The right rice in the right amount

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Diabetics do not have a specific diet to follow. They are advised to eat healthy, which is easy if the choice is between a steamed and deep-fried item, for instance.


But things can get tricky when it comes to rice, a staple food in many households here. Steamed white rice seems healthy enough, but it is a type of carbohydrate and can cause blood sugar levels to rise.

One thing diabetics can do is to turn to an index to guide their carb choices. The glycaemic index or GI measures how a carbohydrate- containing food raises one's blood glucose level.

A food with a high GI score of 70 and above is easily digested and this means it raises blood glucose more than a food with a medium GI of 55-69, or low GI of below 55.


A low-GI rice is, thus, a healthier choice for diabetics. To make an even healthier choice, go for the wholegrain variety.

"Consuming wholegrain low GI rice is akin to reaping a double dose of benefits for diabetics," said Mrs Kalpana Bhaskaran, manager of nutrition research at Temasek Polytechnic. She also heads the Glycemic Index Research Unit at the polytechnic.

The quality carbohydrates present in low-GI wholegrain rice will not cause large increases in blood sugar levels, she said.

Also, studies have consistently shown that eating wholegrain types of food substantially lowers the risk of diabetics getting more health problems, such as heart diseases, said Mrs Bhaskaran, who is also a council member of the Diabetic Society of Singapore.

Eating such types of food also helps to reduce the risk of certain types of cancer and aids in weight management and digestive health, she said.

The fibre in whole grains provide bulk to the diet, which increases the feeling of fullness. It also helps to prevent constipation.


An example of a diabetic-friendly wholegrain product is AceNuwara Red Basmati Rice, which was awarded the Health Promotion Board's "low GI" Healthier Choice symbol last year, as it is a low-GI wholegrain rice, she said.

Also available here are other types of low-GI rice that are marketed as diabetic-friendly, though they may not carry the Healthier Choice symbol.

However, such rice products can be expensive and some may not suit our tastebuds, said Ms Ong Li Jiuen, principal dietitian at Changi General Hospital.

"Some people may find it hard to chew brown or wild rice and may find that the texture of unpolished rice is coarse or grainy," she said.

The good news, at least for these people, is that diabetics do not need to eat rice marketed for diabetics.

"Ultimately, besides portion control, the choice of other food in one's diet also matters," said Ms Ong. For instance, the fibre from non-starchy or leafy vegetables can help to lower the GI of the meal, she said.

"The GI should not be used in isolation to determine if a particular food should be eaten. The GI value represents only the type of carbohydrate in a food but it says nothing about its nutritional content," cautioned Ms Ong.

"For example, potato chips and chocolate have a low GI but are high in fat.

"Many types of nutritious food have a higher GI than those with little nutritional value."

Furthermore, as many factors can alter the GI of a food, it is challenging to apply the concept of GI to mixed meals, said Ms Ong.

"The use of GI needs to be balanced with basic nutrition principles of including a variety for healthful food and moderating the intake of types of food that contain few nutrients."

In addition, one still needs to pay heed to the amount of low-GI rice one eats in a meal, said Ms Ong.

"It does not mean that one can eat a large portion of low-GI basmati rice as it still contains starch," she added.

Indeed, Mrs Bhaskaran concurred that "diabetics should give equal importance to the quantity of rice eaten (glycaemic load) in addition to the quality (glycaemic index)."

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