Many say rye bread is not a good choice for people with diabetes because it is a bread, which is typically not a good option for diabetics. Other’s argue that its glycemic index (GI) is more moderate than most breads, especially the typical American white bread found at grocery stores, making it a better option for those with Type 2 Diabetes.
When I was gestational diabetic with my second child (which is Type 2 Diabetes brought on by pregnancy) I was trying to figure out what types of bread could be a better option.
The more I understood the makeup of rye, how it’s made into bread, and how my own body reacted to it, I was able to decide if and how much rye bread I could eat.
Let me share what I learned.
Unlike more regional whole grains such as Amaranth, Rye is grown all over the world, from Tanzania to Argentina. Most modern rye breads take their inspiration from Eastern and Northern European countries whose recipes come to mind when we think of traditional rye bread.
Rye is closely related to both wheat and barley and can be eaten whole or ground to make flour, which is used in bread. It’s a heavier, darker flour which means rye bread is more dense and has a more earthy flavor.
What is Rye? A breakdown
Rye flour is made from ground rye berries, which are the seeds off of rye grass. It’s grown as a food and also as a cover crop–a technique used in farming to keep soil covered during off or in-between growing seasons.
Rye is rich in fiber and protein as well as vitamins B1, B2, and E. It’s also known for being high in protein and a great source of minerals with the highest nutrient content being manganese and phosphorus.
Eating rye can improve your body’s regulation of blood sugar, with means it can reduce its blood glucose response to a meal, which is important for diabetics.
It’s important to know common rye terminology to help understand that not all rye breads are created equally!
- Light bread: This variation is crafted using solely white rye flour, which is produced by grinding the endosperm of rye grain, which is what I call “all-purpose rye flour” or “white rye flour.” Rye grain endosperm is the grain’s starchy center
- Dark Bread: This is produced by grinding whole rye berries but it is often made by by coloring white rye flour with instant coffee, cocoa powder, or molasses
- Marbled bread: This variant is created by rolling together light and dark rye dough to create a marbled look
- Pumpernickel bread: This loaf is created using entire rye grains that have been roughly milled and similar to dark bread, can often contain cocoa powder, molasses, and coffee to give it its dark look
When asking if Rye bread is good for diabetics, you first have to know how the Rye bread you’re eating was made. Depending on the makeup of the flour, it will impact your body differently.
Here is a comparison chart to help you better make informed choices. The following chart provides a general comparison of the nutritional content for one slice of rye bread made with different types of rye:
|Nutrient||Light Rye||Dark Rye||Marbled Rye||Pumpernickel Rye||100% Whole Rye|
|Calories||70 kcal||75 kcal||72 kcal||80 kcal||82 kcal|
|Vitamins & Minerals|
|– Iron||5% DV||6% DV||5.5% DV||6% DV||7% DV|
|– Magnesium||4% DV||5% DV||4.5% DV||5% DV||6% DV|
|– Phosphorus||3% DV||4% DV||3.5% DV||4% DV||5% DV|
|– Zinc||2% DV||3% DV||2.5% DV||3% DV||4% DV|
What are the benefits of rye bread?
As we have seen, rye bread offers several advantages for your health, and some of the main ones include:
Lowering blood sugar levels
According to research, people who eat whole grains over food made from flours with the germ removed (white bread, I’m looking at you!) tend to have lower blood sugar levels than those who don’t. Whole grains contain soluble fibers, which help slow down the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream.
I think sometimes this kind of research can be misunderstood, driving people to think eating whole grains prevents high blood sugar, which is obviously what you’re trying to avoid with diabetes. I find my blood sugar to be better managed when I:
- Understand that grains in general are difficult for diabetics. Yes, whole grains are better than processed grains, especially if you have diabetes, but eating a diet full of meat and vegetables, with small amounts of whole grain foods, is best for a diabetic. This is hard because so many foods we love don’t fit into this category, but it is the truth
- Ensure my whole grains are truly whole grain. Many prepackaged foods will be marketed as whole grain, but contain a lot of extra ingredients (this is unfortunately the case with a lot of store-bought rye breads). I stay away from prepackaged foods and eat whole grains that I make myself, ensuring that they are truly whole grain
- Eat whole gains with a high-protein meal. If you’re wanting to prevent blood sugar spikes it’s important to eat your protein first. By consuming your eggs, steak, chicken, or fish first, you’re helping your body’s response to eating whole grains. Making it a habit to eat protein first can help reduce a glucose spike
- Mange my portion size. Like any other foods, just because it’s whole grain doesn’t mean the serving size doesn’t matter! Enjoying a portion size that I know my body reacts well to can help keep my blood sugar levels healthy
Rye bread is often recommended for those suffering from digestive problems such as constipation, diarrhea, and stomach ulcers.
As mentioned above, it takes longer for your body to break down rye bread than other foods, meaning that it will be digested slower and easier.
