In a finding which may have implications for Asians, including Indians, whose staple food is rice, scientists claim to have found that eating white rice could increase one’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes while the brown variety can lower the risk of the disease.

A new study by the Harvard School of Public Health has found that eating five or more servings of white rice per week is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, while consuming two or more servings of brown rice every week could lower the risk substantially.

“The study is the first to specifically examine white rice and brown rice in relation to diabetes risk,” said Qi Sun, who led the team.

“Rice consumption in the U.S. has dramatically increased in recent decades. We believe replacing white rice and other refined grains with whole grains, including brown rice, would help lower the risk of type 2 diabetes,” said Sun.

Brown rice is superior to white rice when it comes to fibre content, minerals, vitamins, and phytochemicals, and it often does not generate as large an increase in blood sugar levels after a meal.

Milling and polishing brown rice removes most vitamins and minerals. In addition, milling strips away most of its fibre, which helps deter diabetes by slowing the rush of sugar (glucose) into the bloodstream.

For their study, the scientists examined white and brown rice consumption in relation to type 2 diabetes risk in 157,463 women and 39,765 men participating in the Brigham and Women’s Hospital-based Nurses’ Health Study I and II and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study.

They analysed responses to questionnaires about diet, lifestyle, and health conditions which participants completed every four years. The team documented 5,500 cases of type 2 diabetes during 22 years of follow-up in NHS 1 participants, 2,359 cases over 14 years in NHS II participants, and 2,648 cases over 20 years in participants.

Sun and his colleagues found that the biggest consumers of white rice were less likely to have European ancestry or to smoke and more likely to have a family history of diabetes. Eating brown rice was not associated with ethnicity but with a more health-conscious diet and lifestyle.

In the analysis, the scientists adjusted for a variety of factors that could influence the results, including age, body mass index, smoking status, alcohol intake, family history of diabetes, and found the trend of increased risk associated with high white rice consumption remained.

As ethnicity was associated with both white rice consumption and diabetes risk, they conducted a secondary analysis of white participants only and found similar results.

The findings have been published in the Archives of Internal Medicine journal.

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