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Rice- It’s Rightful Place in Diabetic Diet!

Brown and White Basmati Rice
Rice – a staple food of many cultures across the world, has been misunderstood and even demonized when it comes to diet of diabetic people and weight watchers. All rice varieties contain starch and hence have a higher glycemic index as compared to other grains. On one hand, where white rice (which is stripped of its fiber and nutrients) is bad for the diabetic health; raw unpolished rice (with intact bran and high amylose content) is beneficial for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.
This article intends to shed light on the rightful place of rice as a whole grain, in diabetic diet.
Decoding the Glycemic index (GI):
Glycemic index (GI) is the impact of carbohydrate containing foods on the blood sugar levels.
Foods with GI lower than 55 are called as Low GI foods. They are safe for diabetics, as they result in a gradual and steady rise in blood sugar.
Foods with GI between 46 and 69 are Low to Medium GI foods. These help in slower and smooth rise in blood sugar, hence are healthy diet options for diabetics.
Foods with GI above 70 and higher are High GI foods and should be restricted in diabetic diet.
GI and Satiety:
Foods with low GI that give sustained levels of blood sugar and tend to give better satiety during meals, as compared to those which have a high GI. E.g. sticky rice which has a high GI is less filling; due to which we tend to go over-board with foods made from this variety of rice!
Rice and GI:
Rice is often shunned from diabetic diet, since most varieties of rice have high GI. Although, I do not recommend including large portions of rice for diabetics, smaller portions of healthier varieties of rice are helpful.
Rice being a whole grain is healthy in itself. Aged rice (6 months to 1 year) is light to digest and is best had during breakfast, lunch or as a snack. Milling and polishing can strip rice of its nutritive bran and germ. Rice varieties which have their outer bran (layer which gives rice a characteristic brown color) and germ intact. Rice bran is rich in protein, B group of vitamins and loads of phytochemicals. Rice germ (endosperm) contains proteins, essential amino acids; calcium, iron and B group vitamins.
Processing of rice has a significant impact on its GI. It is proved by research that pressure cooked parboiled long grain rice has a lower GI (between 46- 67). Also, undercooking the rice (cooking time 5 min) is an effective way of lowering the GI of rice.1
The two types of starches that are important to determining GI of any rice are Amylose and Amylopectin. Rice with high amylose content (like Basmati) is flaky and fluffy when cooked. Whereas one with high amylopectin content is sticky and glutinous.
Rice containing high amylose content is healthier due to its lower GI, as compared to those varieties which have more amylopectin and a high GI.2
Rice varieties with high GI:
White rice:
White rice has the highest GI among all the varieties of rice. Polishing and milling (which gives rice a bright white color), strips the rice of its nutritious germ and embryo. This rice has a high GI and should be restricted in diabetic diet. Higher intake of white rice is associated with an increased risk of Type II Diabetes (non-insulin dependent mellitus i.e. NIDDM).3
Rice Varieties with Low to Medium GI:
Brown Rice:
Brown rice is just the regular rice which has its bran and germ intact! Brown rice is a whole grain rich in protein, fat, fiber, B group vitamins and minerals like calcium, phosphorus and iron. It has a low GI of 55 and is of the healthiest rice for diabetics. The malted brown rice which has its germ intact is particularly nutritious. Also, long grain brown rice has a lower GI than the short grain varieties.
Basmati Rice:
Brown basmati rice, long grain basmati rice has a low GI (58) due to its high amylose content and is healthier compared to white rice for diabetics. Brown basmati rice with an intact germ and bran is the best!
Red or white long grain Parboiled Rice:
The west coast states of South India like Goa, Karnataka and Kerala traditionally use red or white boiled rice in their cuisine. Has high amylose content and a low to medium GI of 55.4Hence, this variety is also a good option for diabetics.
Jungle Rice/Bhagar/Samo/Varicha tandul/ Samak rice (Echinocloa colona):
Jungle Rice/Bhagar
Bhagar is a whole grain that has been traditional cultivated for thousands of years in the West and Southern Indian States. Usually consumed during fasting and religious ceremonies; it is light to digest. This is definitely a healthier low GI substitute for white rice for diabetics and weight watchers.
Wild Rice (Zizania aquatic or Zizania palustris):
Wild rice is dark brown to black in color. It is a grain harvested from a semi-aquatic grass, native to North America. Wild rice has a rich protein content and is a great source of vitamins like B6, folate and niacin. It is also rich in minerals like zinc, magnesium and manganese. Its low GI and superior anti-oxidant content makes it a super-food for diabetics, individuals with metabolic disorders and weight watchers.
Sticky /Glutinous Rice:
Sticky rice a common variety used in South-eastern Asian cuisine has a high GI due to its Amylopectin content. It’s the amylopectin which gives it the signature sticky consistency! High GI of 87 makes this variety unhealthy for diabetics.
How and with what do you cook your rice?
How your rice is cooked and what you combine your rice with can also influence the GI.
Here is the nitty- gritty of choosing and cooking low GI rice for diabetics-
  • What you add to rice can make a difference! Drizzling olive oil, flax seed oil over rice, adding vinegar or lemon juice can slow down the conversion of starch in the rice and thus lower its GI.
  • Add extra fiber by combining lentils, beans and plenty of vegetables with rice. Adding low GI foods like lentils helps in balancing- out the comparatively high GI of rice.
  • Longer the cooking time, higher is the GI.  Over- cooked rice has a high GI. Hence, rice should be cooked in as shorter time as possible. Pressure cooking is one of the best ways to cook rice and can lower the GI of even white rice by 30%.
  1. Rice Science: Innovations and Impact for Livelihood, Int. Rice Res. Inst., 2003, p 426
  2. Behall KM, Scholfield DJ, Yuhaniak I, Canary J, Diets containing high amylose vs amylopectin starch: effects on metabolic variables in human subjects, Am J Clin Nutr. 1989 Feb; 49(2):337-44.
  3. Hu, Emily A., et al. “White rice consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: meta-analysis and systematic review.” BMJ: British Medical Journal, 344 (2012).
  4. G. O. Wordu and E. B. Banigo, Evaluation of the glycemic index of some cooked variety of rice products in Nigeria, Net Journal of Agricultural Science, Vol. 1(2), pp. 38-41, April 2013, ISSN: 2315-9766


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