The White Rice Substitutes

This is written by a carbo queen who over the years, though still love her white rice has come to embrace other white rice substitutes. If I can do it, I believe you can too! Prevention is better than cure. We do not dig a well, only when there is no more water nor do we start training an army only when you have war. So why do we not take care of our health before we are ill? Prevention is better than cure. I see the pains of diabetics in my family and for I would like to prevent going through all that before it is too late.

Recently, the government is raising awareness of sugar levels of white rice. Actually, over recent years or so, I have noticed more people around me cutting down their rice intake. Some avoid white rice and noodles totally, some start having white rice replacements like brown rice.


Reasons for avoiding white rice vary from weight loss, chronic diseases (diabetes, cancer, heart diseases) to just trying to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Initially, I would be appalled to find friends my age who are perfectly healthy avoiding white rice totally. But as the years passed, I began to accept it more as well. Yeah, we are not that young anymore and have to start taking preventive actions.

So what is this big hoo ha with white rice? White rice has a rather high GI or Glycemic Index which is a measurement of how a particular type of food affects a person’s blood glucose (also called blood sugar) level right after consuming it. High GI foods simply means that the sugars are released more quickly into the blood stream causing a spike in blood sugar levels and forcing the body to produce more insulin. While lower GI foods means it is released more slowly and steadily so that the body does not have an overload. Usually you feel sluggish when your blood sugar is high. Constantly forcing our pancreas to produce large amounts on insulin is a form of abuse and it is a matter of time that they will malfunction and that is when diabetes occur.

So according to the ST article, one bowl of rice is like having 2 cans of soft drinks and I presume they are comparing with regular soft drinks and not sugar free ones. You can refer to the original ST article here. It is not surprise that white rice is not the healthiest food around but to say that it is worse than soft drinks… Wow. And we eat at least 2 bowls a day… That is 4 cans of soft drinks!

You can also check here on GI of foods. This is a study done by Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health Publications on the Glycemic Index of 100 plus foods per serving (BTW, please remember to take note of the weight per serving for each food and compare it accordingly. Fore example for M&Ms one look is the GI per serving is only 33 which is low compared to 99 from Fruit Rolls as both are 30g per serving, but do we really only eat 30g? Per serving of rice is 150g (a pack of M&Ms is about that weight if I don’t remember wrongly and so if you finish that whole pack, the GI is actually 33 x 5 = 165!)

However, please note that some foods may be high in GI, but because theyhave low carbohydrate of sugar content, they do not have an adverse effect on blood sugar if consumed in appropriate quantities. An example is pumpkin.


Thanks to the increasing awareness of consumers (and increasing diabetic patients) nowadays, there are more places offering healthier rice or carb alternatives, but it is still not common enough. I am glad that HPB is further increasing awareness to the masses by highlighting the effects of too much white rice consumption. I just hope that they can take thing one step further by implementing the 20% brown rice mix into schools, SAF, Hospitals, etc. This is especially important for diabetic patients, coronary heart disease patients or people who need to watch their weight.

I have 2 diabetic parents (my dad and MIL) and my grandma died from effects of diabetes and a grandma that passed away from effects of diabetes. My 2 parents cannot be more different in their fight against diabetes and it all starts with the mindset. If you intend to just rely on medication to control your blood sugar, and continue to binge, then you have lost the battle. My grandma was a classic case and sad to say, my MIL is similar. Diabetes is often the start of a whole slew of more serious health problems like kidney failure, damage to blood vessels, blindness, rotting limps, heart attack, etc. So honestly, don’t wait till it is too late. And if you think the insulin or other medication is your cure, it is not. There are a lot of side effects (on your kidney) for these medications and the whole point of diabetes is not eating right, and the body is protesting. So the only way out is to address the eating habits.

The first thing that diabetic patients should cut down on besides white sugar, are glutinous rice, white rice and white flour and their by-products. Stuff like breads, kuehs, etc. Not easy for a Chinese since rice is a staple. And not easy for people who became diabetic because they love to eat. (One reason why Ed and I decided to change our eating habits before it is too late.) and the thing they need to up is exercise. Even light ones like walking.


