Rice, a staple in almost all Indians’ diets, is filling, easily available, and a common grain that can be paired with curries, fries, pulses, you name it. However, rice, white rice to be specific, provides no essential nutrition except glucose and empty calories. White, polished rice is composed of refined carbohydrates and lacks essential nutrients that make it a poor choice for most Indians trying to prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes and other noncommunicable disorders by eating fewer carbs or calories.
India should eat better carbs
Refined carbs elevate the level of blood glucose, triglyceride and increase the risk of insulin resistance. All these factors collectively increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart diseases. In 2020, The EAT-Lancet study reported rural Indians eat about 432 gm of carbohydrates while urban Indians consume around 347 gm of carbs per day which is way higher than 282 gm of carbs per day as recommended by the expert committee.
A low-carb diet including unrefined, fiber-rich whole grains should be India’s new normal considering the country houses the world’s second highest number of people living with diabetes after China. According to 2019 International Diabetes Federation (IDF) data, 77 million Indians were living with diabetes in the year 2019 which is projected to reach 134 million people by 2045. This IDF report also said, 57 per cent of Indians have undiagnosed diabetes and 50.5 per cent people under 60 years of age succumbed to diabetes related complications. In recent time, type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance and obesity are found to be some of the greatest risk factors for severe COVID 19 disease outcome and mortality.
5 healthy alternatives
Whole grains are packed with healthy vitamins, minerals, fiber, making them a superior choice to refined white rice in preventing and/or managing obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart diseases. However, the total carbohydrate content of most whole grains is as high as white rice and thus need to be consumed in moderation. Good old whole grains such as – broken wheat, barley, millets along with newcomer quinoa and plant-based rice are some best alternatives to white rice.
Jowar dalia upma (File photo)
Dalia or broken wheat or bulgur wheat is an excellent replacement for rice with a familiar texture and flavour. It is a great choice to prepare khichdi, upma or porridge. Dalia contains just 76 calories in 1/2 cup (91 gm), about 25 per cent fewer calories than an equal serving of white rice. Bulgur is a good source of manganese, magnesium and iron, folate, vitamin B6, B5 and fiber. Bulgur wheat is cooked by boiling with water until tender.
Barley contains potential antioxidants. (Source: pixabay)
Barley looks like oats with a chewy texture and earthy taste. A 1/2 cup or 91 gm of cooked barley contains about the same number of calories as an equal serving of white rice with more protein and fiber. Barley packs essential nutrients, providing significant percentage of daily value (DV) for B vitamins, zinc, selenium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, manganese, potassium, folate etc. Barley fiber is classified under beta-glucan, a soluble fiber that may help reduce cholesterol level and improve blood glucose level. Also, barley contains potential antioxidants such as vitamin E, beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin that are found to protect against oxidative stress injury and repair cell damages. Blood-glucose lowering property of Barley is well documented. A comprehensive review of 232 scientific studies has linked consumption of whole-grain breakfast cereal like barley to a lower risk of diabetes.
Ragi or finger millet contains the highest amount of calcium. (File photo)
Millets have been a part of the human diet for more than 8000 years until Green Revolution took over the food system by producing refined polished grains that claimed to be tastier. Common millets in India include jowar (sorghum), bajra (pearl millet), ragi (finger millet), jhangora (barnyard millet), barri (proso or common millet), kangni (foxtail/ Italian millet), kodra (Kodo millet) etc. 1/2 cup cooked millet provides just 22 gm of carbohydrate and pack more essential amino acids than other cereals. Ragi contains the highest amount of calcium providing 13 per cent DV per 100 gm. Millets are rich in ferulic acid and catechins, two anti-inflammatory phytonutrients that prevent oxidative stress. Darker colour millets such as finger, proso, and foxtail contain more antioxidants than their white or yellow counterparts. Additionally, millets are gluten-free, rich in essential nutrients that are found to be helpful for lowering blood glucose and cholesterol level.
Quinoa is a great choice for vegetarians and vegans. (Source: Pixabay)
Quinoa is a popular rice substitute, contains double the amount of protein than white rice and is gluten free. Quinoa packs all nine essential amino acids that makes it a great choice for vegetarians and vegans to ensure optimum protein intake. It is a good source of essential micronutrients like magnesium and copper that helps in energy metabolism and bone health. It is not genetically modified and organically grown. In fact, NASA (https://ntrs.nasa.gov/citations/19940015664) scientists are considering growing this grain out of space due to its high nutrient content and hustle free growing technique. Quinoa is rich in quercetin and kaempferol, two phytonutrients found to have anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-cancer, and anti-depressant effects in animal studies.
Riced cauliflower and broccoli
Riced broccoli provides 25 per cent of your Daily Value for vitamin C. (Source: pixabay)
These are popular alternatives for people following ultra-low carb diet or ketogenic diet. 1/2 cup of cauliflower rice and broccoli rice provide just 17 calories and 15 calories respectively. Additionally, riced broccoli provides 25 per cent of your Daily Value for vitamin C. Both can be prepared by grating with a box grater or chopped in a food processor and then cooking by boiling.
A considerable body of research has reported negative health outcomes of refined carbs including white rice. There are multiple alternatives to white rice that can help you with overall positive health outcomes. Whole grains are the powerhouse of essential nutrients including protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can substitute white rice while providing you with a slow supply of energy throughout the day. Work with a trained nutritionist to opt for a low-carb eating pattern that includes healthy carbs and suits your personal goal.
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