Think twice before eating white rice? It might be wise, new
research suggests. A large study reports that people who eat
more white rice are at increased risk for type 2 diabetes, whereas
those who eat more brown rice have less risk.
Type 2 diabetes—previously known as adult-onset diabetes—is
one of the fastest growing health problems in Americans of all
ages. Being overweight or inactive boosts the risk for the disease.
So does a family history of diabetes, older age and certain ethnicities.
Earlier studies have hinted that increased consumption of refined
carbohydrates, including sugary foods and white breads, might
also raise the risk.
Research suggests that whole-grain foods like brown rice could
reduce the likelihood of diabetes. 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.
In a new study, researchers at the Harvard School of Public
Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital analyzed rice consumption
and diabetes risk among nearly 200,000 people who had participated
in 3 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 arose
among participants. The research was funded in part by NIH’s
National Cancer Institute (NCI) and National Institute of Diabetes
and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
In a paper published on June 14, 2010, in the Archives
of Internal Medicine, the researchers reported that frequently
eating white rice increased the risk of type 2 diabetes. Those
who reported eating at least 5 weekly servings of white rice
had a 17% percent higher risk than those who ate less than
1 serving per month. In contrast, those eating at least 2 weekly
servings of brown rice had an 11% lower risk of developing
type 2 diabetes than those eating less than 1 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.
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 risk of type 2 diabetes
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. The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans
recommend that at least half our carbohydrates come from whole
The researchers note that a potential limitation of their study
is that the analyses were based on participants’ self-reported
intake of brown and white rice, which may not be accurate. However,
they note that the large number of people studied, and the consistent
results across all 3 study groups, add validity to the findings.
“Rice consumption in the U.S. has dramatically increased
in recent decades,” says lead author Dr. Qi Sun. “We
believe replacing white rice and other refined grains with whole
grains, including brown rice, would help lower the risk of type