Brown rice is a whole grain that’s often considered a health food.
Unlike white rice, which only contains the starchy endosperm, brown rice retains the nutrient-rich germ and bran layers of the grain. The only part removed is the hard outer hull (1).
Yet, while it’s higher in several nutrients than white rice, brown rice remains rich in carbs. As a result, you may wonder whether it’s safe for people with diabetes.
This article tells you whether you can eat brown rice if you have diabetes.
How brown rice affects diabetes
Brown rice is a healthy addition to a balanced diet, even if you have diabetes.
Still, it’s important to monitor portion sizes and be aware of how this food affects blood sugar levels.
General health benefits
Brown rice has an impressive nutritional profile. It’s a good source of fiber, antioxidants, and several vitamins and minerals (1, 2).
Specifically, this whole grain is high in flavonoids — plant compounds with potent antioxidant effects. Eating flavonoid-rich foods is associated with a reduced risk of chronic illnesses, including heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease (1, 3).
Growing evidence suggests that high fiber foods like brown rice are beneficial for digestive health and may reduce your risk of chronic disease. They may also boost fullness and aid weight loss (4, 5, 6).
One cup (202 grams) of cooked long grain brown rice provides (2):
- Calories: 248
- Fat: 2 grams
- Carbs: 52 grams
- Fiber: 3 grams
- Protein: 6 grams
- Manganese: 86% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Thiamine (B1): 30% of the DV
- Niacin (B3): 32% of the DV
- Pantothenic acid (B5): 15% of the DV
- Pyridoxine (B6): 15% of the DV
- Copper: 23% of the DV
- Selenium: 21% of the DV
- Magnesium: 19% of the DV
- Phosphorus: 17% of the DV
- Zinc: 13% of the DV
As you can see, brown rice is an excellent source of magnesium. Just 1 cup (202 grams) provides nearly all your daily needs of this mineral, which aids bone development, muscle contractions, nerve functioning, wound healing, and even blood sugar regulation (2, 7, 8).
Furthermore, brown rice is a good source of riboflavin, iron, potassium, and folate.
Benefits for people with diabetes
Thanks to its high fiber content, brown rice has been shown to significantly reduce post-meal blood sugar levels in people with excess weight, as well as those with type 2 diabetes (9, 10, 11).
Overall blood sugar control is important for preventing or delaying the progression of diabetes (12).
In a study in 16 adults with type 2 diabetes, eating 2 servings of brown rice resulted in a significant reduction in post-meal blood sugar and hemoglobin A1c (a marker of blood sugar control), compared with eating white rice (13).
Meanwhile, an 8-week study in 28 adults with type 2 diabetes found that those eating brown rice at least 10 times per week had significant improvements in blood sugar levels and endothelial function — an important measurement of heart health (14).
Brown rice may also help improve blood sugar control by aiding weight loss (11).
In a 6-week study in 40 women with excess weight or obesity, eating 3/4 cup (150 grams) of brown rice per day resulted in significant reductions in weight, waist circumference, and body mass index (BMI), compared with white rice (15).
Weight loss is important, as an observational study in 867 adults noted that those who lost 10% or more of their body weight within 5 years of receiving a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes were twice as likely to achieve remission within that period (16).
May protect against type 2 diabetes
In addition to its potential benefits for individuals with diabetes, brown rice may even reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the first place.
A study in 197,228 adults linked eating at least 2 servings of brown rice per week to a significantly reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, swapping just 1/4 cup (50 grams) of white rice with brown was associated with a 16% lower risk of this condition (17).
While the mechanism isn’t entirely understood, it’s thought that the higher fiber content of brown rice is at least partially responsible for this protective effect (18, 19).
Additionally, brown rice is higher in magnesium, which has also been linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes (20, 21, 22).
Due to its fiber content, brown rice may improve blood sugar control, which is critical for people with diabetes. It may also lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes to begin with.
What’s the glycemic index of brown rice?
The glycemic index (GI) measures how much a food raises blood sugar levels and can be a useful tool for people with diabetes (23).