The trick to a sustainable diet change is to have many alternatives and not to go too extreme. Meaning, it is ok to have some white rice still, unless the condition is dire, but give in to white rice only because it is inconvenient or there is no choice. And then eat less of it and not a full portion. Eat more meat and vegetables. The problem with most diets is that people go to the extreme too fast and then they long for their old comfort food. Do the switch gradually and make it fun by finding other tasty alternatives. Healthy food need not be tasteless. You just need to be more creative.


rice substitute 2
L to R: Barley, cous cous, quinoa, brown rice, oats with seeds

Brown Rice 糟米:

So initially all my dad could have was brown rice to replace white rice. This is the most common alternative, after all, it is known to have more dietary fibre and contains a good dose of vitamin B12 as well as other minerals. However, many complain that this rice is often too hard. One way is to rinse the brown rice and soak it for at least 1/2 hour to 8 hours in the water you are cooking with. Add a light drizzle of olive oil and a small pinch of salt before cooking it. I will usually steam my rice, but you can use a rice cooker too. However, do note that kidney patients may need to stay away from brown rice as they need to monitor their phosphorous and potassium. However, if it is still early stages, brown rice is still ok, but do monitor. Better yet, take a mixture of alternatives.

The problem with brown rice is also that it does not soak up sauces well. Thus, tend to taste bland. One way is to use it for dishes like fried rice. Another is to mix it with other grains so that they complement each other.

Pumpkin 金瓜/南瓜:

Then we discovered that pumpkin was also a good alternative. So dad will have steam pumpkin which tastes pretty good as compared to boring brown rice. It is hard to imagine this sweet and relatively starch fruit is good for diabetics. Now, the interesting thing about pumpkin is that although it has a GI of 75 (pretty high!), but according to the Glycemic Index Foundation, the low carbohydrate content in this fruit makes up for it’s high GI. Meaning, a 4/5 cup of pumpkin only has about 4g of carbohydrates, whih only has a glycemic load of 3! So although pumpkin affects the blood sugar pretty quickly, unless you are consuming a whole load of pumpkin, it is not likely to have a significant impact on your blood sugar.

There are many ways to enjoy pumpkin. You can roast it, steam it, steam and puree it, bake it, pan fry, etc…. I will be sharing some pumpkin recipes soon.

Millet 小米:

Millet image courtesy of
小米粥 image courtesy of

Millet(小米), is one of the super grains. Traditionally used as bird food (quinoa too!) Millet is packed with minerals like copper, manganese, phosphorus, and magnesium. Millet porridge cooked like white rice porridge, is extremely comforting especially taken freshly cooked and warm. But millet is quite expensive in Singapore and not available in bulk (yet to find, if you know a good source, please let me know!) Millet is not just beneficial to diabetics, but also to heart patients and helps in preventing gallstones, breast cancer and repairs body tissues. Millet is very similar to cous cous in some ways and can be eaten like cous cous in a salad, fried like rice, or a stuffing for your chicken.

Purple Sweet Potatoes 紫薯:

purple sweet potato
Purple sweet potato image courtesy of

So dad read about purple sweet potato and  added to this list and alternates between the choices. Now he is enjoying it a lot more. Besides containing simple starches, sweet potatoes are rich in complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, beta-carotene (a provitamin A carotenoid), vitamin C, vitamin B6, manganese and potassium.Pink, yellow and green varieties are also high in beta-carotene. In fact, it is more nutritious than a lot of vegetables out there. With a GI of 64 (moderate), sweet potato is a good alternative. Of course, please eat this sparingly, a small palm sized per meal is good.

Real purple flesh (and not just purple skin) sweet potato is not that easy to find in Singapore sometimes. I know big box is a good place to find cheap and good ones, do share if you know other places. I am not great at picking them out because even wet market store owners can sell me the wrong stuff. -_-

Basmati Rice巴斯马蒂大米 / 印度米:

Basmati rice is probably thwhite rice with the lowest GI at 64, marginally lower than brown rice. So this is another good alternative for those who want their white rice. My first experience of buying white rice from NTUC was quite unpleasant. MAybe the rice was stored for too long… It actually had a funny odour that my MIL claims is like “cockkroach smell”. So we bought a pack from mustafa and that tasted WAY BETTER.

Some people feels that basmati rice is not as starchy, thus does not feel right. Well, sorry, it is the starchiness in your Jasmine or Japanese rice that causes it to be bad for you. One way of overcoming this, is to mix if with fluffy quinoa or a blend of brown, basmati, quinoa, black and white rice. This averages the GI, you have a little of all, and the different textures complement each other and you have an extra fragrant bowl of rice! It is really easy if you premix a small jar of it (or a big container).


