Ask the Nutritionist

FoodFit Answers Your Toughest
Nutrition Questions


Ann Coulston, MS, RD
Specialty: Diabetes

Q. I have been told that white and brown rice have great nutrients. I'm also told that rice turns to sugar when eaten. I'm a Type 1 diabetic and I'm wondering if I should eat rice.

A. White and brown rice have equal amounts of carbohydrates for equal portions, but brown rice has some additional nutrients, primarily antioxidants, which found in all whole grain products. White rice is a refined product, but some of the nutrients that are lost in refinement are replaced, i.e. the B vitamins. All carbohydrate foods that you eat are metabolized into glucose because that is the only way your body can utilize the "energy" contained in these foods. So, whether you eat table sugar, bread, cereal, rice, or a cookie, the carbohydrates in the food end up as glucose in your blood stream. This is a good thing as long as you balance the amount of carbohydrate in your diet with your insulin and exercise.

The American Diabetes Association has just released a new booklet on the Exchange Lists. You might want to get a copy to refresh yourself on the amount of carbohydrates in different foods. Also, you can get much of this information from the Nutrition Facts Panel on food labels. Eat and enjoy rice, but know the portion size that is right for your meal pattern.

Q. When looking at a recipe's nutritional information, I often become confused. What is considered "good" and what is "bad" when looking at important numbers like:

  • Calories
  • Fat
  • Sugar (what is too much?)
  • Cholesterol
  • Sodium

The numbers mean nothing to me unless I have something to compare them to.

A. This is a good question and a difficult one to answer. You may be aware that the nutrition information on a recipe is similar to the nutrition information on the Nutrition Facts Panel of a food label. On the food label, there are some parameters which put the information in perspective, but you are an individual and your parameters may be different from the general guidelines. The number of calories in a food or food portion is relative to the total number of calories you plan to eat in a day. Most of us require about 2,000 calories per day. You can do the math—if the recipe is for a dessert, the amount you want should be lower than if it is a main course.

Fat is a different story. The total fat is not as important as the type of fat. We all need to keep our saturated fat intake to a minimum, but the unsaturated fats (polyunsaturated or monounsaturated) can be beneficial. All fats have more calories per gram than carbohydrates, so as the amount of fat in a recipe increases, so do the calories! The sugar in a food can be natural, added, or a bit of both. Again, there are no firm guidelines on what amount is right for you. When the sugar in a food is from fruit or dairy products, important nutrients, like vitamins and minerals, also come with the food. Cholesterol is tied to the saturated fat, so consider them together. If a recipe is low in saturated fat it will also be low in cholesterol. Sodium can be adjusted in a recipe if it is higher than you want by decreasing the salt added to the recipe.

The short answer is that there is no "good" or "bad", "right" or "wrong." You must put this information in perspective with your personal food choices. If you want guidance, you can find a registered dietitian who practices near you by going to the website of the American Dietetic Associations.

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About Ann Coulston, MS, RD

Ann M. Coulston, MS, RD, graduated from Cornell University with a master's degree in nutritional science and is a former research dietitian at Stanford University Medical Center, and a past president of both the American Dietetic Association (1998-1999) and the California Dietetic Association. Ann specializes in clinical research on carbohydrate and lipid metabolism and collaborates with medical scientists in research on diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Ann has been recognized for excellence in the practice of research and clinical nutrition by the American Dietetic Association Foundation, and is the recipient of the American Dietetic Association's Medallion award for leadership. The California Dietetic Association has awarded her the Distinguished Service and Outstanding Member awards.

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