There is no end in sight to the debate as to whether grains help you lose weight, or if they promote weight gain. Even more importantly, do they help or hinder blood glucose management?
One thing is for sure. If you are going to eat grain foods, pick the ones that are the most nutritious. Choose whole grains. Whole grains are rich in vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fibre. The Health Promotion Board (HPB) says that the quality of a person’s diet can be improved by replacing refined carbohydrate intake with whole grains.
According to the 2010 National Nutrition Survey, 52 per cent of Singaporeans’ dietary energy come from carbohydrates, which is mainly made up of refined staples such as white rice, noodles and white bread.
The same survey also showed that Singaporeans were consuming nine times more sugar from starchy staples such as rice and noodles than from sweet drinks, said the Health Promotion Board.
Refined carbohydrates lack fibre and hence are broken down and converted into glucose very quickly, resulting in a spike in blood sugar levels.
An HPB spokesman said, “Over time, this imposes a significant burden on our body, leading to eventual fatigue of the insulin- producing cells of the pancreas which, in turn, leads to the development of diabetes.”
To prevent obesity and diabetes, people need to improve the quality of carbohydrates consumed, as well as ensure that their overall diet is balanced. They also need to limit the consumption of alcohol and foods that are high in added sugar and saturated fat, as well as exercise regularly.
Quinoa and millet are whole grains, like unpolished rice. Like rice, they contain bran, germ and endosperm, said a Health Promotion Board spokesman.
“By removing the bran and germ, white rice contains more calories for the same weight of its whole grain counterpart,” he added. “Conversely, quinoa or millet would contain more nutrients, but fewer calories for the same weight of white rice.”
Quinoa has a lower glycaemic index (GI) than white rice. Millet has a medium to high GI, said Jaclyn Reutens, a dietitian from Aptima Nutrition & Sports Consultants. Still, these are grains that can add variety to a person’s diet. A healthy diet is also a varied diet.
Brown rice is whole grain rice. Only its husk or the outer hull, and not its bran layer and germ, is removed. The bran and the germ contain important antioxidants, B vitamins, minerals and fibre.
“Brown rice is healthier in terms of its higher fibre, vitamin and mineral content,” said Jaclyn.
Replacing as little as 20 per cent of a bowl of white rice with brown rice can help Asians, who are genetically more predisposed to diabetes, reduce the risk of diabetes, said the HPB.
Whole grain rice comes in a variety of colours, including brown, red, purple or black. Brown rice can have a medium to high GI, red rice has a medium GI and black rice has a low GI, according to Lynette.
Whole grains such as brown rice are especially helpful for diabetics who are trying to control their blood sugar level, said the HPB spokesman. “This is because whole grains and fibrous foods such as fruit and vegetables take a longer time – three to four hours – to convert the carbohydrates to glucose after being consumed.”
Parboiled rice and other rice types
Parboiled rice is parboiled before refining, a process which drives some of the B vitamins into the endosperm so that they are not lost when the bran is removed, said the US-based Whole Grains Council.
“As a result, converted rice is healthier than regular white rice, but still is lacking many nutrients found in brown rice,” it said.
Other types of rice eaten here include glutinous rice, a short-grain rice that is extremely sticky when cooked. It is often used to make rice dumplings. It is lower in calories than white or brown rice but has a high GI score of 98, said Lynette.
Basmati rice, a long-grain aromatic Indian rice, has more amylose (which is harder for the digestive system to break down) than white rice or glutinous rice. It does not stick together after cooking. Basmati rice has a GI score of 58 to 65, while parboiled rice has a GI score of 38, said Lynette.
A favourite in the Middle East, bulgur is a type of cracked wheat kernel that has been precooked and dried. The resulting grain is light tan in color, slightly chewy, with a mild flavor that works well with many dishes.
Diabetes experts speculate that bulgur wheat can easily be adapted to a diabetes diet when eaten in place of simple, refined carbohydrate. In fact, the researchers theorised that replacing white rice with whole grains could possibly lower the risk of diabetes by as much as 36 percent.
Buckwheat has a high amino acid content and delivers 230mg of potassium and about 6g of protein per cup. It is also gluten free.By choosing buckwheat flour instead of regular white flour for baking, you can get a big boost to your soluble fiber content, an important consideration in the diabetic diet. “One of the most important qualities of soluble fiber is its ability to help regulate blood sugar levels. It slows the rate at which glucose is metabolised and absorbed from the intestines,” says Steven Joyal, MD, author of What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Diabetes.
Text: Joyce Teo/ Straits Times/ 28 June 2016/ Additional Reporting: Shenielle Aloysis