Can I Have Rice If I Have Prediabetes?

Eating rice-based dishes can be part of a healthy diet for prediabetes. Trick is to choose the right kind of rice and to prepare it in healthy ways.
Can I Have Rice If I Have Prediabetes?
Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Lark Health

Managing prediabetes can mean making lifestyle changes to lower risk for developing type 2 diabetes, but what if you love rice? Is it necessary to choose between this high-carb, starchy food and health?

Eating rice, and favorite rice-based dishes, can be part of a healthy diet for prediabetes. The tricks are to choose the right kind of rice and to prepare it in healthy ways. Here is the scoop.

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How Does Rice Affect Diabetes Risk?

This question has two answers, depending on the type of rice. Consumption of refined white rice has been linked to increased risk for diabetes, while consumption of brown rice, a whole grain, has been linked to decreased risk [1].

Types of Whole Grain Rice Types of Refined Rice
  • Brown rice (short, medium, and long grain)
  • Brown Basmati rice
  • Himalayan red rice
  • Purple Thai rice
  • White rice (short, medium, and long grain)
  • Basmati rice
  • Jasmine rice
  • Arborio rice

Refined or white rice is what is most likely in restaurants if they do not specify. Bean and rice burritos, fried and steamed rice, rice pilaf, and other rice dishes are all usually made with white rice.

Brown vs. White Rice for Prediabetes

How can the type of rice make such a big difference in its health effects for prediabetes? Brown rice is a whole grain, which means it contains its natural germ and bran. These are nutrient-rich components. 

White rice is a refined grain. Its bran and germ have been stripped away, leaving it with less fiber and fewer phytonutrients. With less fiber and protein than brown rice, white rice can raise blood sugar more quickly. Spiking blood sugar too often can raise diabetes risk.

Making Rice Healthier for Prediabetes

How can you keep eating rice and lower diabetes risk? Here are a few tips.

1. Choose brown rice.

Eating brown rice instead of white rice can be an easy way to make rice work for your health. Dry and boil-in-bag brown rice are available in the rice section of most supermarkets. Brown rice cakes, brown rice cereal, and brown rice noodles are also common. Chinese and other East restaurants may offer steamed brown rice, and Indian restaurants may have brown Basmati rice on the menu.

2. Add protein, fat, and/or fiber.

White rice, and to a lesser extent brown rice, raise blood sugar because of the high amount of starch it contains. That starch is quickly digested into smaller carbohydrate molecules, which go into your bloodstream as glucose. White rice has a very high glycemic index because of its effect on blood sugar.

Adding protein, fat, or fiber to your meal or recipe can help slow digestion and absorption of rice and prevent blood sugar from spiking as dramatically. This means your meal or recipe will have a lower glycemic index.

  • Lean proteins: skinless chicken, fish, tofu, egg or egg whites, reduced-fat cheese.
  • Healthy fats: nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocado.
  • Fiber: vegetables, beans.

Some Lower-Glycemic Ideas for Rice

  • Stuffed bell peppers with brown rice, Italian spices, olive oil tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and low-fat parmesan cheese.
  • Fish served with brown rice with green beans and almonds.
  • Brown rice tossed with olive oil, feta cheese, and cooked zucchini, eggplant, and bell peppers.
  • Chicken and brown rice soup made with vegetables.
  • Brown rice made Mexican-style served with vegetarian refried beans, grilled peppers and onions, and chicken.
  • Stuffed cabbage with brown rice, onions, lean ground turkey, and tomato sauce.

3. Watch Portion Sizes

A cup of white or brown rice has about 200 calories and 45 grams of carbohydrates. That is already high before considering that the amount that is served is often far more. A simple way to prevent rice from harming a healthy diet is to keep portions small, about half a cup.

That may be a smaller amount than you are used to, but there are ways to make that half-cup go further. For example, when rice is a side dish, you can serve yourself less rice while filling your plate up with extra vegetables. 

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Another option is to swap half the rice in recipes, and instead use substitutes such as riced cauliflower or broccoli or shirataki noodles.

Broccoli Tuna Rice Casserole with Cauliflower and Brown Rice

  • Chopped cauliflower
  • Cooked brown rice
  • Canned tuna (or cooked chicken)
  • Diced onion and celery
  • Olive oil
  • Cottage cheese
  • Milk
  • Shredded cheddar cheese

Pulse the cauliflower in a blender until it resembles rice. Cook it, along with onions and celery, in a pan with a bit of olive oil. Mix the vegetables with rice, tuna, and cottage cheese. Add a bit of milk, then bake. Cover with shredded cheese and bake until cheese is melted.

Rice can be part of a healthy diet for prediabetes, but making a few good choices when you eat rice can make a big difference. Using brown rice, adding protein, fiber, and fat, and keeping portions small can help lower diabetes risk. Lark’s Diabete Prevention Program can help with the day-to-day choices that can have a big impact on weight loss and diabetes risk.