The fact that the consumption of refined grains and refined flours is linked with the incidence of many diseases is well-known. Various studies have indicated that refined carbohydrate consumption can increase triglyceride and blood sugar levels, which are major risk factors for heart disease, obesity and diabetes. This is likely to pose an immense disease burden on countries where refined carbs are a part of the typical diet.
This is especially true in the case of South Asian countries like India, Japan, Thailand and China where white rice is a staple; the consumption rates are very high and therefore so are the risks of these diseases on the prevalence scale.
White rice, whether long grain or short grain, is basically a type of polished or refined rice. During the refining process, the bran and germ of the whole rice grain are removed, leaving only the carbohydrate-rich endosperm of the rice grain. This process strips white rice of essential vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre -- all of which other unrefined rice varieties, like brown rice, have plenty of.
White rice and diabetes: an old link refreshed anew
Many studies over the last decade or two have explored the link between diabetes and white rice consumption, but very few have been able to successfully establish it globally. A study in the British Medical Journal in 2012 indicates that higher consumption of white rice significantly increases the risks of type 2 diabetes in Japanese and Chinese populations.
A 2017 study in BMC Public Health showed that Asian countries like Iran do not observe such a link between diabetes and white rice consumption, but perhaps countries with greater rice consumption rates would show higher incidences of diabetes.
Another study in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2019 states clearly that India has the second-largest number of people with type 2 diabetes and epidemiological evidence shows that white rice intake is responsible for it. This study also suggests that replacing white rice with brown rice in the Indian diet can reduce this disease burden to a very large extent. All of these studies were, however, regional, had a small participant pool and did not provide a global comparative perspective.
White rice and diabetes onset in 21 countries
A new study just published in Diabetes Care overcomes all these issues with the previous studies and confirms that higher consumption of white rice is linked to diabetes incidence. The study collected data on 1,32,373 individuals aged 35-70 years, from 21 countries over a period of nine and a half years. Their cooked white rice consumption was categorised in terms of grams, based on the measurement of one cup equals 150 grams.
The results of the study showed that by the end of the observational period, 6,129 people without baseline diabetes had developed the disease and had a higher intake of white rice at 450 grams per day. The highest risk was seen in the South Asian region, followed respectively by South East Asia, Middle East, South America, North America/Europe and Africa. Among the South Asian countries, it was only in China that the consumption of white rice had no significant association with diabetes incidence.
This large study clearly proves that the higher consumption of white rice is not only associated with diabetes incidence but also that the risk is the highest in South Asian nations like India. The Indian authors behind this study have reportedly revealed that white rice consumption is too high in the southern, eastern and northeastern regions of India. Dietary interventions to reduce this consumption or to replace it with brown rice, wheat flour and other complex carbs may reduce the risk of diabetes that the Indian population faces.
For more information, read our article on Diet for diabetes.
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