The ‘rice of diabetes’: an undeniable link

Higher consumption of white rice regularly is associated with an increased risk of diabetes, finds study.

September 03, 2020 08:22 pm | Updated September 04, 2020 12:34 pm IST - CHENNAI:

Representational image.

Representational image.

Higher consumption of white rice regularly is associated with an increased risk of diabetes, observes a paper published after studying 1,32,373 individuals from 21 countries over 9.5 years. 6,129 individual newly developed diabetes in this period.

Prevalence of diabetes among women high in southern India

The paper published in the recent edition of the peer-reviewed journal Diabetes Care , indicates that the higher the consumption of white rice, the greater the risk of developing diabetes. The highest risk, according to the paper, was seen in South Asia, which had the highest consumption of white rice at 630gm a day. In Southeast Asia, it was 239 gm a day, and in China, which the paper says has no significant association, 200 gm a day. The observations form part of the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study anchored by the Population Health Research Institute (PHRI), Hamilton Health Sciences and McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada

Commenting on the results, Bhavadharini Balaji, from the PHRI, first author of the paper, said, “This is the largest study on white rice intake and incident diabetes ever done. It is also one of the first to be done across different countries and confirms that white rice intake is one of the contributors to the diabetes epidemic in South Asia.”

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The study acknowledges the role of reduced physical activity as a contributing factor, as also increase in obesity rates, while it does adjust for various other diabetogenic factors, including family history. “We cannot say that eating white rice is the only cause for diabetes. There are indeed other factors. However, it is clear that the combination of decreased physical activity and high consumption of carbohydrates doubles the risk of getting diabetes,” said V. Mohan, chairman, Madras Diabetes Research Foundation and second author of the paper.

Trying to establish the link, the paper advances a couple of theories. “It is known that excess rice consumption leads to postprandial glucose spikes that, in turn, lead to compensatory hyperinsulinemia [excess secretion of insulin] to maintain euglycemia [normal blood sugar levels]. Over time, the b-cells become exhausted, leading to b-cell failure and diabetes,” the paper argues. Further, it reasons that it is possible that the type of rice is different in China (sticky rice), that the vegetables, pulses or meat consumed with the rice blunts the GL (Glycemic Load) of the rice, or that the consumption of rice itself has decreased in China in recent times.

“Our recommendation is not to stop eating white rice completely. We are saying, instead of making it 70%-80% of your meal, cut it down by 20%-30% and replace it with proteins, salads and vegetables, and healthy fats from nuts and seeds,” Dr. Mohan added.

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