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Count your carbs: How much rice can a diabetic have? Is brown rice better than white rice?

Most diabetics are in a dilemma about the amount of carbohydrates they can consume and whether they can have what they have been familiar with, rice and wheat. Yet it is true that diabetics need carbohydrates, too, but their quality and quantity need to be watched, preferably complex variants which take time to be broken down into glucose in the body and prevent sugar swings.

“For a person with diabetes, 40-45 per cent of the total kilocalories of the day should be met by carbohydrates,” says Dr Sonia  Gandhi, Head, Department of Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics, Fortis Mohali.

So how much of rice can a diabetic have? “A diabetic person is allowed to have at least 30 gms of rice (raw). When compared with a 30 gm wheat chapati, which has the same carbohydrate content, the absorption rate of glucose from rice is higher. According to the portion size list issued by the National Institute of Nutrition, a portion size counts for 30 gm of raw rice or any other cereal-based product,” explains Dr Gandhi, adding that reading labels on food is important to know the calories and nutrition of a food item.

As for the total number of carbohydrates or calories a person can take in the entire day, the value, she says. depends on the height, weight, exercise patterns and dose of medication of an individual. A doctor and a nutritionist, she says, can work out the right number of carbs/calories a person with diabetes can consume to keep the levels of blood glucose normal, which is possible by eating small portion sizes of carbs at regular intervals.


According to Dr Gandhi, it is never recommended that a person with diabetes must avoid carbohydrates completely. The quality and quantity of the carbohydrates must be considered. “Complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, pulses, legumes, fruits and vegetables rather than simple carbohydrates like sugar, maida, potatoes, banana, jaggery, honey, juices and processed foods are always advised. According to the portion exchange, 30 gm of rice gives 20 gm of carbohydrates. A controlled amount and complex form of carbohydrates are advised in gm as per distribution and requirements of calories for a person with diabetes, because glucose, the product of carbohydrates, gives a spike in the blood sugar levels after digestion and absorption. So, 30 gm of raw or uncooked rice counts for one portion size,” explains Dr Gandhi.


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Brown rice, says Dr Gandhi, has more fibre content (1.8 gm), when compared with simple white rice (.4 gm), so it is a better alternative. “But there is not much difference in the carbohydrate amount of white rice as well as brown rice. Although affordability needs to be taken care of.” Enriching rice with vegetables and pulses and combining a portion of rice with beans increase the nutritional value of the meal. “Simple boiled rice can be modified by adding more vegetables as in the form of khichdi/ pulao or just by replacing it with some whole grains such as oats, whole wheat, jowar or bajra.”

Also, people on a diet must consider the glycaemic index (GI) of food. GI is a scale (0 to 100) that quantifies how fast the body converts carbohydrates from food into glucose and the impact on blood sugar levels. Desserts, aerated drinks, cakes, pastries, and pies made with white flour (maida) convert more quickly into glucose, as compared to complex carbs. “Rice has been categorised in the high glycemic rank, that is 70 or above.”


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While choosing rice, says Dr Gandhi, one must take care of colour, texture, aroma, contamination, adulteration and overall quality from a nutrient perspective. “Choosing healthy rice is when one is aware of extra added nutrients such as fibre, extra vitamins and some other trace elements.”

Nutritional value of rice

A portion of 100 gm of rice gives:

Energy: 130 kcal

Protein: 2.7 gm

Fat: 0.3 gm

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