A black fork on a brown background with tangled and twisted white spaghetti hanging off the end.

Eat Healthier Spaghetti: The Benefits of Whole Grains and the Science Behind It

In part one of this two-part article series, I explained why a healthy lifestyle is so important to those of us battling macular degeneration. Though a healthy lifestyle is not a complete cause or cure for macular degeneration alone, it definitely plays a large role in the health of our eyes.

Now that we have cleared a few things up…

Whole grains vs white bread, pasta, and rice

This article isn’t just about spaghetti! It’s about substitution, specifically in regards to many of the things we love to eat: bread, pasta, and rice...plus the science behind it!

White bread, pasta, and rice are processed in our bodies as refined sugars, or sugars that have been removed from their natural source (like fruit), changed/processed in a factory, and put into another food for flavor and preservation.

Refined sugars and dGI

Foods with more refined sugars in them have a higher dietary glycemic index, or dGI. This is the measure of how quickly food causes our blood sugar to increase. Foods with a higher dGI digest and absorb more quickly than foods with a lower dGI, which causes a rapid increase in our blood sugar.

Did You Know?

Many of us battling macular degeneration are aware of the health benefits that fruits and vegetables provide for our eyes. We probably also know that certain things, like refined sugars in sweets, are not good for our bodies and therefore, not good for our eyes. A lot of emphasis is placed on these foods in the macular degeneration world, so we tend to know more about them.

dGI of white bread, pasta, and rice

Did you know that white bread, pasta, and rice have a significantly higher dGI than whole-grain versions of the same foods? You may not realize that white bread, pasta, and rice are packed full of refined sugars. Refined sugars and our eyes are not the best of friends.

Carbs and progression of AMD

According to a study conducted in 2007 called “Dietary carbohydrate and the progression of age-related macular degeneration: a prospective study from the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS)” found that “replacing refined carbohydrates (white bread, pasta, and rice) with whole grains can slow the progression of AMD.”

The objective of this study was to test the hypothesis that “dietary glycemic index is associated with the risk and severity of AMD in nondiabetic elderly populations."

The participants

Dietary information from over 4,000 participants in the AREDS study was used while testing this hypothesis. Participants were between the ages of 55 and 80, with 56% of them being women. That’s over 8,000 eyes studied and observed for changes in size and extent of drusen, the presence of atrophy, as well as neovascular changes.

The results

It was found that compared with eyes in the first part of the study, eyes in the fourth and fifth parts of the study had a “significantly or suggestively higher risk of large drusen, atrophy, and neovascularization.”

In laymen's terms, they found that 20% of prevalent cases of AMD would have been eliminated if the AREDS participants consumed diets with a lower dGI (less refined carbohydrates).

What can we do?

Now we know that eating more whole grains can reduce the likelihood of blood sugar spikes - which can cause damage to the retina over time. I’m here to give a few suggestions on alternative choices for these foods...you know...so we can still eat all the things we love without the threat of more damage to our eyes.

Healthier choices for bread:

  • Bread containing oats
  • Whole wheat bread (there’s even whole wheat pizza dough [yay!] and whole wheat tortillas)

Healthier choices for pasta:

  • Whole-wheat pasta (these come in all shapes and sizes, even lasagna)

Healthier choices for white rice:

  • Brown rice
  • Colored rice
  • Wild rice
  • Quinoa

A few aliases of whole grains

  • Amaranth
  • Barley
  • Buckwheat
  • Corn (also super high in antioxidants!)
  • Millet
  • Rye
  • Sorghum
  • Teff
  • Triticale
  • Wheat

Quick Tip: You can even make your own noodles out of zucchini with a spiralizer or drag a fork through a spaghetti squash if you really want to get nutritious. I do this often and I love them both! My husband, not so much...it’s all about trying new things to see what you like!

Start with small changes

It’s important for us to know how to keep eating the foods we love WHILE keeping our eyes healthy. Try starting with small changes like buying whole wheat bread for your sandwiches and toast this week. Or, maybe a box or whole wheat pasta and sauce made with more actual tomato and less sugar? You’ll be surprised at how easy and delicious these changes can be!

Shopping habits

Friends, please consider taking the time to read nutrition labels when shopping. Once you do this a few times, you learn what you want to buy and shopping becomes more simple again. I promise it’s worth the effort! I’ll do anything to preserve my vision, so I’m happy to find the time to do this.

P.S. I’m still figuring out how to eat quinoa instead of rice. I love the taste, but mine always seems to turn out kind of mushy. This is a bummer because quinoa is always so delicious at restaurants. Anyone have tips for me?

Eat well, feel well, be well...

Andrea Junge

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