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White rice raises risk of type 2 diabetes

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a bowl of white rice, many servings of white rice raises risk for diabetes while brown rice lowers itWhite rice joins the growing list of refined carbohydrates with links to increased risks for diabetes, according to a new large study that quantified odds for consumers of white rice—as well as brown rice.

Turning brown rice white entails removing a rice grain’s bran and germ, which uncovers the white endosperm. The process also raises the grain’s glycemic index (a measure of a carbohydrate’s ability to raise blood sugar) and strips away vitamins, fiber, magnesium and other components that might help keep diabetes at bay.

The new findings have key health implications because more than 70 percent of rice eaten in the U.S. is white rice, noted the authors of the new study, led by Qi Sun of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. The findings were published online June 14 in Archives of Internal Medicine.

Assessing the reported health, dietary and lifestyle habits of 197,228 U.S. adults (from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study and the Nurses’ Health Study I and II cohorts), the researchers found a striking difference in rates of type 2 diabetes between those who ate a lot of white rice and those who consumed more brown rice. Even after controlling for age, lifestyle, diet, ethnicity and other variables, the researchers still found a significant difference in risk.

Those who consumed at least five servings (150 grams each) of white rice per week had a 17 percent higher risk of getting type 2 diabetes than those who hardly ate any white rice at all. And people who were eating at least two servings of brown rice a week had an 11 percent lower chance of getting the disease than those who ate less than one serving of it a month. The authors calculated that replacing white with brown rice would lower the chances of type 2 diabetes by 16 percent.

Brown rice, however, did not appear to be the most effective whole grain for fending off diabetes. The researchers found that substituting about 50 grams other whole grains (such as whole wheat or barley) for that much of (uncooked) white rice each day could reduce diabetes risk by as much as 36 percent.

Although rice currently makes up a small portion of most U.S. diets (generally less than two percent of total daily energy intake), in other parts of the world, such as Japan, rice can be responsible for nearly 30 percent of daily average energy intake, Sun and his colleagues noted. Nevertheless, the researchers concluded in their paper, "From a public health point of view, replacing refined grains such as white rice by whole grains, including brown rice, should be recommended" to help prevent type 2 diabetes.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto/Elenathewise

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  1. 1. Left Flank 6:44 pm 06/14/2010

    As far as I know Type 2 Diabetes is not common in E. Asia where white rice is a staple. Just how much of a role does white rice play in American cases? If Americans have such a problem with white rice, then shouldn’t E. Asia be haunted with Diabetes?

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  2. 2. Junstillstalling 7:15 pm 06/14/2010

    Actually, type 2 diabetes is a big problem in east asia, where they tend to have less obesity than the US. The fact that they do have a lot of diabetes without as much obesity actually further supports the idea that white rice may play a significant role.

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  3. 3. Barry Blitstein 7:48 pm 06/14/2010

    And, as was true of white bread vs. brown and black bread in Central and Eastern Europe, white rice was the preferred food of the wealthy, while brown was left to the poorer classes.

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  4. 4. zsingerb 8:49 pm 06/14/2010

    So where is the albino brown rice? We now have white whole wheat bread, now is the time for another rice breakthrough.

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  5. 5. larrybla 12:27 am 06/15/2010

    Its not only the white rice, we live in a "refined" food culture. Best way is to eat foods in their natural state as close to local and time of harvest as possible.

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  6. 6. JamesDavis 7:16 am 06/15/2010

    "Larrybla", you are correct and we are never going to get away from the refined foods, but if you do not buy the refined foods, like I do not, then they will stop making them because they only make what is profitable. The best way to preserve foods in their natural state, and fresh from the garden, and to stock up on them is to buy only freeze-dried foods. You can freeze-dry any food and it will keep for about 30 years. If you seal non-cooked honey, it will save for thousands of years and not turn to sugar. Freeze-dried foods keep all their nutrients and years down the road when you open them to cook, they taste like you just fresh picked them from the garden.

    If people would stop listening to these greedy idiots, we can eat for our heath and prevent all these diseases we seem to plague ourselves with

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  7. 7. poosta7 11:20 pm 06/15/2010

    As a "vegan" I thought I was immune to prediabetes…from my last medical checkup apparantly not!! From what I read brown rice has about the same glycemic load and insulin index as white rice and therefore metabolizes gram for gram into the same amount of glucose….I now avoid all rice, pasta, white potatos and agree with Gary Taubes…NY Times Article 9/16/2007 "Do we really know what makes us healthy?"

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  8. 8. Vlad_the_Impaler 5:09 pm 12/8/2011

    Nonsense. This is not “science”. It is “the new science”, in which “correlation = causality”. White rice does NOT “lack nutrients”, as almost any white rice you buy is “fortified” with the very stuff they claim is missing, other than fiber. Further, if FIBER where the cause of the “glycemic change”, one would expect the brown rice to have an opposite effect, which they say it does not. Grow up. “Everything in moderation (except crack…B.Franklin didn’t know about crack)”.

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