As glucose in the body comes from foods that contain carbohydrates, people may question whether or not they should eat rice.
A person with diabetes does not have to avoid carbs altogether, but they will need to think about the types and quantity of carbs that they eat.
There are different types of rice, some of which may be more healthful than others.
In this article, we look at the role rice can play in healthful diet for diabetes. We also discuss what types of rice are suitable, how to choose and cook rice, and some healthful alternatives to rice.
Counting carbs in rice
Fish or beans with rice and vegetables can be a good option for people with diabetes.
Rice is high in carbs, but some types of rice, such as brown rice, are a whole-grain food.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), a person with diabetes should get at least half of their daily carbs from whole grains.
Whole grains contain complex carbs, which take longer for the body to break down. This reduces the risk of a sugar spike.
Another consideration when selecting a type of rice is the number of carbs it contains.
Knowing how to count carbs is important for two main reasons:
1. Some people with diabetes use supplemental insulin. A person needs to know what their carb intake is to determine the correct insulin dose.
2. A person with prediabetes or diabetes needs to avoid "sugar spikes," which are periods in which blood glucose levels are very high. These spikes can increase the likelihood of symptoms worsening. Spreading carb intake throughout the day, for example, by eating small, frequent meals, can help prevent sugar spikes.
Carb counting allows a person with diabetes to keep track of the number of carbs that they eat during the day.
- knowing which foods contain carbs
- learning how to work out the approximate number of carbs in an item
- calculating how many carbs there are in a portion and a meal
- finding the total number of carbs for the day
- dividing it so that the carb intake is even throughout the day
Brown rice is a good source of complex carbs and fiber, but other types of rice may be less beneficial.
How do I calculate carb intake?
Total carbohydrate intake will vary based on height, weight, activity level, and medications. A person should discuss the specific amount of carbs for their individual needs with a doctor or a registered dietitian.
A gram of carbohydrate contains about 4 calories. Calorie intake varies among individuals. A doctor or dietitian can advise the individual on what their calorie intake should be according to their activity level, health goals, height, and weight.
When it comes to rice, one-third of a cup of regular, boiled brown rice contains around 15 g of carbohydrate and a little over 1 g of fiber. White rice contains the same number of carbs, but it provides less fiber and fewer nutrients.
Rice can form part of a healthful diet for people with diabetes as long as the portion size is suitable.
The nutrition labels on food packaging will show how much carbohydrate a particular food contains.
Below are some rice products and the carbs they contain per cup after cooking:
Long-grain white rice:
- carbohydrates: 44.51 g
- fiber: 0.60 g
Medium-grain white rice:
- carbohydrates: 53.18 g
- fiber: no data
Short-grain white rice:
- carbohydrates: 53.44 g
- fiber: no data
Long-grain brown rice:
- carbohydrate: 51.67 g
- fiber: 3.20 g
Medium-grain brown rice:
- carbohydrate: 45.84 g
- fiber: 3.50 g
- carbohydrate: 35.00 g
- fiber: 3.00 g
Glutinous white rice:
- carbohydrate: 36.70 g
- fiber: 1.70 g
- carbohydrates: 42.26 g
- fiber: 1.80 g
Foods that contain unprocessed carbs can benefit people with diabetes, but eating large amounts in one sitting may raise blood sugar levels. People should spread their intake throughout the day.
Rice and the glycemic index
Another way to decide whether a food is suitable for a restricted diet is to use the glycemic index (GI). The GI is a scale that measures how quickly the body converts the carbs from a food into glucose and how rapidly this affects blood sugar levels.
The scores are from 0–100, with water being the lowest and glucose the highest. The numbers do not refer to any specific quantity but look at how one food compares with another.
Foods that are high on the scale, such as white bread and sugary beverages, convert quickly into glucose and increase the risk of a sugar spike.
Those that are lower on the scale convert slowly into blood glucose, which helps a person maintain steady glucose levels.
- Low GI foods have a score of 55 or less
- Medium GI foods have a score of 56–69
- High GI foods have a score of 70 or more
Below are some examples, including rice and some rice products. The scores may vary slightly according to the brand and level of processing.
- rice crackers: 87
- rice milk: 86
- cornflakes: 81
- rice porridge: 78
- white wheat bread:75
- boiled white rice: 73
- boiled brown rice: 68
- rice noodles: 53
Most rice products have a high GI score, but rice noodles and brown boiled rice are in the low- and medium-GI categories respectively.
Nutritional benefits of rice
Rice also contains other nutrients that can benefit a person's health.
A cup of cooked medium-grain brown rice contains:
- calories: 218
- protein: 4.52 g
- fiber: 3.50 g
- carbohydrate: 45.84 g
- calcium 20.00 milligrams (mg)
- iron: 1.03 mg
- magnesium: 86.00 mg
- phosphorus: 150.00 mg
- potassium: 154.00 mg
- zinc: 1.21 mg
It also contains a variety of vitamins, including B vitamins.
