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Does rice break down into sugar?

Rice is a common staple in many cultures around the world, and it is a key component of many healthy, tasty dishes. Even though rice is a healthy addition to many meals, there is a common belief that rice breaks down into sugar in the body, leading to weight gain and other health problems. We examine how rice is digested and the implications for our health.

Rice is made up mostly of starches, complex carbohydrates composed of long interconnected chains of glucose molecules. When we consume rice, our bodies break down these long chains of glucose molecules into individual glucose units that can be absorbed and used for energy throughout the body. This is why rice is often recommended as a good source of energy for active people.

So, does rice break down into sugar? 
The answer is yes, but this is the case for all carbohydrates and it’s not a bad thing. Glucose is the fundamental fuel the body- and especially the brain- uses for energy. Most types of rice have a high glycemic index (GI), which means they release their energy quickly and cause a rapid rise in blood glucose levels. Rice is not unique in this - most bread and potato also have a high GI as well (lower GI options are available). For good health, it is recommended to choose lower GI options of starchy foods like rice and consume them in moderation within a healthy balanced meal. This is especially important for people with diabetes, pre-diabetes or other blood sugar-related issues.

Rice (and bread and potato) consumed in a meal that contains other ingredients can slow down this ‘sugar rush’ effect. For example, a meal that also includes protein (meat, fish or tofu), healthy fats (olive oil or avocado), and fibre-rich legumes or vegetables can help to reduce the overall GI of the meal and prevent spikes in blood sugar levels.

Not all rice is equal
It is important to note that not all types of rice are created equal. For example, white rice is a refined grain that has had the outer bran and germ removed, which means it has less fibre and nutrients than brown rice. Brown rice also tends to have a lower GI than white rice. In general, it is recommended that people choose whole grains like brown rice over refined grains like white rice. Some rice varieties have a lower GI, such as Basmati and Doongara rice. You can search the GI of foods at www.glycemicindex/com 

You can also reduce the GI of rice by not overcooking so it’s still firm, and cooking and cooling it before eating or reheating. The cooling process changes the starch so its absorbed more slowly.

It’s important to remember that even though rice does break down into sugar (glucose) in the body to provide energy, it’s not unhealthy. When choosing what rice to consume, choosing brown rice over refined grains like white rice, and lower GI rice varieties as well as enjoying rice within balanced meals can help promote optimal blood glucose levels and better health.



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