There is hardly a cereal in the world which is as versatile as rice. Our beloved chawal can be relished boiled, steamed, fried, as idlis and dosas, and even pancakes, with a slew of curries and even on its own.
But for all its deliciousness, rice—white rice, rather—also comes with a bad rep. One that links it to diabetes and weight gain, making people wary of this quintessential staple food. And now, to make matters worse a 21-country large study conducted over a decade, has hardcore evidence linking white rice to diabetes.
Here’s what the study has to say
Featuring over 130,000 people, including from countries like India, China, and Brazil, the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiological Study (nicknamed PURE) followed participants for close to 10 years. The researchers found that people who consumed higher quantities of white rice—i.e. more than 450 grams per day—were at an increased risk of diabetes.
According to the researchers, over 6000 people with no baseline diabetes at the beginning of the study developed the disease, primarily because of the quantity of rice they were eating. This co-relation was strongly felt in South-Asian and South-East Asian countries where rice is part of the staple diet.
The study was led by Bhavadharini Balaji of the Population Health Research Institute, Hamilton Health Sciences and McMaster University, Canada and co-authored by diabetologist Dr V. Mohan from Chennai. The findings were published in the September issue of the esteemed journal Diabetes Care.
It’s the quantity of rice you’re eating that’s to blame
It’s not rice per se that’s the enemy—rather how much of it we’ve been eating that is to blame. And this study proves it too. Dr Mohan, in an interview to the medical news portal Medical Dialogues, said: “What comes out clearly in the study that it is the amount of white rice consumed which is important. Clearly in India, the consumption of carbohydrate is too high. In Southern and Eastern and North-Eastern parts of the country, it is mainly rice consumption which predominates; while in the North and West of India, wheat consumption is more.”
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“Earlier studies from our group have shown that refined carbohydrates like white rice have a very high glycemic index which contributes to a high glycemic load in the diet. This is correlated not only with increased risk of diabetes but also of metabolic syndrome including high serum triglyceride levels and low HDL cholesterol concentrations,” he added.
Even Dr Meenaz Ahmed, a consultant nutritionist and dietician at Motherhood Hospital (Banashankari), Bengaluru insists that it’s not rice that’s the culprit, it’s the way we’re eating it that’s wrong.
“White rice, or polished rice as we know it, doesn’t have far too much fibre or protein. So when we eat less a small portion of it, you don’t necessarily feel full and keep wanting more. And when you keep loading rice onto your plate, you leave the room open for high blood sugar levels,” explains Dr Ahmed.
There is a right way of eating white rice
White rice in itself cannot be the star of your meal. According to Dr Ahmed, it needs to be had with a portion each of dal, cooked veggies, raw salad, and curd to make it a balanced meal that is rich in fibre and protein and hence keeps you fuller for longer.
“When you eat rice with all these things, then you also ensure that your blood sugar levels are stable,” she explains.
As is pretty evident, portion control is important too. Dr Ahmed suggests eating 100 grams of rice at lunch and avoiding the cereal at breakfast and dinner. “When you have rice at breakfast, it really shoots up your blood sugar. And at dinner, since there is no activity that’s going to follow, it can impact your metabolism. Hence, lunch is THE best time to have rice,” she concludes.
There is no denying that white rice is indeed very high in carbs and can increase your risk of diabetes. But the truth also is that Indians have been eating rice for centuries, and the incidence of diabetes has only increased in the last few decades. So perhaps it’s not the grain that’s to blame. It could be our lack of activity that could be the culprit or perhaps our inclination towards starchy-meals versus well-balanced ones that are putting white rice in the spotlight.
In either case, if rice is your bae—take heed from the researchers and Dr Ahmed and eat rice the right way.