White Rice and Diabetes?

June 15/ABC Transcripts (Australia) -- Nutritionists have long pushed brown wholegrain foods like bread and rice over white processed food. Now a study in the U.S. has found that people who ate white rice had a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health say replacing white rice with brown rice could cut the risk of diabetes by a third.

More than 70% of rice eaten in Western developed countries is white. The refining process removes the outer bran and germ portions from the brown rice to leave a white starchy endosperm, or the inside of the seed.

It is well known that this fiber in brown rice is healthier because it releases sugar more gradually. Researchers in the U.S. have now found a link between white rice and type 2 diabetes.

Professor Paul Zimmet, director emeritus of the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, explains, "We do know for example that brown rice and wholegrain foods for example do not cause rapid elevations of the blood sugar level which puts stress on the pancreas which can increase the future risk of diabetes. So I think that the actual science and logic behind this is there in any case."

The researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health based their study on questionnaires filled out by more than 200,000 people about their dietary habits.

After adjusting for age and other diabetes risk factors the study found that eating five servings of white rice per week could increase the risk of type 2 diabetes by 17%. And by replacing white rice with brown rice the risk of developing type 2 diabetes dropped by a third.

Dr. Gary Deed from Diabetes Australia in Queensland says the study confirms what has long been suspected. "Brown rice is a very different composition to white rice; the brown rice having up to almost 350 times a percentage of fiber compared to white rice and also high rates of certain minerals and vitamins compared to milled white rice.

"The higher the glycemic index the more the blood sugar rises after eating the food, which isn't what we want. We want a slow sustained glucose release. So brown rice with a glycemic index of 55 compared to white rice of around 70 is therefore a more sustaining food and doesn't rise the blood sugar as high as the white rice."

However, both Australian diabetes experts stress that white rice is not the sole factor behind an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Perhaps one example of this is the rapidly growing rate of type 2 diabetes in Asian developing countries where white rice has been a staple for centuries.

Zimmet says the high rate of the disease in India and China is more likely due to the adoption of Western lifestyles. "Two months ago, it was announced there are now 90 million people in China with diabetes, in addition to the 50 million or 60 million in India. So almost a half or more of the people with type 2 diabetes in the world are in those two countries, and we could not just implicate that to white or brown rice.

"It's quite clear now that events during gestation when baby is in utero that what the mother does, eats, drinks or smoking for example can affect and set up that baby in adult life for diabetes and heart disease by a phenomenon we call epigenetics.

"So this is a very interesting study but it doesn't explain the whole story."

From the June 16, 2010, Prepared Foods' Daily News
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