Think rice is an unhealthy choice for diabetics and others trying to control their blood sugar? Think again.
Researchers who analyzed 235 varieties of rice from around the world found the glycemic index (GI) of rice – indicating how much it can spike blood sugar – varies dramatically from one type to another, with most grains scoring a low to medium GI.
The bottom line: Rice lovers concerned about reports that the food staple is linked to diabetes can rest assured that it can be part of a healthy diet. That’s even true for diabetics, or people at risk of developing the disease, who select the right rice varieties to maintain a healthy, low-GI diet.
The study – led by Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization Food Futures Flagship and the International Rice Research Institute – also identified the key gene that determines the GI of rice. That could lead to the development of new low-GI varieties and food products based on rice.
“Understanding that different types of rice have different GI values allows rice consumers to make informed choices about the sort of rice they want to eat," said Dr. Melissa Fitzgerald, who led the study. "Rice varieties such as India's most widely grown rice variety, Swarna, have a low GI and varieties such as Doongara from Australia and Basmati have a medium GI."
Low-GI foods are those that measure 55 and less; medium-GI foods are those measured between 56 and 69; high-GI foods measure 70 and above. The new study found that the GI of rice ranges from a low of 48 to a high of 92, with an average of 64.
Foods that have a high GI index are easily digested and absorbed, which can result in fluctuations in blood sugar that increase the odds of getting diabetes and make management of type 2 diabetes difficult.
Low-GI foods have slow digestion and absorption rates, causing a gradual and sustained release of sugar into the blood, which is beneficial to health and reduces diabetes risks.
Rice is a food staple for about 3.5 billion people worldwide. Researchers said low-GI rice could be particularly important for people who derive the bulk of their calories from rice to keep diabetes at bay.