Do these Singapore products really make white rice and cookies healthier for diabetics?
You may have seen these made-in-Singapore products that claim to lower the glycaemic index of white rice and cookies. A dietitian explains how they work.
When it comes to food that we sinfully crave or find oh-so-satisfying, chances are, it's usually anything but healthy.
Take cookies, for instance. The sweet, baked treat is long regarded as a calorie bomb loaded with sugar and refined carbohydrates, and certainly ranks high on the glycaemic index (GI) – not a suitable snack if you’re watching your blood sugar levels.
Even the humble bowl of white rice is not spared the poor PR, despite its ubiquitous appearance at every Asian meal. Regarded as a diabetes enabler because of its high GI, it too, has been regarded with suspicion by the health conscious.
But what if you could have your cookie and rice, and eat them, too – even if you’re watching your diet? Nutriient Cookie Plus and Alchemy Fibre For Rice are the two very products that Singaporean food innovators have put their stamps on.
How exactly are these foods healthier? What ingredients do they contain? And more important, do they taste good? We find out.
WHITE RICE PARADISE FOR DIABETICS?
The made-in-Singapore Alchemy Fibre For Rice by Alchemy Foodtech was first created in 2015 by Alan Phua and food scientist Verleen Goh.
The idea for it stemmed from the loss of Phua’s grandparents to diabetes and recognising diabetics’ struggle with dietary restrictions, especially with food as common as rice.
Recognising that many people don’t take to the texture and flavour of brown rice well, which is recommended over white rice for its diabetes-friendly low GI and higher fibre content, the duo set out to change that.
The result is Alchemy Fibre For Rice, a powder, which when dissolved in the water for cooking white rice, can lower the grain’s GI. In their study, it can lower the GI of white jasmine rice to match that of brown rice. It'll also work on dishes such as chicken rice and braised duck rice.
Furthermore, Goh said it can boost the fibre of white jasmine rice by 10 times.
What’s in it: The main ingredient of Alchemy Fibre For Rice is inulin, a soluble fibre found naturally in plants such as chicory root, onion and garlic, explained Goh.
The powder forms a fibre-rich layer around each rice grain when it is cooked. When eaten, this layer slows down the digestion rate of white rice. “This means slower glucose release, and hence, lower GI,” she said.
For reference, the GI of the common types of rice we eat are as follows, according to Jaclyn Reutens, a clinical and sports dietitian, and the founder of Aptima Nutrition & Sports Consultants:
|Types of rice||Glycaemic index (GI)|
|Thai hom mali||73|
What the dietitian says: Soluble fibre, such as inulin, has health benefits ranging from cardiovascular to digestive health, said Reutens.
Inulin can also control blood glucose levels by slowing down the digestion of carbohydrates, she added.
In the digestive health area, inulin helps by bulking up stools and increasing the frequency of bowel movements. “Some studies show that it can be protective against colon cancer,” she said.
But if fibre is what’s needed to keep blood sugar levels even, wouldn’t eating more vegetables with white rice do the trick?
“That’s possible,” said Reutens. “However, only one in four Singaporeans meet their recommended intake of vegetables.
"Also, the consumption of rice in Asia is very high, so getting soluble fibre through another source other than vegetables is worth a consideration," she added.
As for dishes such as chicken rice or braised duck rice, the use of fat or oil would already lower the dish’s overall GI (the GI of white rice will always be the same though) – even without the addition of Alchemy Fibre For Rice.
“This is because fat or oil delays gastric emptying, thereby slowing the digestion and absorption of glucose from the rice,” said Reutens.
But this doesn't make chicken and braised duck rice healthy. Using fat or oil to lower a dish’s GI isn’t a good move as you have to “weigh the calorie increase versus the entire nutritional profile of that meal”, said Reutens.
How to use it: Wash the rice and place it in the cooker with water as you normally would. But before switching it on, add one heaped teaspoon of Alchemy Fibre For Rice for each cup of rice used. Stir well to dissolve and cook as usual.
This gives each serving of white rice 5g to 7g of fibre. It may seem like a lot but the recommended daily intakes of fibre for men and women are 26g and 20g respectively, said Reutens. Men's nutrient needs are generally higher, including fibre needs, as they require more calories to maintain a healthy body weight, she explained.
However, she cautioned that it might not be suitable for individuals who require a low-fibre or low-residue diet because of digestive problems such as diverticulitis, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome.
How does it taste: The powder doesn’t alter the taste or texture of white rice at all.
Where can you find it: Supermarkets such as Cold Storage, FairPrice, Giant, Sheng Siong as well as online via RedMart, PandaMart and Shopee Supermarket.
LESS GUILTY COOKIES?
Cookie Plus is a low-GI mixture used to partially substitute sugar in cookie recipes. It was launched in May 2021 by Nutriient, a spin-off from A*Star’s Singapore Institute of Food and Biotechnology Innovation (SIFBI).
Thanks to its plant-based ingredients, the non-flavoured mixture can slow down spikes in blood glucose levels and improve gut health, said Professor Christiani Jeyakumar Henry, co-founder of Nutriient and a senior advisor at SIFBI.
Compared to a regular cookie, which typically has a GI of 58, cookies made with Cookie Plus only rate 31, he said.
A plain cookie (about 20g and with the diameter of an Oreo) made with Cookie Plus has about 110 calories, 6g of total fat and nearly 1.5g of fibre, he added.
What’s in it: Cookie Plus contains plant-based ingredients such as coconut oil, canola oil, plant proteins, slow-release sugar and beta glucans, according to Prof Henry.
The mixture consists of polyunsaturated fatty acids and 12 per cent coconut oil, which Prof Henry explained contains lauric and myristic acids that can lower the glucose response.
"It is important to recognise that all oils play an important role in the flavour, texture, mouthfeel and appearance of cookies," he said. “This will enable us to produce a cookie that is not only tasty, but should be of little health concern."
What the dietitian says: Lauric acid, myristic acid and polyunsaturated fatty acids do help to control blood glucose levels by delaying gastric emptying, said Reutens.
“These saturated fats are not the most favourable fats when it comes to good health as they have the tendency to increase blood cholesterol levels and increase insulin resistance. However, some of it in our diet is acceptable,” she said.
As for the beta glucans, a form of soluble fibre, they have "good effects on blood glucose levels and increased satiety levels”, said Reutens.
She explained that the slow-release sugar will keep blood glucose levels low, so "it can be useful for diabetics, overweight individuals and those who have cardiovascular disease".
However, the sugar substitutes may create "a chance of diarrhoea or flatulence, so be careful how many you eat at a time”.
How to use it: Substitute 10 per cent to 30 per cent of your recipe’s sugar with the premix.
But if you’re also adding chocolate chips, wouldn’t you raise the cookies’ GI? Yes, chocolate chips unfortunately can, said Reutens, along with other carbohydrate-based toppings such as icing and rainbow sprinkles.
To rein in the GI, you can either increase the fat or fibre content to delay gastric emptying, said Reutens.
Add nuts and seeds instead, which have high fibre and high fat contents – or use more healthy fat such as vegetable oil or full-fat yoghurt, she said.
How does it taste: The Cookie Plus baked treats, according to Prof Henry, do maintain the “familiar textural and sensory characteristics of classic commercial cookies”.
Even though these cookies are a healthier alternative, Reutens said that they can still be waistline-expanding snacks if you over-indulge. Try to limit the treats to between 50 and 200 calories each time you treat yourself, she said.
Where can you find it: You can buy oat cookies made with Cookie Plus (S$12 for four) from Urban Tiller and Nutriient. Plans are also underway to sell the Cookie Plus premix via online and offline channels.