Rice, Diabetes and Hispanics

Hispanics eat a lot of rice! - Fact or Fiction?

Hispanics have a higher incidence of diabetes than other people - Fact of Fiction?

Both of these statements are true, but do not make the mistake of jumping to the conclusion that rice causes diabetes. People with a Hispanic family origin do have a higher incidence of diabetes than average. In fact, Hispanics are nearly twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to develop diabetes. Does it have anything to do with eating rice? No! Diabetes is not caused by eating rice any more than eating white bread, potatoes, or cereal. The main culprit for the most common form of diabetes is heredity and increased body weight resulting from poor eating habits and lack of exercise.

The only connection between rice and diabetes is that rice is a carbohydrate and when carbohydrates are digested in your body, the result is glucose, a form of sugar. To get the sugar from your blood into the cells where it is used as energy, your body must produce insulin, which acts as a go-between. If your body does not produce insulin or not enough insulin, the result is too much sugar (glucose) in your blood and the outcome, if high enough, may be diagnosed as Diabetes.

First, let us look at the three types of diabetes—Type 2, Type 1, and Gestational.

  • Type 2 Diabetes is actually the most common form of diabetes. It is a malfunction of your pancreas where it can not produce enough insulin to handle the sugar in your blood. This type of diabetes seems to be related to increased weight, sedentary lifestyle and age and can usually be controlled simply by losing weight, eating sensibly, exercising, and maybe taking a pill.

  • Type 1 Diabetes is much less common. It only affects about 5 to 10% of people with diabetes. In this case your pancreas stops making insulin completely and you have to take shots of insulin to get the sugar in your blood into the cells. The cause of Type 1 Diabetes is not clear but it is thought to result from a virus.

  • Gestational Diabetes occurs in 2 to 5% of pregnancies, resulting from changes in a woman’s hormone levels. The risk is higher among obese and older women. Blood sugar control during a pregnancy is important for the health of the baby. Gestational Diabetes is usually controlled by diet.

It is important to control your blood sugar because high levels of sugar in your blood can slowly damage your eyes, heart, kidneys, nerves, legs, and feet. Left untreated, diabetes can lead to serious complications including heart disease, stroke, and even death. Simple steps can go a long way in winning the fight against diabetes.

Most people with diabetes have Type 2, which is preventable.  So whether you already have diabetes or want to prevent the occurrence of diabetes, you need to make some lifestyle changes. You may think that you will need to give up your favorite foods, such as rice and tortillas, but that is not true. Grains, including rice, are still the foundation of a healthy diet, and should be included.

Here are some simple ways to prevent diabetes and control your blood sugar:

Eat 3 well-balanced meals a day and a small snack at night. Each meal or snack should contain a small portion of protein (meat, fish, milk, cheese, yogurt, beans, etc.); a moderate portion of a complex carbohydrate (rice, grains, etc.); and a serving of at least one fruit and one vegetable. When planning meals, select a variety of foods from each food group, and watch your portion sizes. Eat small amounts of foods that are high in fats and sugars. For information on portion sizes, see the Camino Magico Brochure below.

Increase your fiber intake. Choose complex carbohydrates and whole-grain foods such as brown rice and whole wheat tortillas. Eat plenty of vegetables, and choose whole fruits instead of fruit juices. When you look at food labels, look for products that contain at least 2.5 grams of fiber per serving.

Do not skip meals. Try to eat around the same time each day. Meals are best spaced 4 to 5 hours apart. Spread out your calories. Do not eat one large meal and 3 smaller meals or snacks.

Reduce fat intake by baking, broiling, and grilling your foods instead of frying and choose low-fat foods. Be careful when selecting low-fat foods; many are high in sugar. Substitute a vegetable oil, preferably canola or olive oil, for lard in baking and frying. Non-stick pans and an oil spray can help to cut down on using too much oil.

Stay active. Your blood sugar level will improve if you keep active. Even small amounts of exercise can help. Take the stairs, walk the mall, and do not look for the closest parking spot. Check with your doctor before beginning an exercise or walking program.

Lose weight if you are overweight. Even a small loss of weight can improve your blood sugar levels. Try to lose 5 to 7% of your body weight, which is 10 to 15 pounds for a 200 pound person.

Use this Latin American Diet Pyramid to assist you in making healthy food choices:

The Latin American Diet Pyramid developed by the Latin Nutrition Coalition (LNC) is a general guide that shows you what to eat each day. It is similar to the Food Pyramid you see on many food packages. The pyramid is divided into six groups. You should eat more foods from the largest group at the base of the pyramid, which contains rice, grains, fruits and vegetables; less often from the middle groups that contain poultry, fish, seafood, and oils; and only occasionally from the tip of the pyramid that contains meat, eggs, and sweets.

For more help with choosing healthy foods, download the Camino Mágico Brochure, developed by Oldways and LNC. It is designed to help Latinos eat healthier based upon traditional Latino eating patterns. The pocket-sized, bilingual guide is packed with easily accessible nutritional tools including:

Newly-redesigned Latin American Diet Pyramid

  • Calorie control guide
  • Basics of reading food labels
  • Plate showing the healthy distribution of food groups
  • Supermarket map putting Camino Mágico’s suggestions in their real-world context
  • Download the Supermarket shopping list keyed to the Pyramid’s guidelines



For more information about preventing and controlling diabetes:

Find additional information on the Latino Nutrition Coalition website


Contact the National Diabetes Education Program’s by calling 1.800.438.5383 or visit their website at www.ndep.nih.gov.


Locate the names of American Diabetes Association Recognized Diabetes Education Programs in your area or call 1.800.DIABETES (1.800.342.2383).

Contact The American Dietetic Association at 1.800.366.2383. Ask for the names of dietitians in your area that specialize in diabetes.

Call the American Association of Diabetes Educators, at 1.800.TEAM UP4 (1.800.832.6874). Ask for the names of several diabetes educators in your zip code.