When it comes to digestion, there are two types of carbs: slow and fast. Slow carbs are absorbed at a gradual pace, which keeps your blood sugar steady. The more rapidly digested fast carbs cause a spike in blood sugar. But cream of wheat doesn't fit neatly into one category.
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The impact of cream of wheat on your blood sugar (i.e. fast vs. slow carb) ranges from medium to high, depending on the type of cereal you buy, how much you eat and even the toppings you add.
Cream of Wheat Basics
Cream of wheat, also known as farina, is made by grinding wheat until it's so fine that it passes through a small sieve. But farina isn't a whole-grain product, since the outer bran layer and some or all of the inner germ are removed.
Some brands list defatted wheat germ as an ingredient, which adds some nutrients and fiber, but still doesn't make the cereal a whole grain. Most brands are fortified with calcium, iron and B vitamins to replace the nutrients lost with the bran and germ.
Fast Carbs vs. Slow Carbs
Fiber is an essential determining factor in whether any grain is a slow or fast carb because it slows down the absorption of carbohydrates. Most of the grain's fiber resides in the bran and germ, so only whole-grain products have the maximum amount of natural fiber.
One cup of regular cream of wheat has 1 gram of fiber, compared to whole-grain varieties with 4 grams. The low amount of fiber is a quick indicator that cream of wheat isn't a slow carb. However, carbs aren't just slow or fast; some fall in the middle.
Glycemic Index Score
The glycemic index rates how much your blood sugar goes up after eating carbohydrates. On a scale of zero to 100, glucose has a glycemic index score of 100. Scores of 70 and higher are fast carbs, while a score of 55 or less indicates a slow carb.
Foods that fall in the middle, with scores of 56 to 69, have a moderate impact. A 1-cup serving of regular cream of wheat has a glycemic index score of 66. However, instant cream of wheat is a fast carb, with a score of 74.
Toppings and Portions Matter
You can influence the glycemic impact of cream of wheat. The serving size makes a difference because eating a larger portion sends more sugar into your blood. If you add extra sugar in any form — maple syrup, brown sugar or honey — your blood sugar will increase more than the amount caused by plain cream of wheat.
You can help lower the glycemic effect by adding fiber to your cereal. Try using toppings such as nuts, whole fruit, toasted wheat germ or granola. The fat and protein in nuts and wheat germ will also slow down the absorption of carbs, according to the University of Illinois Extension.
- Cornell University Law School: "Farina"
- Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service: "Dietary Fiber"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Cereals, Cream of Wheat, Regular (10 Minute), Cooked With Water, Without Salt"
- Harvard Medical School: "Use Glycemic Index to Help Control Blood Sugar"
- Harvard Medical School: "Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load of 60+ Foods"
- University of Illinois Extension: "What Impacts Blood Glucose Levels?"