“Just why is white rice and other refined carbs like white bread seen as the culprit in this war against diabetes? Do I really have to switch to whole grains?”
Yan Yin Phoi, an accredited practising dietitian of The Thoughtful Dietitian answers.
To answer this question, we have to understand the difference between whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains are kernels consisting of a fibrous outer husk, a nutrient-rich germ, and a starchy endosperm. On the other hand, refined grains are stripped of its germ and husk, leaving behind a low-fibre, carbohydrate-rich grain.
As such, the amount of carbohydrate, or sugar, in a bowl of white rice compared with a bowl of brown rice is similar. This means that after a meal, the amount of sugar that is absorbed into your bloodstream is similar between the two types of rice.
Why are we encouraged to switch to whole grains then? The key lies in the fibrous husk of whole grains. Fibre slows down the rate of digestion, which leads to a slower, more gradual release of the carbohydrates in whole grains into the bloodstream. That way, it prevents the spikes in blood sugar levels observed after consuming the same amount of refined carbohydrates, like white rice, or worse still, sweetened beverages. The more refined the carbohydrate is, the quicker the rise in blood sugar levels.
In essence, that is why a switch to whole grains allows you to better control your sugar levels. Studies have long proven the benefits of whole grains, not just for the prevention and management of diabetes, but also for heart disease, stroke, and various cancers.
All changes take time, and developing new habits require persistence. Perhaps when cooking rice, start with a mix of 20% brown and 80% white, and gradually tip the scales until it is predominantly, or entirely brown rice. Think about it, if not for technological advancement, all the grains available to us would be whole grains, and we’d see a lower rate of the lifestyle diseases that are prevalent now. It’s really about going back to basics!
Of course, if you think certain dishes only taste good with white rice, such as with briyani or chicken rice, do enjoy it once in a while! After all, a healthy diet is not simply a “clean” one, but one with a good balance of a variety of foods.