Are you a South Indian searching for White rice Alternatives?
Say you are pre-diabetic or even diabetic – you go to the doctor and the first thing they say is ‘no rice!!’ And you are rolling your eyes…First of all, being a South Indian, Rice is just everywhere – idli, dosa, lemon rice, coconut rice, pongal, payasam….rice, rice, rice!! You are, understandably, frustrated and looking for solutions.
Why is rice a problem?
I have attached a chart here from my favorite book: “On Food and Cooking”. It is written by a world-renowned authority on chemistry of foods, Harold McGee, a graduate of Caltech and Yale.
Among all the grains, rice has the least levels of protein and most levels of carbohydrate. You are sad, but think “ok, let me eat brown rice instead. That has a lot of fiber, right?” Nope, Sorry!!
Take a look at the fiber levels published by the whole grains council, and rice again falls to the bottom of the list among all grains.
|Grain||% of grain
that is ﬁber
|Fiber in 16g
of this Grain
|brown rice||3.5%||0.6 grams|
|bulgur wheat||18.3%||2.9 grams|
|Kamut® khorasan wheat||11.1%||1.8 grams|
|spelt wheat||10.7%||1.7 grams|
|wild rice||6.2%||1.0 grams|
All values from USDA National Nutrient Database SR 26, updated September 2013.
So, while rice is yummy, and there is no denying that….the high levels of carbohydrate can be detrimental to you if you are not careful.
Now, if you were a farmer, all the energy in the rice would get used up as you plough and work up a sweat in the fields. But as a software engineer, not so much….
What are my alternatives?
Given the world economy, we are very lucky to have access to many grains that provide a lower insulin response in your body. Here are some of the grains I typically use.
Wheat and its forms
Wheat is an outstanding grain, always at top of most lists when it comes to protein and fiber content.
Some people have a problem with wheat because of its gluten. Now, IF you are diagnosed with gluten sensitivity, then you have to avoid it.
But, if you have no problem, don’t jump into the gluten-free fad mindlessly. Some of the gluten-free flours include substitutes like tapioca flour and rice flour which are terrible for diabetics. Just because something is gluten-free, it is not automatically healthy.
Based on the way wheat is processed, it can come in many forms:
1) Cracked wheat (Godhuma rava)
Cracked wheat is a wheat product made from whole raw wheat kernels which are crushed. Many South Indians use this, and it is a very good option.
My only comment on this product is that the nutrition panel in many Indian packets like Swad, Deep show fiber = 1g, when technically, according to Bob’s red mill 1/4 cup should contain 5g of fiber and 5g of protein.
My untested theory is that the Indian brands have not calculated the fiber contents and are copying the panel from white rava. I could be wrong. If any readers have any knowledge on why this variation exists, please share it with us.
This is my favorite way to use wheat as a rice substitute. Bulgur is wheat which has been steamed and toasted before cracking and thus is already partially cooked. The nutrition for 1/4 cup bulgur is 7g fiber and 5g protein – which is as good as it gets!!
It is perfect for a lazy girl like me, since the cooking time is a lot less and I get the full benefits of eating a whole grain. Just pour hot water, heat seal it and wait for 10-15 minutes.
I usually buy bulghur from Middle Eastern or Afghani grocery stores. Bulgur grains are not sticky at all and will make great stir-fry and other rice dishes that require the grains to stand separate from each other.
3) Whole wheat Cous Cous
You want an even more quick version – where you are dying of hunger and can only wait 5 minutes….Cous Cous to the rescue!! While, it does not have the grain bite to it quite like bulgur or cracked wheat, it will work for those days when you run out of food at the last minute.
We also use it when camping as a family. Cous cous + yogurt + lime pickle = heaven when you have not eaten home meals in a while. Despite the convenience factor, it still is a powerhouse in nutrition too.
Ok, if you are not a big fan of wheat, the next best option for you is barley. 17.3% of the grain is fiber!! Whenever I eat barley, I feel very full, and I am usually not hungry for several hours.
The downside of the grain is that you have to soak it and cook it for a long time.
Barley also ferments very well and makes an excellent grain in idli-dosa batters.
I am a fan of quinoa. Now don’t you go judging me, for falling for the quinoa hype…I see you rolling your eyes!!! Truth be told, it has ok nutritional stats (nothing mind-blowing). It’s protein content at 13% is not as high as wheat, oats or amaranth. Even it’s fiber levels are meh…But, on a relative basis, it is better than rice with close to twice the protein levels of rice.
The reason I like Quinoa is it is soft, versatile and tasty. Even my youngest picky eater likes it. If I make quinoa, I don’t have to hear groans from any one…and that makes my life much easier.
There are other choices, which are great nutritionally that I will briefly discuss below.
Millets – Millets are huge in India now. They are a good upgrade from rice. They are in the mid-level nutritional range as quinoa. I use it once in a while. My husband loves fermented millet dosa.
Oats – Oats is a fantastic grain and a great source of protein. But because of its goeey nature, it is difficult to use it directly as a rice substitute. You can use it in pongal, yogurt rice, upma etc. I would highly recommend adding oats in any one of your 3 meals everyday.
Amaranth – Another fantastic (pseudo) grain, just super high levels of protein and iron. But it is very small, sticky grain. You can add it to kichdis, but it does not hold up as individual grains.
Buckwheat – I talked about buckwheat in this post, but it is rare for Indians to get access to it. If you get it, use it.
There have been times in the past where I have bought packets of whole grains and thrown them out a few months later without knowing what to do with them. But after months and years of trying, I feel quite confident about how each grain behaves. So, don’t give up…just like becoming a good cook takes time and repetition, so will your ease with cooking whole grains.
One of my favorite cooks on this topic is the very humble, but highly knowledgable host of Jaya TV’s Arokiya Unavu.
As usual, comments and discussions are most welcome, highly recommended in fact :), down here in comments section.
I am not a certified nutritionist/health professional. I am just an engineer who looks at numbers as way to tell a story. If you have any health problems, please consult your physician/ nutritionist, before proceeding.