Brown rice can play an important role in a healthful diet.
Tips for choosing rice
In moderation, some types of rice can be healthful for people with diabetes.
It is best to choose brown or wild rice because these types have a higher fiber content than white rice, so it takes longer for the body to digest them.
People should check the package to find out exactly how many carbs and other nutrients the rice contains, especially in prepared dishes.
Enriched rice will offer additional nutrients, including vitamins and minerals.
When choosing rice in a restaurant, a person with diabetes should also ask about the type of sauce and flavorings that the dish includes, as these may contain added sugars.
To cook brown rice, follow these instructions:
- Put brown rice in a pot and add 1.5 cups of water for each cup of rice.
- Bring the rice and water to the boil in an uncovered pot.
- Cover the pot and let it simmer for about 20 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and let the covered pot sit for at least 10 minutes.
Some people prefer to use a rice cooker, in which case they should follow the manufacturer's instructions.
For flavor, people can add seasonings, spices, herbs, vegetables, and nuts, such as slivered almonds.
A little turmeric adds color and may have health benefits, especially for people with diabetes.
It is important to take care when opting for premade seasonings and sauces as these may contain added sugar, which a person will need to bear in mind when they are counting and balancing the day's carbs.
Combining brown rice with beans and vegetables can provide a healthful meal. For people who do not eat meat, combining beans or other pulses with rice can also provide a complete protein with all of the amino acids that the body needs.
Alternatives to rice
Some foods can serve as substitutes for rice.
To make this rice substitute:
- Pulse the florets of a large head of cauliflower in a food processor.
- Heat the cauliflower in a pan with a little oil and an onion.
- Sauté for about 3 to 5 minutes until the onions are golden brown and the cauliflower is soft.
- Season to taste with salt, pepper, lemon juice, and herbs.
Cilantro lime quinoa
Follow these steps to prepare a quinoa dish:
- Sauté a small onion and two cloves of garlic with a little oil in a skillet.
- Reduce the heat and add 1 cup of quinoa, stirring and cooking for 2 minutes.
- Add 2 cups of low-salt chicken broth and the juice of 1–2 limes.
- Bring to the boil.
- Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Stir in some more lime juice and add one-half of a cup of fresh, chopped cilantro.
Carbohydrates and diabetes
A healthful diet will contain plenty of fiber, which is a type of carbohydrate.
People with diabetes can eat the same diet that is healthful for those without the condition, including rice and other carb-rich foods.
However, they need to manage and balance their carbohydrate intake to control blood glucose levels.
When a person eats carbs, the body converts them into glucose to either store or use as energy. The hormone insulin enables this process.
People with diabetes have insulin resistance, which means that the body's cells do not respond to insulin in the normal way, and the body is not able to manage carbohydrates efficiently. As a result, a person with diabetes needs to think carefully about what type of carbs they eat and when.
There are different types of carb, including sugar, starch, and fiber. Rice contains starch, and brown rice is a relatively good source of fiber, especially in comparison with white rice.
- Starch is a complex carb, which means that it releases its energy more slowly than simple carbs, such as sugar, especially when it is in whole foods, including brown rice. This slow energy release can be useful for people who want to control their blood sugar levels.
- Fiber is a carb that the body cannot digest, so it does not raise blood sugar levels. Fiber helps the digestive system function well, and it may help control cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease, a complication of diabetes.
People who wish to lose weight can also benefit from eating complex carbs and fiber because these foods will make them feel full for longer.
Find out more here about high-fiber foods to choose from.
According to the American Diabetes Association's 2019 Standards of Medical Care for Diabetes, most people with diabetes say that they obtain 44–46 percent of their total energy from carbohydrates. This percentage equates to approximately 200 grams (g) of carbs on a 1,800-calorie diet.
Individuals should ask their doctor how many carbs they should eat. They should also spread these carbs out evenly throughout the day and ensure that they do not consume large amounts all at once.
The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend a fiber intake of 25.0 g a day for women and 33.6 g for men.
According to a 2015 article, people with diabetes should consume at least the same amount of fiber as the average member of the general public.
People with diabetes can include rice as part of a healthful diet, but they should:
- Eat rice in moderation, and be mindful that 1 cup of rice contains 45 g of carbs.
- Spread their intake of rice and other carbs evenly throughout the day.
- Choose a variety of rice that is low in carbs and has a low GI score.
- Take into account any sauces and other accompaniments that may contain extra sugar or carbs.
- Discuss specific individual carbohydrate needs with a doctor or dietitian.
Brown rice and wild rice tend to be better options than white rice. People can also try replacing rice with healthful alternatives, such as cauliflower "rice" or quinoa.