Quinoa is another super grain like millet. It is packed with nutrients and vitamins and low GI. Only thing stopping us from eating it in large quantities is that it is not cheap compared to some of the grains. I found a cheaper online source here. But it is still quite expensive. There are many things you can do with quinoa and I have dedicated quite a few posts to it. I usually have quinoa with basmati as the fluffy quinoa complements the slightly harder basmati rice but I also do salads and may other variations, which you can read from other recipes on our blog.

Cous Cous / Pasta 意大利面:

Cous Cous image courtesy of

Looking very much like millet, I initially thought they were the same thing. But cous cous is actually a type of pasta, made with semolina and durum wheat. It is actually formed from semolina like your spaghetti or macaroni. It is a North African dish that extended to the Middle East and parts of Italy and now, quite commonly found in Western cuisine. It is so easy to prepare, we have it as camp food at times. Like quinoa, it can be pre-cooked and easily mixed into salads or other vegetables to form a salad. One good benefit though is that it is low in calories so great for those who are on a diet.

A lot of pasta these days are not made of semolina flour. Check the labels. Even when we make our own pasta at home, I stopped using semolina as I don’t quite like the texture that last I tried. May need to try it again. So a lot of pasta out there uses white flour. So these are not really low in GI then.


sourdough bread
Sourdough bread courtesy of

It was only this year that I realised the benefits of sourdough and how it is actually pretty low GI. The natural fermentation process and the longer fermentation involved in baking with natural yeasts resulted in a loaf that was digested more slowly and caused less of a spike in blood sugar levels when it was eaten. In fact, it scored better than wholewheat bread! So I do not need to use wholemeal flour or semolina, but by adding some sourdough starter in my pasta, it helps to lower the GI. One way to enjoy white breads too! Furthermore, fermentation process of the sourdough not only creates lactic acid, but also reduces the risk of Phytic acid. It also results in more minerals and better digestion. If you want to try your hand at sourdough, you can refer to my article here.


When baking and choosing flours, wholemeal is like brown rice is to white rice. The unpolished grain packed with nutrients similar to that of brown rice. Prima recently launched a very finely ground wholemeal flour that is so good, it does not taste fibrous and tough like the usual wholemeal. You can try it using my incredibly soft wholemeal cheese bread recipe here. And it is easy to just premix a container of regular white flour with 1/3 wholemeal and use it in all your bakes (maybe except cakes). I have wholemeal in my pancakes, muffins, and crepes too. However, please also note that generally healthy to all, kidney patients should also be avoiding wholemeal if they need to cut their phosphorous and potassium intake.


We all know how oatmeal is good for the heart and our cholesterol. It is also good for diabetics. Of course. It is low GI too. This is a great grain to replace white rice when making congee, and you can refer to my century egg congee recipe here. Instant congee that not only tastes good, but also healthy and a good option for diabetics. Oatmeal is packed with fibre, minerals and helps to lower cholesterol. It acts like a brush, cleaning our intestines so I highly recommend having oats at least once a week. For more oatmeal recipes, please refer to my post on oatmeal.


Cauliflower is often overshadowed by broccoli, but it is actually a superfood too. Rich in anti-oxidants and minerals, known to combat heart diseases and cancer, cauliflower is also a great replacement to rice. Chop it up finely and fry it like you will with fried rice and it is a really tasty, carbo-free meal. The gentle flavours of cauliflower also means it is pretty versatile. You can mash it up like you do with potatoes to make a healthier mashed potato, or you can make fritters with it or even pizza crusts (yet to try that…) You will be pleasantly surprised how good this tastes when it is used to replace rice in some dishes.


Have fun mixing the foods in the above list up to whip up tasty dishes. You don’t have to stick to just cauliflower, you can always mix it with some brown rice or quinoa or pumpkin. On top of the list above, there are a lot of other grains, seeds or beans that I have not even covered like chickpeas, barley, green beans, lentils, lotus seeds (莲子), red rice, purple rice, black rice, gordon Eurylae Seed (芡实), etc that is out there. Open your horizons and explore!

I feel the best way is to have a variety so that it is fine to eat white rice once in a while too. I do enjoy my bowl of white rice or noodles (those who have read some of my posts may know that I am a carbo queen, especially white rice) but now that we know there are so many ways to lower the GI in that bowl of white rice or also alternatives to eating rice, eating carbs can be a lot more interesting, tasty and healthy!


Of course, then there is the issue of “eating out” and limited choices. Well, we are lucky that nowadays, we have a lot more choices than my grandma. The easiest way is to have lesser carbs when eating out and load on more meat and vegetables at the hawker centre. You can always ask for less noodles but ask for more chye sim and wantons if you are ordering a wanton mee.

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