Type 2 diabetes is one of the fastest-growing health problems in Americans of all ages.
Now studies are showing that people who eat more white rice are at increased type 2 diabetes risk, and those who eat more brown rice have less risk.
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Diabetes is marked by unusually high levels of blood sugar. The sugar is normally converted into energy with help from the hormone insulin. Diabetes occurs when the body can’t properly produce or use insulin.
Type 2 diabetes heightens the risk for various health conditions, including coronary artery disease, stroke, nerve damage and kidney and eye disease.
Being overweight or inactive boosts diabetes risk. So does a family history of diabetes, being older and of certain ethnicities.
Earlier studies have already hinted that increased consumption of refined carbohydrates, including sugary foods and white breads, might also raise the risk, and now research suggests that whole-grain foods like brown rice could reduce the likelihood of diabetes.
Why White Rice?
To create white rice, brown rice must be milled and polished, which removes most of its vitamins and minerals. Milling also strips away most of its fiber – a compound that might help to deter diabetes by slowing the rush of glucose into the bloodstream.
Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health analyzed rice consumption and diabetes risk among nearly 200,000 people who had participated in three large studies of nurses and other health professionals. Every 2-4 years, the participants completed questionnaires about their diet, lifestyle and health conditions. During 14 to 22 years of follow-up, about 5,500 cases of type 2 diabetes were diagnosed among participants.
Frequently eating white rice increased the risk of type 2 diabetes, the researchers found. Those who reported eating at least five weekly servings of white rice had a 17% higher risk than those who ate less than one serving per month.
In contrast, those eating at least two weekly servings of brown rice had an 11% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those eating less than one serving per month.
The findings held even after scientists adjusted for several factors that might influence the results, including age, weight and family history of diabetes.
What Does This Mean For You?
The researchers calculated that replacing just one-third of a typical daily serving of white rice with the same amount of brown rice might reduce the type 2 diabetes risk by 16%.
The same replacement with other whole grains, such as whole wheat and barley, could lead to a 36% reduced risk, the scientists estimated.
“Rice consumption in the U.S. has dramatically increased in recent decades,” says lead author Qi Sun, M.D., Sc.D., of the HSPH. “We believe replacing white rice and other refined grains with whole grains, including brown rice, would help lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.”