March 16/Cardiff, Wales/WalesOnline -- A new study suggests eating white rice could increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The authors, from the Harvard School of Public Health, estimate a 10% increase in the risk of type 2 diabetes for every serving of white rice eaten. They have urged people to switch to wholegrain rice, saying, “Higher white rice intake is associated with a significantly elevated risk of type 2 diabetes.”

However, doubt has been cast on the veracity of the findings, with some arguing type 2 diabetes could be caused by other factors, such as obesity. Dr Glenys Jones, a nutritionist at MRC Human Nutrition Research in Cambridge, said, “[This] is an analysis of four observational studies, which, when combined, showed those with the higher rice intakes were associated with higher reported diabetes incidences; however from these studies it cannot be concluded that the increased diabetes incidence occurred because of the higher rice intakes and could be due to other lifestyle factors.”

White rice is the predominant type of rice eaten worldwide and has high GI (glycemic index) values. High GI diets are associated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The amount of rice eaten varies widely between Western and Asian countries -- the Chinese eat an average of four portions a day compared to less than five portions a week in Western countries.

The analysis of research studies by the Harvard School of Public Health show the more white rice eaten, the higher the risk of type 2 diabetes. White rice has a lower content of nutrients than brown rice including fiber, magnesium and vitamins, some of which are associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

The authors said a high consumption of white rice may lead to increased risk because of the low intake of these nutrients. This applied to both Asian and Western cultures, but because the risk is higher the more rice is eaten, it is thought Asian countries are at a higher risk.

Dai Williams, director of Diabetes UK Cymru, said, “We already know a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes is increased by poor lifestyle choices and this is one of the reasons it is important to maintain a healthy weight through being regularly physically active and eating a healthy diet.

“This new study is a review of previous research looking at the association between white rice consumption and type 2 diabetes but it has not looked at whether eating lots of white rice actually increases risk of type 2 diabetes.

“Previous research in this area has not provided conclusive results and it is a difficult area to conduct research because no single type of food is directly linked or associated with the development of type 2 diabetes.

“So this study does not provide any strong evidence that eating lots of white rice will put people at increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

“The main advice for people with diabetes -- and all of us -- is to eat starchy food in moderation. Eat half a plateful -- not a bucketful. And try and go for wholemeal alternatives like brown rice and wholegrain bread.”

Professor Shah Ebrahim, professor of public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “While the studies included in this review found an association between white rice consumption and diabetes in Asians, it would be wrong to consider it causal or to suggest that switching to brown rice would reduce the chances of getting diabetes.

“People who eat a lot of rice are likely to be bigger and/or wealthier than people who eat less so obesity and socioeconomic position may be confounding these findings.”

The study comes just days after a separate report suggested regularly eating red meat -- especially the processed variety -- dramatically increases the risk of death from heart disease and cancer.

 From the March 19, 2012, Prepared Foods' Daily News.