November is Diabetes Awareness month. The Canadian Diabetes Association reports more than nine million Canadians (one in four) are living with diabetes or pre-diabetes. Another alarming statistic is 20 people are diagnosed with diabetes every hour of every day.

There are three types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2 (often lifestyle related due to poor diet and lack of exercise) and gestational diabetes. There is no cure for Type 1 diabetes, and if left untreated or improperly managed, all diabetes can lead to heart, kidney, eye disease and nerve damage.

The types and amounts of dietary fibre people eat have an important role in diabetes management. Throughout Barley Balance, I’ve referred to barley as a ‘smart’ carb because it is a whole grain high in the soluble fibre beta-glucans. Barley is slower to digest and it doesn’t raise blood sugar quickly so it works well at maintaining glycemic control (blood sugar levels) over a longer time period. Research confirms soluble fibre can help regulate blood sugar swings. Following a nutritious, well balanced meal plan with barley may assist in maintaining a healthy weight. The barley beta-glucans help you feel full longer; in turn you won’t be tempted to overeat. This good news for everyone, especially people with Type 2 diabetes, who tend to be overweight. When the weight is reduced, there usually is a significant improvement in blood sugar levels.

How much fibre is optimum? It is important to consult with your dietitian to determine a personalized plan with the right amount of fibre. The Institute of Medicine’s Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) identify 38 grams of fibre per day for men and 25 g for women. When adding fibre, start slow and drink more fluids as you increase your intake. The Canadian Diabetes Association 2008 clinical practice guidelines proposed dietary fibre intake of 25 to 50 grams per day for diabetics.

How does barley measure up? A half cup of cooked barley contains three grams of fibre and a half cup of whole barley flour contains seven grams of fibre.