Can You Eat White Rice If You're Diabetic?
You don't have to switch to brown rice. Learn how to balance your meals so you can enjoy white rice, even if you're diabetic.
A cost-effective and satisfying grain, rice is an essential part of so many cuisines. Working as a diabetes educator in clinics, I would see most of my patients want to completely drop white rice (and other refined grains) upon being diagnosed with diabetes. They usually had misconceptions about refined grains being the cause of their diabetes and wanted to do everything possible to get their blood sugars back in a normal range. Despite loving white rice and knowing it was an important part of their culture, many patients would cut it out completely. Similarly, this would happen with foods like corn tortillas, potatoes, refined pasta and bread. So, the question is, do you need to cut out rice if you have diabetes?
White Rice Nutrition Facts
Let’s start by looking at the nutritional composition of rice. One cup of cooked white rice has around 44 grams of carbohydrates, which is similar to the amount of carbohydrates in brown rice. The bran and germ get removed from white rice, which results in a lower amount of nutrients like fiber, protein and fat, along with certain vitamins and minerals. Although brown rice is more nutrient-dense, this doesn’t mean white rice doesn’t have its benefits as well. Aside from some people enjoying the taste and texture of white rice better, it’s also easily digestible, because it is lower in fiber and fat. For people with digestive troubles like bloating or diarrhea, they may find that white rice is more tolerable than its brown counterpart. White rice is also more affordable; in some neighborhoods, it may be all that’s available.
Now, I’m not saying that you should ditch the brown rice if you actually enjoy it, because there are many health benefits to consuming whole grains. The latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans actually recommends that half of the grains we consume come from whole grains. What I am saying is that you don’t necessarily have to cut out white rice (or other refined grains) if they’re something you love — there are other ways to balance out your meals.
How to Balace Your Meals Without Cutting Out White Rice
Generally, I recommend consuming different foods regularly, if possible, to ensure you’re getting a range of nutrients. If you’re having rice every day as the carb for most of your meals, I would consider adding other types of carbohydrates into the rotation.
More importantly for people with diabetes, two important questions to ask are: What else are you having with that rice? And how much rice are you having during mealtimes? If you’re pairing rice with fats, protein and fiber-rich vegetables, your blood sugars will likely be more stable compared to when eating a meal that is mostly rice. How many carbs you need for optimal blood sugars really varies based on a number of factors like medication and lab values, and so it’s important to discuss those recommendations with your dietitian or health care provider.
If you’re looking for an easy meal prep tool, I do find that the MyPlate method is very user-friendly for people with diabetes. In this method, half of the plate consists of fibrous vegetables, and the other half is one-quarter protein and one-quarter carbohydrates. You can easily swap out different foods in each category, and it may be easier to understand visually than carb-counting or nutritional analysis of foods.
As a registered dietitian/nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator, Wendy Lopez, MS, RDN, CDCES, is passionate about accessible and culturally relevant nutrition education. She is the co-host of the Food Heaven Podcast and the co-founder of Food Heaven, an online platform that provides resources on cooking, intuitive eating, wellness and inclusion. When not working on creative projects, Wendy also provides nutritional counseling and medication management to patients with diabetes.
*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.