Foods with a high GI raise blood sugar levels more than those with a medium or low GI. As such, eating more foods in the low and medium categories may aid blood sugar control (24, 25, 26).
Where does brown rice fall?
Boiled brown rice has a score of 68, categorizing it as a medium GI food.
To put this in perspective, examples of other foods based on their GI score include (27):
- High GI foods (score of 70 or more): white bread, corn flakes, instant oatmeal, white rice, rice crackers, white potatoes, watermelon
- Medium GI foods (score of 56–69): couscous, muesli, pineapple, sweet potatoes, popcorn
- Low GI foods (score of 55 or less): oatmeal (rolled or steel-cut), barley, lentils, beans, non- starchy vegetables, carrots, apples, dates
In comparison, white rice’s score of 73 makes it a high GI food. Unlike brown rice, it’s lower in fiber and thus gets digested more quickly — resulting in a greater spike in blood sugar (17, 28).
People with diabetes are generally encouraged to limit their intake of high GI foods.
To help reduce the overall GI of your meal, it’s important to eat brown rice alongside low GI foods, protein sources, and healthy fats.
Brown rice has a medium GI score, making it more suitable than white rice — which has a high score — for people with diabetes.
Portion sizes and diet quality
Managing your total carb intake is an important part of controlling your blood sugar levels. As a result, you should be mindful of how much brown rice you’re having at a meal.
As there’s no recommendation for how many carbs you should eat, you should base your optimal intake on your blood sugar goals and your body’s response to carbs (29, 30).
For example, if your goal is 30 grams of carbs per meal, you’d want to limit your brown rice intake to 1/2 cup (100 grams), which contains 26 carbs. The rest of your meal could then be made up of low carb options like chicken breast and roasted vegetables (2).
In addition to watching portion sizes, it’s important to remember that whole grains are just one part of a balanced diet. Try to incorporate other nutritious foods at each meal, including lean proteins, healthy fats, fruits, and low carb vegetables.
Eating a varied, balanced diet — one that’s high in whole foods and limited in processed, refined products — not only provides more vitamins and minerals but also helps maintain stable blood sugar levels (31, 32).
In fact, a study in 229 adults with type 2 diabetes showed that those with higher diet quality had significantly better blood sugar control than those with poor diet quality (31, 33).
You may want to consult a healthcare professional to determine what a balanced diet looks like for you.
Maintaining a balanced diet that’s high in whole foods and low in overly processed ones has been associated with improved blood sugar control in people with diabetes.
How to cook brown rice
Brown rice is a pantry staple that’s inexpensive and easy to cook.
After rinsing the rice under cold running water, simply place 1 cup (180 grams) of dry rice in a pot and cover with 2 cups (475 ml) of water. You can add a small amount of olive oil and salt if desired.
Bring it to a boil, cover, then reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 45–55 minutes or until most of the water has been absorbed. Remove from heat and let it rest for 10 minutes with the lid on.
Before serving, use a fork to fluff the rice for better texture.
Brown rice is a versatile ingredient that can be used in grain bowls, curries, salads, stir-fries, soups, and veggie burgers. It can also be combined with eggs and vegetables for a hearty breakfast or used in a low sugar rice pudding.
Here are some diabetes-friendly recipes featuring this whole grain:
- brown rice and pinto bean bowl with chicken and pico de gallo
- Asian tofu stir- fry
- turkey-kale rice bake
- spring roll salad
- Mediterranean unstuffed peppers
- salmon with brown rice and vegetables
- huevos rancheros with pinto beans, brown rice, and chicken sausage
- brown rice pudding
Brown rice is easy to cook and can be used in a variety of dishes, including stir-fries, grain bowls, and salads.
The bottom line
Brown rice is perfectly safe to eat in moderation if you have diabetes.
While it’s high in carbs, its fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals may improve blood sugar control, thereby helping manage diabetes.
However, you should still watch your portion sizes and pair brown rice with other healthy foods, such as lean proteins or healthy fats, to help keep your blood sugar levels in check.
With its nutty flavor and chewy texture, brown rice can be a nutritious addition to a well-rounded diet.
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