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Is Rice Bad for Diabetes? Explaining the Risk
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Is Rice Bad for Diabetes? Explaining the Risk

HR_author_photo_Edibel
Written by Edibel Quintero, RD | Medically reviewed by Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD check
Published on October 12, 2022
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7 min

Having diabetes requires stringent diet restrictions, but where does a staple food like rice fit in? We explain whether or not people with diabetes should eat this low-fiber grain and the nutritional value of rice.

Is rice bad for diabetes
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When knocking up your evening meal, you instinctively reach for the brown rice. We’ve all heard that brown rice is better for us than white rice. But, as a staple food among Asian, Latin American, and some African diets, it’s hard to put down white rice.

Is eating rice (white or brown) healthy for people with diabetes? A person with diabetes must pay careful attention to their diet. And it’s not just the type of rice that matters. What about the way you cook rice?

However, someone with diabetes can eat a healthy diet that includes this much-loved carbohydrate. Read on to discover how and when to eat rice with a diabetes diet.

Is Rice Bad for Diabetes?

Rice is rich in carbohydrates and has a high GI score. Yet, people with diabetes can eat rice in moderation without dangerously spiking their blood sugars. You should avoid eating large quantities of white rice and opt for healthier whole grains, like brown rice or jasmine rice.

People with diabetes should avoid eating too many foods high in carbohydrates and a high glycemic index. White rice and refined grains contain more sugar than other grains, such as brown or wild rice.

When you eat carbohydrates, it raises blood sugar levels. For most people, this is fine in moderation. In fact, carbohydrates are an important part of a healthy diet.

However, a person with diabetes must watch their blood glucose levels as consuming too many carbs can cause adverse effects. These might include long-term diabetes complications, such as nerve damage, heart disease, and kidney disease.

If you have already been diagnosed with diabetes, you can enjoy rice in moderation. Watch out for the number of carbohydrates you consume, the GI score, and the type of rice you wish to eat.

Can Eating Too Much Rice Cause Diabetes?

If you’re worried about developing diabetes or have pre-diabetes, you should watch your sugar intake. Research found that people who eat white rice in large quantities had an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Further studies suggest that high amounts of white rice could increase the risk of diabetes by 11%.

Is it as simple as swapping white rice for brown? Another study indicates that someone with diabetes or pre-diabetes found that eating brown rice (instead of white rice) did not improve glycemic control. However, the study concluded that there were links between eating brown rice and weight loss and improving cholesterol.

While this may not directly affect diabetes, eating a healthy diet with low GI foods is beneficial for someone with diabetes or pre-diabetes. Weight loss and lower cholesterol levels can help someone with diabetes manage their condition. Moreover, losing just 5–7% of body weight can lower the risk of developing the disease for those prone to diabetes.

Will Rice Raise Your Blood Sugar?

Rice is a carbohydrate. When eating rice, the body breaks the carbohydrates down into glucose, which is absorbed into the bloodstream. This causes the body’s blood sugar to rise. In an individual without diabetes, their insulin will monitor blood sugar levels and prevent them from increasing too much.

Individuals with type 2 diabetes cannot produce enough insulin, or their bodies resist it, to offset blood glucose levels. High sugar levels over time can cause problems for a person with diabetes, from loss of vision to nerve damage. In the short term, very high blood sugars cause drowsiness, agitation, and generally feeling unwell. 

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Type 1 people with diabetes cannot produce insulin at all. Therefore, carbohydrate counting is very important. Fortunately, most people with diabetes take medication, such as insulin injections, to help manage the condition. Even so, you must take care not to consume too many unrefined carbs like white rice.

For most people, eating rice in moderation is okay, but it’s important to know that it will raise your blood sugar. A person with diabetes should eat carbohydrates less frequently, in smaller doses, to allow the body to cope with sugar levels.

The problem with white rice

White rice has a particular reputation as being an unhealthy food.

White rice is refined, which means your body absorbs the sugar more quickly as it can digest it more easily. Therefore, your blood sugar will rise faster. The insulin levels of a person with diabetes will struggle to manage blood sugar levels.

Brown rice or unrefined grains absorb more slowly. A person with diabetes might cope with rising blood sugar levels better.

Nutritional Value of Rice

Below, you’ll find the nutritional value of 100g of cooked white rice:

Net CarbsTotal CarbsFatsProtein
27.6g28g0.28g2.67g
CaloriesFiberSugarsGlycemic Index
1290.4g0.05g73

Brown rice, wild rice, and long-grain white rice contain more fiber and vitamins than short-grain white rice.

The nutritional value of 100g of cooked brown rice:

Net CarbsTotal CarbsFatsProtein
21.7g23.5g0.83g2.32g
CaloriesFiberSugarsGlycemic Index
1121.8g0.4g50

Glycemic Index of Rice

White rice has a GI of 73, which is very high. Moreover, short-grain white rice has very little nutritional value. People with diabetes should avoid foods with a high GI (70 or above).

