Carbohydrates – Friend or Enemy?


For many years, fats has been labelled as the world’s biggest nutrition enemy. However in the recent years, carbohydrates seem to have taken over to emerge as the No.1 public nutrition enemy. So what actually is Carbohydrates? Are they really as bad how people regard them to be?

Bad Guy vs. Good Guy

Most carbohydrates come from plant sources and are rich in vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fiber that are vital to good health. They are one of the main macronutrients in our diet, providing energy for our bodily functions. Carbohydrates are found in rice, bread, cereals, noodles, fruits as well as milk products, all these form the major part of our daily diet. Among the different sources of carbohydrates, grains may be the most controversial topic of discussion. While some people avoid carbs altogether thinking that it is fattening, will cause diabetes and many other diseases, yet they may not understand that grains are divided into two types: wholegrains and refined grains, and that the latter could be the one causing the problems rather than putting blame on all types of grains including wholegrains.

  • Wholegrains (unrefined):

Contain 100% of the entire grain kernel – the bran, germ and endosperm. Rich sources of fiber, minerals (Iron, Zinc and Magnesium), vitamins (B and E) and phytochemicals.

  • Refined grains:

Have been milled, a process that removes bran and germ


In fact, several studies have shown that wholegrains, but not refined grains, are protective against type 2 diabetes. Surprisingly, many people are already practicing low-carb diet and avoiding carbs as much as possible, while relying on other sources of nutrients such as protein or fats for energy in their diets. Just so you know, such restriction may be unnecessary!


Rice vs. Type 2 Diabetes - Is it time for Asians to change our taste buds?

Rice is a staple food in the Asian countries. It is the primary source of carbohydrate in almost all main meals. Although some reviews found an association between white rice intake and increased risk of type 2 diabetes, it does not prove that white rice consumption itself directly cause type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is a multifactorial condition that could also be affected by potential factors such as age, family history, being physically inactive, having excessive body weight, alcohol consumption and other eating habits. Eating a healthy, varied and balanced diet combined with regular exercise is the key to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Therefore, consumption of rice in moderate portion should be recommended as part of a healthy diet rather than eliminating it.

What are the healthier alternatives available?


Having said that complete elimination of rice is unnecessary, we need to understand that white rice is a type of refined grain that has been milled to remove the germ and bran layer to produce a finer texture with improved shelf life. This process results in the loss of fiber (which is important in regulating blood sugar level) and some important vitamins and minerals. Hence, whole grain (with the entire grain kernel intact) is certainly a healthier choice rather than refined grain like white rice. Studies have shown that replacing white rice with brown rice helps to lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. However, some people may have perception that brown rice has an unpleasant taste or smell and therefore refused to give it a try. Truth to be told, brown rice indeed has a coarser texture due to its wholegrain nature, but it definitely tastes awesome as well! Start slow by first replacing half of your white rice with brown rice, I bet you’ll fall in love with it soon once you get used to it!

Besides brown rice, you may also opt for red rice, black rice, oat rice, millet, quinoa which are also wholegrains. Quinoa has slowly gained its popularity nowadays as another alternative to white rice due to its rich nutritional profile.


Red Rice




Since rice is a staple in the Asian culture, it is recommended that it is eaten with other foods which digest slowly such as fish, lean poultry, vegetables and healthy oil to make up a balanced meal so that the carbohydrate consumed does not cause a spike in the blood sugar level. On top of that, we should always opt for other wholegrain varieties (whole meal bread, whole grain cereals, oat bran etc) in our daily diet and always aim for at least half of our daily grains intake as whole grains.

In a nutshell, some carbs are good and necessary for your health. Low-carb diet could be dangerous for you if you avoid them in the long term!


  1. Carrie Dennett, MPH, RDN, CD. Busting the Top 10 Carb Myths. Apr 2016. Today’s Dietitian. 18 No.4:30.

  2. Aune D, Norat T, Romundstad P, Vatten LJ. Whole grain and refined grain consumption and the risk of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of cohort studies.Eur J Epidemiol. 2013;28(11):845-858.

Ang Hui Inn

by Ang Hui Inn

Clinical Dietitian B.Sc (Hons) Nutrition and Dietetics, IMU Member of Malaysian Dietitians’ Association (MDA) Hui Inn received her credential in nutrition & dietetics from International Medical University (IMU), Kuala Lumpur. She is currently working in a hospital as a clinical dietitian. Her goal as a dietitian is to inspire, motivate and empower others on sustainable living through healthy diet and lifestyle. View all articles by Ang Hui Inn.


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