Meghana Kumar, MD

What Should I Look for When Buying Whole Grains? - The New York Times
Photo c/o: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/16/well/eat/what-should-i-look-for-when-buying-whole-grains.html

In many cuisines, white rice is a staple of the dinner table – but one cup of cooked white rice has almost 50 grams of carbohydrates! This can put someone with diabetes in a tough position when it comes to reconciling sitting down to a family meal with their health needs. Here are some healthy alternatives to white rice that won’t force you to compromise on flavor.

First some terminology:

A carbohydrate (carb for short) is a molecule that is broken down to sugar for use as energy in the body.

Net carbs represent the total carbs in a food item minus fiber (which is not digested and therefore does not impact blood glucose). Net carbs are comprised of simple and complex carbs. Simple carbs are quick to digest whereas complex carbs (which are made of longer chains of molecules) take longer to digest. Complex carbs do not spike blood sugar as dramatically or rapidly and provide energy for a longer duration. Therefore, complex carbs are considered a superior option for diabetics.

Low carb substitutes:

  1. Vegetable rice – You can make this yourself in seconds using a food processor or buy it ready-made. Any vegetable can be riced if you get creative – sweet potatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, etc.  1 cup of cauliflower rice = 4 grams of total carbs, 2 grams of net carbs.
  2. Shirataki rice – Made from konnyaku flour, this rice can have a distinct odor and texture but is a great addition to a ketogenic diet. Look online for tips to make shirataki rice palatable. 1 cup = 5 grams of carbs, 0 grams of net carbs.

Moderate to high carb substitutes:

Brown rice, quinoa, couscous, barley, bulghur, buckwheat, farro, freekeh, and other grains are all still relatively high in starch, containing 30-50 grams of total carbohydrates per cup. But don’t write these options off completely! They also contain higher amounts of fiber and protein than white rice. They have varying amounts of important minerals like iron, selenium, and calcium. Most importantly, the carbohydrates they do contain are complex. These characteristics help carbohydrates to be absorbed and digested more slowly, allow you to stay full for longer with a smaller quantity of food, and are ultimately far better than white rice for your blood sugars.

Next time you go to the grocery store, we encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. The varieties are endless – if you don’t like brown rice, try brown jasmine or basmati rice. If not white quinoa, see if red quinoa is more up your alley. Happy eating!