Basmati rice, brown rice, wild rice, and other whole grains have a more moderate GI score between 56 and 69. Other foods with a low GI score to replace white rice include:

  • Rolled and steel-cut oats
  • Barley
  • Bulgur
  • Quinoa and buckwheat
  • Millet

How to Consume Rice if You Have Diabetes?

Rice, particularly white rice, contributes to 20% of the world’s calories. So, how do you avoid it on a diabetes diet?

The good news is that you don’t have to cut rice out of your life completely. Instead, you should aim to eat unrefined whole grains in moderation and focus on staying healthy, including improving cardio exercise habits.

#1 Type of rice

As already discussed, you should be mindful of the type of rice. Always opt for brown rice or unrefined long-grain rice as it has more fiber and a lower risk of increasing your sugar levels.

Beware of yellow rice made from white rice. When trying different types of whole grains and starchy foods, check that they are unrefined with a low GI index. Seek professional medical advice about your diabetes diet if you’re unsure.

#2 Cooking rice

The GI score of a particular food changes depending on how you cook it. Research suggests that freshly cooked rice, either boiled, cooked in a broth, or in a rice cooker, is less healthy than reheated rice.

White bread, cereals, grains, pasta, rice, and potatoes contain resistant starches. When cooked, cooled, and refrigerated before use (e.g., fried rice or leftovers), the starch molecules change and become harder to digest. Foods that are cooked, chilled and reheated contain more resistant starches, which can help insulin sensitivity and sugar levels.

#3 Portion size

As with any diet, portion control is essential for a person with diabetes. Overeating carbohydrates and added sugar leads to poorly managed diabetes. The American Diabetes Association suggests following the diabetes plate method. This means filling half of a 9-inch plate with vegetables, a quarter with lean proteins, and a quarter with carbs.

Alternatively, you could try carbohydrate counting. This involves counting how many grams of carbohydrates you eat. You should aim for 45–60 grams of carbohydrates per meal; limit yourself to less than half a cup of rice per meal.

#4 Balanced diet

Managing diabetes or other health conditions is about forming healthy habits. Yes, you can eat rice in small portions. But how can you ensure you stick to your diabetes diet? If you ate pasta for lunch, can you have rice with your dinner? One of the easiest ways to manage your diet is with a diabetes care app.

The Klinio app helps you change your approach to food and exercise to better manage your diabetes. You can create a personalized meal plan for your condition, and the app helps you control the amount of sugar you consume. Plus, with a detailed progress tracker, you can log your glucose levels, step count, weight, and medications.

In addition, you can get a diabetes management book filled with tips, recipes, and educational content curated by wellness professionals to help manage diabetes on a daily basis.

FAQs

Can people with diabetes eat rice?

Eating whole grains, such as brown or wild rice, in moderation is typically okay for a person with diabetes. Check the GI score of any carbohydrates you eat and consult with your healthcare professional.

Which rice is good for people with diabetes?

A person with diabetes should avoid rich carbohydrate foods with a high glycemic score. Long-grain white rice, brown rice, wild rice, and jasmine rice have a lower glycemic index. Short-grain white rice has a high GI score of 73.

Can people with diabetes eat beans and rice?

Yes, people with diabetes can eat beans and rice. You should stick to healthy unrefined carbohydrate foods, low on the GI scale, like beans, that don’t cause significant spikes in blood glucose. Similarly, brown rice or wild rice has a lower GI score. You can eat white rice but in small amounts and infrequently.

A Word From MD

People with diabetes can eat most rice in moderation. White rice has a higher GI score and can cause blood sugar to increase. Therefore, it’s best to consume smaller portions of white rice. It may also help cook, chill, and reheat white rice to lower its GI score.

Other types of rice, such as brown or wild rice, have a lower GI score. They also contain more fiber, nutrients, and vitamins crucial to maintaining a healthy diet. As they are unrefined carbs, the body does not absorb the sugar as quickly. Therefore, a person with diabetes might cope better.

People with diabetes should also think about other measures to control their condition. Portion control, increased exercise, and a balanced diet all help reduce the long-term impacts of diabetes.

Conclusion

People with diabetes don’t have to skip rice. While you shouldn’t eat too many unrefined carbs, like white rice, it’s okay occasionally. However, people with diabetes should focus on maintaining a healthy lifestyle with frequent exercise. If you enjoy rice with your meals, try to choose wild or brown rice.

HR_author_photo_Edibel
Written by
Edibel Quintero is a medical doctor who graduated in 2013 from the University of Zulia and has been working in her profession since then. She specializes in obesity and nutrition, physical rehabilitation, sports massage and post-operative rehabilitation. Edibel’s goal is to help people live healthier lives by educating them about food, exercise, mental wellness and other lifestyle choices that can improve their quality of life.
Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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