Rice is a popular and common food for many thought the world, however, if you have diabetes you may be looking for alternative options. If managing diabetes, it’s likely you are looking for foods that help maintain blood sugar levels at a safe level and prevent sugar spikes. The foods you eat all impact your blood sugar levels. In this post, we’ll look at the impact of rice when it comes to managing diabetes as well as eleven rice substitutes for diabetics.
Choosing the Right Foods for Diabetes
It’s important to note, that you should follow the guidelines from any medical doctor in terms of what foods are best for you in managing your diabetes as you may have individual considerations to keep in mind. The rice alternatives mentioned below should not be seen as dietary advice or an alternative to any medical advice from a medical doctor.
When it comes to managing diabetes, research has shown that replacing refined, simple sugars in the diet with more complex carbohydrates helps better manage blood sugar levels than eating refined grains. Complex carbohydrates can often be found in whole grains, whereas refined foods are found in foods such as white rice and regular pasta. Refined grains can result in blood sugar spikes or a rise in blood glucose levels shortly after consumption. Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest, resulting in better blood sugar control, rather than causing a spike.
Rice & Diabetes: What to Know
When it comes to rice and diabetes, it’s not as cut and dry as you might think. Certain types of rice have health benefits, nutrients, and fiber that can be beneficial. However, rice is also loaded with carbohydrates which can raise your glycemic index and create a spike in blood sugar.
Research has shown that people eating a diet full of white rice are more at risk for developing type 2 diabetes than those who don’t eat much if any white rice. White rice is a refined carbohydrate and can raise blood sugar levels.
Brown rice seems to affect the body differently. People eating brown rice have been shown to actually have a lower risk of diabetes. Why?
Brown rice is a whole grain, that is still intact. White rice is a refined grain, meaning it has been processed to remove the husk, bran layer, and most of the germ, so it is no longer a “whole grain.” This process of refining the grain results in a loss of vitamins, minerals, and other nutritional values.
Rice has a high glycemic index and a lot of carbs, so it can quickly raise blood glucose to a high level. Although brown rice is as high in carbs as white rice and has only a slightly lower glycemic index level, it also increases insulin sensitivity. It causes less of a blood sugar spike than white rice. An additional benefit of brown rice is that it helps lower total and bad LDL cholesterol according to a study in the British Journal of Nutrition. Moderate amounts of brown rice when balanced with protein and healthy fats may be good for you- but always check with your doctor.
Rice Substitutes for Diabetics
Low-Carb or No-Carb Rice Alternatives
Cauliflower has become a popular vegetable from riced cauliflower to cauliflower pizza crust. With its mild flavor and texture when cooked that is similar to cooked rice, it has quickly become a popular rice substitute. Cauliflower has many health benefits including its low-calorie and low-carb vegetable, making it particularly popular with people on a low-carb or keto diet. A 1-cup serving size of riced cauliflower has only 5 grams of carbohydrates and 25 calories. Cauliflower rice is readily available alongside other frozen vegetables or fresh vegetable packages in many grocery stores.
However, it is also easy to make your own riced cauliflower at home. You can use a box grater to grate pieces from the head of cauliflower or you can throw them into a food processor to finely chop them. I like to cook cauliflower in a stovetop pan on medium heat with a small amount of olive oil until slightly browned and then I add in a few other frozen vegetables.
Riced broccoli is going to look and taste different than rice, but it can make a great substitute depending on what dish you are making. Broccoli is an incredibly healthy vegetable and a great choice for those on a low-carb or low-calorie diet. Brocolli is an excellent source of vitamin C, providing 25% of the daily recommended value in just 1/2 cup serving. Broccoli rice can be found in the freezer section of your grocery store, or you can make your own with a food processor or box grater.
While cabbage is going to look different than rice, it does have a mild taste that is complimentary to many different foods. Cabbage is low in calories and carbs, making it a healthy alternative to rice for people on a low-carb diet. You can create riced cabbage by using a food processor it can be finely chopped into rice-like pieces, much like you would cauliflower rice.
Shirataki Rice (Miracle Rice)
Shirataki rice is not actually rice, it is also sold as a noodle and is made from the konjac plant, an Asian root vegetable also known as elephant yam. Shirataki rice is loaded with soluble fiber, minimal calories (about 10 calories per serving), and is carb-free, making them a low glycemic food. Shirataki rice may also help lower cholesterol levels and support healthy gut bacteria. Making it a healthier option over regular white rice for anyone with diabetes as well as those looking to limit carbs.
Whole Grain Rice Alternatives
Quinoa is one of the most popular rice alternatives. While quinoa is a seed, nutritionally it is more like a grain than a seed, it is often referred to as a pseudo-grain. Quinoa has a slightly bland, but nutty flavor and comes in a few varieties such as red quinoa, black quinoa, and white. is one of my favorite foods to work with. I make quinoa for breakfast and eat it like oatmeal with some cinnamon, honey, and berries. I also add quinoa to salads or use it as a base like rice to eat mixed with other cooked vegetables.
Quinoa is a complete protein which means it contains all nine essential amino acids. Quinoa is one of the few plants that is a complete protein, which makes it a great option for vegetarians or people that are looking to reduce their meat consumption.
Bulgur wheat is known as one of the most versatile whole grains and easiest foods to cook with. Bulgur has been around for more than 4,000 years. Bulgur can be used much like rice, couscous, barley, and quinoa making it a great rice substitute.
Though bulgur wheat is most commonly found in tabbouleh salad, you can use it just like rice or couscous, or any other whole grain, such as barley or quinoa.
Barley is another ancient grain, that is high in fiber. Barley serves as a good alternative to rice, with a mild, slightly nutty taste and chewy texture. It goes great in soups, stews, casseroles, and even salads.
Whole grain Farro
Farro is an ancient grain that looks similar to brown rice and even has a similar nutty flavor. Farro goes great in stews, salads, and casseroles. Farro is packed full of nutrition with a moderate GI.
Freekeh is a plant-based grain with a low glycemic index as well as boasting heart-healthy nutrients, making it a good rice alternative for people managing diabetes. Whole-grain freekeh is a great source of fiber, fiber helps slow the absorption of glucose into the blood.
Oatmeal is a great substitute for cream of rice or hot rice cereal. Oats are high in fiber, which can help support controlled blood sugar levels. Oatmeal has a moderate GI, with steel-cut being a healthier choice as they contain more fiber and are less processed than instant oats.
Wheat berries are whole, unprocessed kernels of wheat, making them a great whole grain for people on a diabetic diet. Wheat berries are a fairly versatile grain, with a slightly nutty taste. You can eat them as a breakfast cereal to make an oatmeal-like dish add them to salads or mix them with other vegetables.
Regardless of which type of rice alternative you choose, keep portion size in mind when it comes to keeping your blood sugar levels stable. The riced vegetable options are a better choice overall when it comes to keeping calories and carb counts low, which may allow you to eat more.
If transitioning to new foods is difficult for you and your blood sugar levels allow you to-you may even consider a phase in which you add in a rice alternative such as some riced cauliflower along with some brown rice for instance until you get used to the new flavorings and then phase out the rice. Some people often find dietary changes easier when they can transition themselves away from one food to a healthier alternative, rather than just cutting a particular food out altogether.
Most importantly follow the eating plan that feels best for you and follow any medical advice you have been given by a medical doctor. Celebrate each success you have when making a better choice for your health!
Karla Kueber is a Certified Evidence Based EFT Practioner and Health Coach, with a double Masters Degree in Education. She works with people to overcome emotional eating, curb cravings, and overcome resistance to eating new healthy foods. You can learn more about coaching with her here.