. Teff: Teff is a tiny grain native to Ethiopia that is rich in dietary fibre, iron, and calcium. It has a low GI, which helps prevent rapid spikes in blood sugar. Teff's high fibre content promotes digestive health and can aid in weight management by promoting a feeling of fullness. It is also naturally gluten-free, making it suitable for individuals with gluten intolerance or celiac disease.

The potential health benefits of unconventional grains.

Consuming unconventional grains offers several potential health benefits, including improved blood sugar control, increased fibre intake, and higher nutrient content compared to conventional grains. Studies have shown that incorporating unconventional grains like quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, and teff into the diet can help regulate blood sugar levels. For instance, a study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that consuming quinoa led to lower post-meal blood glucose levels compared to wheat or rice in individuals with type 2 diabetes.

Unconventional grains are also rich in dietary fibre, which plays a crucial role in managing blood sugar levels and promoting digestive health. High-fibre diets have been associated with improved glycemic control and a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Moreover, the fibre content in these grains contributes to increased satiety and weight management. Additionally, unconventional grains offer higher nutrient content compared to refined grains. For example, amaranth is an excellent source of iron and magnesium, while buckwheat is rich in manganese.

These micronutrients are essential for various bodily functions, including energy metabolism and blood sugar regulation. By incorporating unconventional grains into the diet, individuals can reap the benefits of improved blood sugar control, increased fibre intake, and enhanced nutrient content, all of which contribute to better overall health, particularly for those with diabetes.

Precautions and considerations for incorporating unconventional grains

When incorporating unconventional grains into a diet, it is important to consider potential allergens or sensitivities. While uncommon, some individuals may be allergic to or intolerant to certain grains like quinoa or amaranth. It is advisable to start with small portions and monitor for any adverse reactions.

Furthermore, portion control and moderation are key. Although unconventional grains have benefits for blood sugar control, excessive consumption can still lead to spikes in blood sugar levels. Each individual's carbohydrate tolerance may vary, so it is essential to monitor blood sugar levels and work with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian to determine appropriate portion sizes based on personal needs and dietary goals. Maintaining a balanced and mindful approach to incorporating unconventional grains will help optimise their benefits while effectively managing blood sugar.

In conclusion, incorporating unconventional grains into a diabetic-friendly diet can have numerous benefits. Unconventional grains like quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, and teff offer improved blood sugar control, increased fibre intake, and higher nutrient content compared to conventional grains. These grains promote stable blood sugar levels, support digestive health, and provide essential nutrients. However, it is important to consider potential allergens, practise portion control, and consult with healthcare professionals or registered dietitians for personalised advice. By making informed choices, individuals with diabetes can enjoy the health benefits of incorporating these nutritious grains into their meals.

Recipe For Quinoa Salad


1 cup of quinoa

2 cups of water or vegetable broth

1 cucumber, diced

1 bell pepper (any colour), diced

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped

1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled (optional)

Juice of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste


Rinse the quinoa thoroughly under cold water to remove any bitter coating. Drain well.

In a saucepan, bring the water or vegetable broth to a boil. Add the rinsed quinoa and a pinch of salt. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15–20 minutes, or until the quinoa is tender and the liquid is absorbed. Remove it from the heat and let it cool.

In a large bowl, combine the cooked quinoa, diced cucumber, bell pepper, cherry tomatoes, red onion, parsley, and mint.

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to combine.

If desired, sprinkle crumbled feta cheese on top for added flavour.

Let the salad sit for at least 15 minutes to allow the flavours to meld together. You can also refrigerate it for a few hours to serve it chilled.

Give the salad a final toss before serving. Adjust seasoning if needed.

Serve the quinoa salad as a refreshing side dish or a light meal on its own. Enjoy!

Feel free to customise the recipe by adding other vegetables, such as diced avocado, roasted corn, or chopped spinach. You can also incorporate protein sources like grilled chicken or chickpeas to make it a more filling meal.