Preventing heart disease
Eating whole grains instead of processed grains has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease.
In fact, one study found that men who ate the most whole grains had a 30% lower chance of developing coronary artery disease compared to those who didn’t.
BUT, it’s important to note that most modern breads available at the grocery store are NOT going to help you prevent heart disease. Many rye breads today are blends of light, medium, or dark rye flour blended with a higher protein flour, like wheat, for better rising. You can be inadvertently eating more conventional flour in a store-bought “rye bread” without knowing it.
In fact, there are no U.S. government-standards for what the term “rye flour” actually means. Unfortunately most commercial mills will remove the bran and germ to make the flour more palatable to bakers as well as increase its shelf life, but it means that you’re making it closer and closer to standard white bread, which is not a good choice for diabetics.
Once ground, rye flour deteriorates in just 5-6 weeks. This is why store bought rye bread is only partially whole grain and why it’s important for you to make your own.
Try to buy stone-ground rye flour from an independent mill, as they’ll be able to let you know how much of the bran and germ have been removed (you want to keep all of it!). If you have to buy from the store, stick to a “dark” rye flour, as “light” rye flour has more starch and less protein than dark rye flour.
Learning how to make your own rye bread ground from 100% rye berries is a great way to ensure you’re getting all the health benefits of adding whole grains to your diet.
How does Rye bread help with diabetes?
The first thing to know about Rye bread is that it contains lower carbohydrates than traditional store-bought white bread, but it does have more carbs than whole grain wheat bread.
It also contains fiber, which can slow down the rate at which food enters your system, keeping your blood sugar steady throughout the day.
In addition, rye bread contains more protein than other types of bread, making it a better bread choice for diabetics. We all know that protein keeps your blood sugar stable, helps prevents spikes in your blood sugar–so any bread with a higher protein amount is preferred.
If you suffer from diabetes, try switching to rye bread instead of white bread. You might find that it makes a difference in how well you feel.
Other health benefits of eating rye bread
While rye bread can be a better choice over wheat bread for diabetics, there are plenty of reasons why you should eat it anyway. Here are some of the benefits of eating rye bread:
It tastes amazing
A Ruben sandwich (which is rye bread, sauerkraut, corned beef, Swiss cheese, and a creamy sauce) is my favorite sandwich and warm rye bread with fresh butter can’t be beat.
Life is just better with the varying flavors of rye, which can range from spiced to sour to sweet, and varying textures, anywhere from dense and hearty to light and airy.
It ferments well
If you make sourdoughs, it’s a well-known not-so-secret that rye can help boost a struggling sourdough starter. It is very reactive to sourdough fermentation. It brings in a wider variety of yeasts than other flours and ferments much faster than wheat flour.
Fermenting your whole grain breads not only makes them taste better, but it’s much better for you, changing the structure of carb molecules. This reduces the bread’s glycemic index (GI) and slows down the speed at which sugars enter the bloodstream.
High fiber content
One slice of rye bread provides 5 grams of fiber, which is more than half of what you need each day.
Good source of vitamin B6
Vitamin B6 plays a vital role in regulating hormones and maintaining normal blood sugar levels. One ounce of rye bread has almost twice as much vitamin B6 as one ounce of wheat bread.
Great source of folate
Folate is essential for proper brain development and helps reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. A cup of rye bread contains nearly three times as much folate as a cup of wheat bread.
Rich in magnesium
Magnesium is necessary for bone growth, muscle contraction, and energy production. One slice of rye bread contains more magnesium than a cup of milk.
It’s easy to make
Making your own homemade rye bread is easy, and tastes better than store-bought versions. You can make your own rye bread by mixing together flour, water, salt, yeast, and honey.
Are there any side effects of rye bread?
There aren’t any known serious side effects of rye bread, but if you have certain health conditions, you may want to avoid rye. These conditions include:
People with celiac disease cannot properly absorb nutrients from foods containing gluten. Because rye bread contains gluten, it could cause serious damage to their intestines.
Some people experience symptoms when they consume gluten, such as stomach pain, bloating, diarrhea, gas, and fatigue. People who experience these symptoms after consuming rye bread shouldn’t eat it.
Rye bread is an excellent source of protein, vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. It’s high in iron, calcium, potassium, and phosphorus, and low in sodium.
If rye bread works for you, I’d encourage you to explore the endless variations available. Learning to grind your own rye means that you’ll be getting all the nutritional benefits of the bran and germ, which is removed by most commercial mills, giving your body what it needs to keep your blood sugar under control.
And the ultimate diabetic flex is fermenting your rye bread by making a rye sourdough bread from freshly ground rye berries. This ensures you’re getting all the nutrients from the rye berry while reduces the bread’s glycemic index (GI) and slowing down the speed at which sugars enter the bloodstream. It’s a great way to fill your craving of warm, delicious bread while being good to your body.