| GEO Health|
| Brown rice linked to lower diabetes risk|
| Updated at: 1622 PST, Tuesday, June 15, 2010|
NEW YORK: Replacing as little as a third of a daily serving of white rice with an equal amount of brown rice may lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, a study suggests. And replacing white rice with other types of whole grains can cut the risk even more.
Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health say their study is the first to look at the relationship between rice intake and diabetes in a U.S. population. The authors based their findings on diet, lifestyle and health information from three studies covering 197,228 health-care workers, 80% of them women.
They found that eating five or more servings of white rice per week was associated with a slightly higher risk of type 2 diabetes than eating less than one serving a month. Eating two or more servings a week of brown rice, however, was associated with slightly lower risk.
The researchers conclude that replacing 50 grams of cooked white rice, equivalent to about a third of a serving, with an equal amount of brown rice seems to cut the risk of type 2 diabetes by 16%. Replacing white rice with other whole grains such as whole wheat and barley appears to lower risk by an estimated 36%, the paper says. The findings were published Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
The study didn't prove that eating brown rice cuts the risk of diabetes. And it is possible that brown rice eaters are simply healthier in other ways. But the study's lead author, Qi Sun, now an instructor of medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, says that researchers adjusted for factors such as physical activity, body mass index and alcohol consumption that might have skewed the results. "After we adjusted for those, you still see an association," he says.
Eating even more brown rice might bring more benefits, but because brown rice consumption was relatively low overall it wasn't possible to determine that, says Dr. Sun. Previous research found the same association in a Chinese population.
The findings are consistent with what we know about how the body processes different types of grains, says Dr. Sun. Research has shown that in general, consuming white rice sparks a bigger increase in blood glucose than does brown rice. A diet heavy on foods that produce that kind of spike in blood sugar has been linked to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
Some other whole grains, such as whole wheat and barley, have even smaller blood sugar effects than brown rice, which may explain the additional benefit of consuming those grains, says Dr. Sun. Brown rice may also protect against the disease "by virtue of its high content of multiple nutrients, such as fiber, vitamins and minerals, the majority of which are lost during refining and milling processes," the study says.
Dr. Sun says rice intake is increasing in the U.S., but that people are mostly eating white rice. "The message for the public is that they should try to avoid refined carbohydrates, no matter if it's [in the form of] rice or bread, and replace them with whole grains."
Joanne Slavin, professor at the University of Minnesota's department of food science and nutrition, said she doesn't think white rice is a major problem in the U.S. diet. "Most dietary guidance recommends complex carbohydrates" such as rice of any color, she says. "I'd much rather have people serving rice than a lot of other things," she says.