It’s a staple in many countries, with around 475.64 million metric tons of rice consumed globally in 2016/17, according to statistics company Statista.
Meanwhile, a World Health Organisation report places the number of adults with diabetes in 2014 at a staggering 422 million.
Are the two related?
That is, could rice be the enemy?
Perhaps, says Accredited Practising Dietitian Dr Alan Barclay.
“Rice is associated with risk of type 2 diabetes in observational studies,” says Dr Barclay, co-author of The Good Carbs Cookbook and Low GI Diet: Managing Type 2 Diabetes.
“Typically … rice is polished (white), so it contains little dietary fibre,” he says.
“There are many different types of rice, but in recent decades high-yield varieties have been increasingly selected.
“Many of these varieties have a high glycaemic index (GI) [meaning they raise blood glucose levels faster than low GI carbohydrates] … This combined with white rice’s low fibre content may be increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.”
However, he adds physical inactivity is also to blame.
“The high GI of the rice was most likely less of a problem when people were much more physically active and consequently lean.”
Low-carb, low diabetes risk?
Given rice is a carbohydrate, and a potentially unfavourable one when it comes to diabetes, are low-carb diets the way to go?
“There is no evidence that low-carbohydrate diets decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes,” says Dr Barclay.
“Lower-carbohydrate diets may be an option for some people with diabetes in the short- to medium-term, but no long-term studies have been conducted so we do not know if they increase the risk of other associated health conditions. They are certainly not recommended to all people with diabetes.”
Interestingly, he says “low GI diets are associated with a significantly reduced risk of type 2 diabetes”.
(Lower GI foods include rolled oats, multigrain bread, soba noodles and legumes.)
Keeping rice on the menu
Fortunately, you don’t have to strike rice off your shopping list just yet – lower GI varieties do exist.
“Long grain varieties like basmati have the lowest GI values,” says Dr Barclay, adding “wholegrain varieties are best”.
He advises diabetes-conscious rice consumers to “choose a quality variety, like basmati, cook it al dente in a rice cooker or steamer and don’t eat too much.”
“One cup of cooked rice provides between 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrate which is enough for main meals.”
The bottom line, he says, is there is no one-size-fits-all diet for those with diabetes.
“There are many ways of eating well and achieving metabolic [blood glucose, cholesterol and blood pressure] targets.”
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