Diabetes and Rice


Do diabetes and rice mix? Will eating rice raise your A1C and blood sugar levels if you have diabetes? Does rice cause type 2 diabetes?

Rice pilaf, risotto, fried rice, steamed rice, rice casseroles and soups, and other rice dishes may taste good and be satisfying, but rice is high in carbohydrates. That may leave you questioning  how rice affects blood sugar and whether it is okay to eat rice if you have type 2 diabetes or are worried about getting diabetes. Here is what you need to know about how rice can affect blood sugar and insulin, and how you can make rice a healthy part of your life.

 

White Rice, Brown Rice, and Diabetes Risk


Does white rice put you at risk for type 2 diabetes? It appears to. Research has found that people who eat higher amounts of white rice are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes compared to people who eat almost none. [1, 2]

On the other hand, brown rice appears to have the opposite effect. Not only does brown rice not cause diabetes, but it actually seems to protect against it. That is, people who eat more brown rice have a lower risk for diabetes. 

White versus Brown Rice

Brown rice is the unprocessed form of the grain, while white rice is the more processed form. Brown rice still has the high-fiber bran, high-nutrient germ, and starchy endosperm components, while white rice has only the starchy endosperm. Any variety of rice, whether jasmine, basmati, or arborio, can be white or brown, depending on its processing.
 

Is Rice Bad for Diabetes?


Is it okay to eat rice If you have diabetes? It depends. Rice has a high glycemic index and a lot of carbohydrates. That means that rice can quickly raise blood glucose to very high levels. Eating a lot of high-glycemic foods can increase insulin resistance and make it harder to control your blood sugar.

Brown rice, though, appears to be healthier. It is just as high in carbs and has a glycemic index that is only slightly lower than that of white rice, but it increases insulin sensitivity. It causes slightly less of a blood sugar spike after meals compared to white rice. Furthermore, brown rice has the heart-healthy benefits of lowering total and “bad” LDL cholesterol.[3] That is good news if you have diabetes, since diabetes is already a risk factor for heart disease!

 

Does Rice Have Sugar and Carbohydrates?


Rice does not have sugar in it, but it does have starch - a lot of starch. Sugars and starches are both types of carbohydrates. Starch is a complex carbohydrate made up of many pieces of a type of sugar called glucose. When you eat rice, your body breaks down the starch into its glucose components and releases the glucose into your bloodstream. This raises your blood glucose or blood sugar levels. That is why eating rice is like eating a sugary food even though it has no sugar.

Rice is almost pure carbohydrate. A cup of cooked rice has 45 grams of carbs. White rice has almost no fiber, with only 0.6 grams per cup. Brown rice has 3.5 grams. Fiber helps lower blood sugar and has other benefits, such as lowering cholesterol.

To put rice in perspective, the following table shows the amount of carbohydrates and fiber in various foods.

Food Carbohydrates, Grams Fiber, Grams
White rice, 1 cup cooked
45
0.6
Brown rice, 1 cup cooked
45
3.5
Whole-grain pasta, 1 cup cooked
38
4
Barley, 1 cup cooked
45
6
Whole-grain bread, 1 thick slice
20
3
Oatmeal, 1 cup cooked
28
4
Sweet potato, 1 cup mashed
27
4
Lentils, ½ cup cooked
20
8
Corn, 1 cup
31
4
 

Healthier Meals with Rice


You can fit rice into a healthy diet for preventing or managing diabetes and blood sugar by being careful. Brown rice is a more nutritious choice that is better for blood sugar than white rice. Choose brown rice and products such as brown rice noodles, brown rice cakes, and brown rice crackers instead of white rice products. Regardless of which type of rice you choose, keep portion sizes in mind. A side order of rice can have over 150 grams of carbohydrates, which is more than enough for an entire day for some people. A good goal is to stick to ½ to 1 cup.

You can make your meal or snack healthier by adding low-carb foods with protein, healthy fats, and fiber to lower the glycemic index and stabilize your blood sugar levels.

Some Healthy Rice Ideas

  • Veggie burger with brown rice and ingredients such as beans, carrots, cashews, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, oats, and bell peppers.
  • Stuffed bell peppers or eggplants with a filling containing brown rice, lean ground turkey, tomato sauce, diced onion and tomato, and chopped water chestnuts or walnuts.
  • Broccoli rice casserole with brown rice, broccoli, onions, spices, milk, and cheese, and crushed pecans on top.
  • Chicken and brown rice soup with vegetables such as carrots, celery, onion, sweet potato, zucchini, and corn.
  • Salad with romaine lettuce tossed with brown rice, fat-free refried beans, cheddar cheese, tomatoes, avocado, and fat-free plain yogurt.

Sometimes, you might want to choose alternatives to rice that are higher in fiber or lower in carbs. Higher-fiber and lower-carb foods can keep prevent spiking blood sugar when you have diabetes. These are some examples.

  • Wheat bran and shredded wheat instead of puffed rice

  • Oatmeal instead of cream of rice or hot rice cereal.

  • Barley, sweet potatoes, or beans in soups or for side dishes.

  • Pulverized “riced” cauliflower as a substitute for rice in recipes.

  • Shredded cabbage or broccoli instead of rice in fried rice.

  • Raw vegetables or roasted soybeans instead of brown rice cakes.

Is rice bad for diabetes? The answer is a bit complicated! Too much white rice can raise risk for type 2 diabetes and increase blood sugar when you have diabetes, but moderate amounts of brown rice can be good for diabetes. It can be hard to figure out what to eat when you have diabetes or are trying to prevent it, but Lark Diabetes and Lark DPP can help. As your personal health coach, Lark can guide you towards healthier eating for blood sugar control and weight loss, along with the other healthy habits that can keep you as healthy as possible.

 


Reference

  1.  Villegas R, Liu S, Gao YT, Yang G, Li H, Zheng W, Shu XO. Prospective study of dietary carbohydrates, glycemic index, glycemic load, and incidence of type 2 diabetes mellitus in middle-aged Chinese women. Arch Intern Med. 2007 Nov 26;167(21):2310–2316. 

  2.  Sun Q, Spiegelman D, van Dam RM, et al. White rice, brown rice, and risk of type 2 diabetes in US men and women [published correction appears in Arch Intern Med. 2010 Sep 13;170(16):1479]. Arch Intern Med. 2010;170(11):961–969. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2010.109

  3.  Shimabukuro M, Higa M, Kinjo R, Yamakawa K, Tanaka H, Kozuka C, Yabiku K, Taira S, Sata M, Masuzaki H. Effects of the brown rice diet on visceral obesity and endothelial function: the BRAVO study. Br J Nutr. 2014 Jan 28;111(2):310-20. doi: 10.1017/S0007114513002432. Epub 2013 Aug 12.

Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Assistant Professor of Public Health