Written by Caroline LeopoldReviewed by Peggy Pletcher, MS, RD, LD, CDE
Diet plays an important role in staying healthy, especially for people with diabetes. Many people wonder whether high-carbohydrate foods such as rice are healthy to eat.
This article will explain how to countcarbohydrates, how to incorporate rice into the diet, and what the healthy alternatives to rice are.
Diabetes mellitus is a group of diseases where the body does not adequately produceinsulin, use insulin properly, or both. Insulin plays a crucial role in allowing blood sugar into the cells to be used for energy. There are two main types: type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
People with diabetes have abnormally high levels of blood sugar. This can damage many organs in the body if left untreated. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases recommend thefollowing steps to manage diabetes:
- Make healthy choices in eating
- Engage in regular physical activity or exercise
- Take medications, if required.
Healthy eating is important in keeping blood sugar levels at a healthy level. The healthy range is 80 to 130 mg/dL before meals or below 180 mg/dL after meals, according to the American Diabetes Association.
People with type 1 diabetes require insulin. Various insulin delivery systems and protocols are used to manage blood sugar both between and at meal times.
People with type 2 diabetes often manage their condition with diet and exercise, and with medications as needed to keep blood sugar within the target range. These medications vary in how they work.
People with diabetes will have different treatment plans, and they will respond to food, exercise, and medication differently.
It is important to consult with a doctor to get individualized recommendations on target blood sugar levels, medications, diet, and exercise.
How do carbohydrates affect diabetes?
Carbohydrates are an important source of energy for the body. Carbohydrates are found in foods that have starches and natural or added sugars. Examples are grains, vegetables and legumes, fruit, dairy products, and sweets.
Carbohydrates are broken down by the digestive system into sugar. When the digested sugar enters the blood, the body produces a hormone called insulin. Insulin helps the sugar enter cells. Once the cells absorb the sugar, blood sugar levels fall.
People with diabetes have an impaired ability to produce insulin, use insulin, or both.
People with type 1 diabetes cannot produce insulin, so they take insulin to make sure the cells can get the sugar they need for energy.
People with type 2 diabetes are often insulin resistant. They also often have difficulty producing enough insulin to keep their blood sugar in the normal range.
Carbohydrate counting is a way of keeping track of the carbohydrates in the daily diet. A person with diabetes who uses carbohydrate counting to manage their diet sets an amount of carbohydrate to eat for meals and snacks.
The American Diabetes Association suggest a target of about 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrate per meal. This recommendation may vary depending on other factors such as gender, weight goals, and blood sugar target goals.
The three different types of carbohydrates are starch, sugar, and fiber.
Starches are complex carbohydrates found in starchy vegetables such as peas, potatoes, and corn. Beans and whole grains are also complex carbohydrates.
Fiber comes from plants and cannot be digested. Fiber is found in foods such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, and nuts.
Unlike other carbohydrates, fiber does not raise blood sugar, and it can help to slow the digestion of meals. This helps to minimize spikes in blood sugar. It is recommended to eat between 20 to 35 grams of fiber per day.
Sugar is a carbohydrate. It is generally absorbed into the body more quickly. There are natural sugars found in milk and fruit. There may also be added sugars in canned fruits, baked goods, and processed foods.
There are also carbohydrates in non-starchy vegetables such as lettuce, peppers, cucumber, mushrooms, and many others. There are fewer carbohydrates in these foods because they have a high water content. For example, a half cup of cucumber has around 2 grams of carbohydrate.
The type and amount of carbohydrate will affect post-meal blood sugar levels.
Foods that digest more slowly, such as those with a lot of fiber, and those eaten as a mixed meal, digest more slowly. They can help to prevent post-meal spikes in blood sugar. Large amounts of carbohydrates eaten at one time will raise blood sugar more than smaller amounts.
Is eating rice healthy with diabetes?
High-carbohydrate foods like grains, cereals, pasta, rice, and starchy vegetables are not forbidden, but they should be eaten in moderation.
Rice is a high-carbohydrate grain, but it can be incorporated into meals in appropriate amounts.
One-third of a cup of rice has 15 grams of carbohydrate. That accounts for one-fourth to one-third of the amount of carbohydrate recommended for a single meal, if the target is 45-60 grams of carbohydrate per meal.
Meals that also include healthy proteins and fats can help to slow the impact of the rice on blood sugar levels.
Are some types of rice healthier than others?
Some grains are better than others for managing diabetes.
A scale called the “glycemic index” measures how quickly food is digested into sugar and absorbed in the blood. High glycemic foods raise blood sugar faster and should be eaten in limited portions, or eaten with lower glycemic index foods.
White rice is more processed and it has a higher glycemic index than brown rice, although the index of brown rice can vary with type and brand.
Different varieties of rice have different glycemic indexes. Some long grain rice varieties, converted rice, and basmati rice varieties are lower on the GI scale than white rice.
Puffed rice cereal and rice cakes are sometimes thought of as diet foods, but they have a high glycemic index and they are not ideal for healthy meals.
Foods that are high in fiber offer many health benefits. They help with blood sugar control, they promote bowel health, and they may lower cholesterol.
Whole grains have more fiber than other grains. It is important to check the label to check the fiber content.
Tips for preparing rice
Some brown rice varieties are unprocessed and have more fiber. They can be part of a balanced meal when eaten in proper portions. Mixing brown rice with other foods can help to balance blood sugar levels. Examples include legumes, such as red beans, or protein and healthy fats.
Brown rice takes longer to cook than white rice, but the cooking process is simple. People can cook brown rice in a pot or rice cooker at a ratio of 1.5 cups of water per 1 cup of rice.
The instructions are as follows:
- Bring rice and water to a boil in an uncovered pot
- Cover the pot and simmer for about 20 minutes
- Turn off heat and let the covered pot sit for at least 10 minutes.
Rice can be mixed with seasonings, herbs, vegetables, and nuts such as slivered almonds.
Brown rice can be stored in a refrigerator and used for leftovers. People can reheat brown rice on the stove or microwave and serve with beans and salsa for a quick meal.
Nutritious and delicious alternatives to rice
Because rice is high in carbohydrates, it should be accompanied by other foods.
Vegetables are high in fiber, vitamins, and other nutrients. Vegetables are made of carbohydrates, but at a much lower level than grains.
Eating foods that are lower in carbohydrates and higher in fiber can make meals more satisfying. For example, one-half cup of rice has 22 grams of carbohydrate. In contrast, one cup of squash only has 8 grams of carbohydrate.
Many foods can serve as substitutes for rice.
Examples include cauliflower, mushrooms, and eggplant. Quinoa contains the same amount of carbohydrates as rice, but it has more protein, and some types have more fiber.
Recipes for rice substitutes
A number of recipes are available for rice substitutes. Here are two examples:
1. Cauliflower “rice”
Pulse the florets of a cauliflower in the food processor. Then heat the cauliflower in a pan with oil and onions. Sauté until the onions are golden brown and the cauliflower is soft for about 3 to 5 minutes.
Season to taste with salt, pepper, lemon juice, and herbs.
Full recipe from the Food Network.
2. Cilantro lime quinoa
- Canola oil
- Low-sodium chicken broth
- Juice of limes
- Fresh cilantro.
Sauté the onion and garlic with oil in a skillet. Reduce the heat and stir in the quinoa. Stir quinoa and cook for 2 minutes. Add chicken broth and lime juice and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in more lime juice and add chopped cilantro.
Full recipe from the American Diabetes Association.
Written by Caroline Leopold