Which One, Rice or Roti?

First published in Beyond India, July 2016 edition

Ms Pallavi Nagpal

Dr Varun Sharma

“Oh ho, My doctor says I have high sugars and need to lose weight. Time to stop eating rice and roti!”

In Australia, 280 people develop diabetes everyday and one in six suffer from Cardiovascular Disease. Unfortunately, Lord Dhanvantari (god of Ayurveda and good health) didn’t bless us with the power to defy such conditions, and those of South Asian/Indian heritage are at a higher risk of developing chronic disease. So it’s time! Time to think about your lifestyle, learn about balance, and start talking about ways in which we can become a healthier community.

What’s the link between high sugars and being overweight?

When you eat foods containing carbohydrate, your body breaks it down into smaller glucose, or ‘sugar’ molecules. As the ‘sugars’ enter your bloodstream they activate the release of a special hormone called insulin. Insulin acts like a key and unlocks your muscle cells, allowing the ‘sugar’ to leave the bloodstream and enter muscles for use as energy. Being overweight, particularly around your abdomen, impacts this lock and key mechanism as the fat surrounding the muscle cells makes it difficult for the key to access the cell and unlock it. Hence, blood sugar levels are elevated and risk of developing diabetes increases. By loosing weight, the fat around the cells reduces and insulin function improves.

Does cutting out rice and roti help?

Rice and roti are common sources of carbohydrates in the Indian diet, and usually the first food to go in weight loss attempts. While portion control of these foods is important, carbohydrates are not the enemy! By completely cutting out carbohydrates you are depriving your muscles and brain of fuel, which can makes you feel grumpy, lethargic and unfocused. Much like trying to drive a car with no petrol.

Not all carbohydrates are equal however, so choosing the right kind is important for weight management and overall wellbeing. Simple carbohydrates are broken down very quickly and include processed foods such as white bread, lollies, cakes, halva, methai, pastries, biscuits, bhujia, and fruit juice. Conversely, it takes your body a lot longer to breakdown complex carbohydrates such as brown or basmati rice, wholemeal roti, bread, pasta, and wholegrains (e.g. millet, bulghar). Meaning the ‘sugar’ is slowly released into your bloodstream, giving insulin more time to move it into your muscle cells – and it keeps you feeling full for longer!

The Australian Guide to Health Eating recommends 4-6 serves of carbohydrate each day (depending on your age and gender). One serve is:

  • ¼ cup (30g) muesli
  • 1 slice (40g) wholemeal/wholegrain bread
  • 1 medium (40g) wholemeal roti/chapati
  • ½ cup (75-120g) cooked rice, pasta, noodles, barley, buckwheat, semolina, polenta, bulgur or quinoa

So, should the aunty I overheard stop eating rice and roti?

No. She should include them as part of a balanced diet but pay extra attention to the portion size, and choose Basmati rice or wholemeal roti options.