Amy Reeder is a Certified Diabetes Educator with a master’s degree in nutrition from the University of Utah. She has worked in the diabetes field since 2005 and has been a Certified Diabetes Educator since 2007. 

There are many foods that have question marks hanging over them when you think about healthy meal planning for people with diabetes. White rice is one of those foods. Diabetics can eat white rice, but should limit their intake since white rice has a high amount of carbs that can raise blood sugar.

Most people with diabetes know that white rice is a starchy carbohydrate that raises blood sugar when eaten. And if you count carbohydrates, you also know that “one serving” of white rice is pretty small, compared to a typical serving in real life. One-third a cup of white rice is considered a serving and contains 15 grams of carbohydrates.

Most people consume, on average, one to two cups of rice per serving, resulting in a carb intake of 45 to 90 grams of carbohydrates. As those carbs add up, the chance for a spike in blood glucose also goes up; especially with this simple carb white rice that has been processed and stripped of nutrients and fiber. If you haven't measured out a 1/3 cup serving of white rice, do so — it's eye-opening to see just how small that portion is.

Rice substitutes

The good news? There are many grains that can be substituted for white rice. And many of these grains are becoming more widely available in restaurants and grocery stores. One of these substitutions is brown rice. This type of rice has not been stripped of the bran and germ portions of the grain, as white rice has. The rice bran and rice germ in brown rice provide valuable nutrients and most importantly, in relation to blood sugar control, fiber.

In addition to brown rice, other grains that can be substituted for white rice, and have similar fiber and nutrient profiles as brown rice, are:

  • Quinoa
  • Faro
  • Barley
  • Bulgur

Try using some of these grains in stir-fries, casseroles, or as a side with your protein and salad or veggies. These alternative grains also contain quite a bit more protein than white rice and can be used as meat alternatives in vegetarian meal planning.

A study published in the online version of the Archives of Internal Medicine showed a reduced risk in type 2 diabetes with increased intake of brown rice and decreased intake of white rice. Researchers believe this has to do with the nutrient density, fiber content and glycemic index of brown rice compared to white rice.

The higher the fiber content and lower the glycemic index of a food, the lower the risk of a rapid increase in blood sugar after eating the food. The vitamins, minerals, and phyto-nutrients in brown rice and other grains may also be protective against type 2 diabetes. The fiber helps slow digestion and absorption, thereby causing a slow release of sugar in to the bloodstream, as opposed to a fast release causing a big spike in blood sugar. That slow release is beneficial for people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes as it allows for better blood sugar control.

Here’s a comparison of glycemic index/glycemic load among white rice and other grains. The lower the glycemic index and glycemic load of a food, the less that food affects blood sugar and insulin response in the body:

White rice: 89/43

Brown rice: 50/16

Barley: 28/12

Quinoa: 53/13

Bulgur: 48/12

Faro: 30/11

Enjoy white rice every now and then, but include brown rice and other grains more often for overall health and diabetes prevention and management.

To learn more about problem foods:

Problem Foods: Can Diabetics Eat Potatoes?
Problem Foods: Can Diabetics Eat All-purpose Flour?
Kidney-Friendly Foods